Academic | Letters of Recommendation

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Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a central component of every academic job package. They provide search committees with assurance from respected, established faculty in your field that you will be a productive and collegial colleague, and that you will be able to achieve the research and teaching objectives you set out in your application materials. Strong letters of recommendation will strengthen a well-constructed application and make search committees feel more certain that you will be a ‘good fit’ for their department.

Who should you ask for letters of recommendation?

  • Each academic job application will typically require 3 letters of recommendation.
  • Ask both your postdoctoral PI and your dissertation advisor for letters of recommendation, if possible. These recommenders will be best apprised of the nuances of your research and will be able to effectively describe your contributions to your field. They will also be able to affirm that you are an independent research scientist and that your proposed research at your new institution arises from your own ideas—not theirs.
  • You should ask for letters from people best qualified to speak to your research and your teaching potential as a faculty member at the institution to which you are applying. Refer to the job posting and your knowledge of the institution to find out what should be emphasized in your letters.
  • Be understanding if someone declines to write a recommendation letter for you. You want letters from faculty who are invested in your success and who will have the time to write you an effective and convincing letter.

How do I help my recommenders write the best possible letters of recommendation?

  • Plan ahead and ask your preferred letter writers well in advance (at three months prior to the start of your job search) to ensure that they will have the time they need to write you the best possible letters.
  • When you write to request a letter of recommendation from a faculty member, be sure to give them a sense of why you are asking them to write a letter on your behalf.
  • Provide your writers with the materials they need to construct well-informed letters. This will include your application materials, copies of publications, and a job description for each position you are applying for. Bring attention to specific achievements or publications you want your writers to mention in their letters.
  • Inform your letter writers as early as possible about the institutions you are planning to apply to, with deadlines for each application and specific instructions about how they can submit their letters.
  • Send gentle reminders about due dates (along with submission instructions) to your recommenders in the weeks before applications are due.
  • Express gratitude to your letter writers after your applications are submitted. Send them handwritten notes or personalized e-mails thanking them for their time and diligence in helping you apply for academic positions. If you are successful on the job market, get back in touch with your writers to share your good news! They will appreciate hearing from you.

Additional Resources

‘Getting Great Letters of Recommendation’
‘Educating Your Letter Writers About Your Academic Brand’
‘Writing a Letter of Recommendation’ (PDF)