How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation – Part III

What if, when you take a lab or a class with an Adjunct Instructor or Professor, you not only do very well, but you also think he/she would be able to write an excellent recommendation letter talking about how you were the shining star in that class/lab?  Will the program you are applying to give the same weight to a letter signed by someone who is not a faculty member, or does not have a Ph.D. or M.S.?  This final part of the series provides advice regarding non-traditional letter writers. Unfortunately, there’s not a fast rule about this. Some schools prefer the letter writers to have advanced dtypewritteregrees, because those individuals have successfully completed graduate school and will be able to assess your abilities better. Some schools prefer letter writers to be full-time faculty, because faculty members are vested in the reputation of their school. All of this also depends on who evaluates your application and their own personal opinions. So no, there’s no easy answer. But there are options:

  1. Call the program that you are applying to and ask. Some schools will give you guidance, some schools won’t. Other schools will leave it up to you.
  2. Ask the lead faculty member to write the letter.  If an Adjunct Instructor taught a lab, and you did well in both the lab and class portion, consider asking the lead faculty member to write a letter and ask him/her to incorporate input from the Adjunct.
  3. Ask the coordinating faculty member to co-sign the letter.  If the class and the lab are taught by Adjunct Instructors, consider asking the faculty member that coordinates the class to co-sign the letter with them.
  4. Request letters from instructors of advanced courses.  I strongly recommend doing 1 and 2 only for high-level courses, not for introductory courses.