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Recommendations

This webpage contains advice for people asking for a letter of recommendation from me or someone like me. It was largely plagiarized from a similar page by Kiran S. Kedlaya.

You likely have a lot of things on your mind right now, and this is the last thing you want to worry about, but this deals with a central part of your application.

Letter-writing is one of my most important duties. Precisely because it is so important, I am asked to do it many times each year at numerous levels (undergraduates applying for graduate school or summer employment, graduate students applying for postdocs, postdocs applying for tenure-track jobs). This makes the following request all the more important: Please remember that it is in your interest to make your busy letter writer's job as easy as possible.

Please give me as much notice as possible so I can write as detailed a letter as I would like. A month is reasonable. Two weeks may be pushing it if there isn't much flexibility in my schedule at that time. If you give me very little notice, your letter will necessarily be rushed, which is in no one's interest.

You want to help your recommender write as detailed a letter as possible. Here are things that would help me. Only some may apply to you (especially if I have written for you before). I will likely only start writing your letter once I have all the information I would like (as there is always someone else's letter I can write first). If some of these materials are online, a URL will suffice for those. I strongly prefer electronic versions to paper.

  • Let me know that you read this page! Otherwise I'll direct you back here before proceeding.
  • If you are applying using an online system (e.g., Mathjobs), please give my email address as alina@math.ucsd.edu. Otherwise, I may not be able to log in and upload your letter!
  • Your preferred nominative pronoun. If it's not one of "he", "she", "they", I may need some clarification.
  • A current CV/résumé
  • for UCSD undergrads: a completed FERPA waiver sent to myself and to lor@math.ucsd.edu. This is legally necessary for me to comment on your academic performance in my letter.
  • for non-UCSD undergrads: a transcript or unofficial replica thereof. If your institution has its own FERPA waiver form, please include this also.
  • everything you will submit with your application (e.g. personal essay, research summary, research proposal); very good drafts will do in a pinch. Corollary: finish your part of the application early.
  • if you are applying to a special program of some sort (like an REU): information about the program you are applying to (e.g. the official program announcement), and what they are looking for.
  • if you are a mathematician: copies of papers (electronic links suffice). For graduate students, I also want work in progress (i.e., some chapters of your thesis; these will be kept confidential).
  • Who else is writing you a letter (so I can say things that might not otherwise be covered)?
  • Where are you applying (e.g. list of schools) and what are the deadlines? Do any of them require me to differentiate the letter in some way?
  • When do you need the letter by? How do I get it to where it needs to go? (I will do my best with deadlines, but it is the responsibility of the applicant to provide sufficient reminders.) I would appreciate it if you would consolidate the list of schools and deadlines in one document/email.
  • Is there anything in particular you would like me to address? (Are there particular theorems/papers you hope I'll write about? Are there theorems/papers that others will say more about?) Are there particular qualities you would prefer that I discuss?
  • Any other information that might have a chance of helping me. Feel free to phrase this in the form of text I might use in my letter; this might sound dodgy but is actually really helpful (and anyway I will rewrite in my own words).
  • Amplification of the previous point for UCSD undergraduates: I deal with so many students that it is difficult for me to write a useful letter solely on the basis of participation in one of my courses. This is why I restrict my letter writing to people who have placed in the top 25% of the class and who have engaged me at some additional level (e.g., by coming to office hours regularly). It also helps me if you let me know of your intention of asking for a letter while our interactions are still fresh in my memory (typically, this means right after completing a course). Also, I cannot describe your performance in one of my courses until after final grades are submitted, except in rare cases where an extrapolation has been requested. .

Thank you for helping make this process run smoothly, and good luck with your applications!

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