Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Who should I get to write a letter of reference?

This is concerned mostly with applying for postdoc and junior faculty positions.

People who must
-your current supervisor
-your previous supervisor

People who may help your cause
-someone who does not have a vested interest in your success and so is more objective than your Ph.D supervisor
-has a reputation for writing reliable assessments
-someone who is personally known and respected by those reading the letter

People who should not is someone
- who won't get around to sending in the letter
-who has a reputation for writing ridiculous inflated letters ("This is the best student I ever had" for every student!)
-writes generic letters ("Dr. X is a nice person who does good work.")
-who does not really know you
-who is at the same level as the position you are applying for

As you get more senior you need to be getting letters from people less connected to you (e.g., from institutions you have not worked at) and with increasing seniority and reputation.

Some of these ideas are gleaned from John Wilkins one page guides on Vita for the first job after the Ph.D and Writing Letters of Reference.
I did a postdoc with Wilkins and since then he has written some very nice letters on my behalf! Thanks.

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