STEP 1. Ask yourself the following questions:
1) How long has Dr. Poon known me?
2) How well does Dr. Poon know me?
a) Can he comment favorably on my academic ability?
[Positive letters for A or B students are usually
easy for me to write. This is much less so for
C students unless I know you well enough to comment
on the next two areas of your life.]
b) Can he comment favorably on my lab skills?
c) Can he comment favorably on my personality, interests,
or activities? [It is a lot easier for me to
write a letter for you if we've chatted outside
of class. I never write
letters from a resume, even though I ask for
one from all of my students requesting a letter.
3) Are there other faculty who know me better or who are more
familiar with my abilities? If the answer is "yes,"
you should tab these people first before utilizing
me to satisfy your letter quota or allocation.
4) Ask me in person whether I am willing or have the
time to write a letter of rec. for you. [I normally
require two weeks notice to write letters.]
Summary: Don't just ask anyone for a letter of
recommendation. Assess whether that person can comment
favorably about you in as many areas of your life
as possible. Then, have the guts to ask in person (not
by email) whether he/she can write a letter of rec.
for you. Also, don't just ask for "a letter of rec.," ask
for "a favorable letter
of rec." Your career and future depend on all your
letters being positive, if not glowing.
Gather and give me the following (all at once
1) A resume (make sure it has your current GPA)
2) An up to date copy of your transcript
3) A copy of the essay or personal statement
that you are sending to the same place I am sending
the letter to (as an added bonus, I will look
over your essay for you) OR fill out the following
to download and print out the form).
4) Any forms that I need to fill out with your
info AND my
contact info already filled in (use the
following info and type or print neatly):
Name: Thomas Poon
Title: Professor of Chemistry
Department: W.M. Keck Science Department
Institution: If you
are from PZ, CMC, or SCR, then list
your college. If
you are from anywhere else, use "Claremont
McKenna, Pitzer and Scripps Colleges"
925 N. Mills Av
Claremont, CA 91711
5) E-mail me a MS Word file with the people
and addresses of the places you wish me to send
to. [so I can cut and paste these addresses onto
the envelopes and my letters]
6) DO NOT supply any
envelopes or stamps (it looks much better if
I use departmental stationary,
and the department will pay for postage)
Summary: You should make it
as easy as possible for your recommenders to
write their letters for you. We all have teaching,
research, and committee duties, along with family
and personal lives outside of school. Letter
writing is something we do in our own spare time,
please make it as easy on us as possible.
STEP 3. Follow up:
1) Send your letter writer (me) an e-mail
one week before the letter is due asking whether
the letter has been sent yet (I try to remember
to inform students when I've sent their letter).
You could write (for example):
Dear Dr. Poon,
I was wondering if you had a chance to send
off the letter(s) of recommendation
for such-and-such? If not, this is just
that it(they) is(are) due in one week.
2) Contact the school or company that is to
receive your application and ask whether your
application is complete. They will tell you
whether anything is missing, including your
letter of rec.
Summary: We professors are inherently
forgetful people! Also, things get lost in the
mail from time to time. Don't be too chicken
to ask your recommender or some gruff person
at the place receiving your letter about its
status. Your timidness could result in your dream
job or dream school passing you by, all because
of an incomplete application.
STEP 4. Step 1 revisited:
This isn't really a "step" per se, but rather
some advice. You chose to attend a small liberal
arts college so that you could take advantage
of the opportunities for student-faculty interactions
(at least that's what many prospective students
tell me). Well, guess what? That's also one
reason most of your professors decided to work
here! Yet, every year, half the students in
my classes never come to office hours, never
ask questions, and never show me who they really
are. It would be okay if they are just being
selective and are doing these things with other
professors, but when, out of the blue, they
come by and
ask me for a letter of rec., it makes me sad.
I'm sad for the student because they feel that I am one of their best
chances to help them get a job, internship,
or med/grad school acceptance. And inevitably,
I'll write them a positive letter of rec. But
it won't have the substance that most hiring
or acceptance committees are looking for. Bottom
line is, get to know your professors. We want
to know you as a person, and we'll be able
to write much better letters for you if we
do. As an example of how important this is
for you, here are links to three letters I've
written in the past. Read them and try to put
yourself in the shoes of someone on the selections
committee, someone who reads hundreds of letters
each year. Remember, these folks already know
your GPA and grade in the class. They are looking
for things in these letters that your resume
or transcripts don't reveal. Do
you see the differences among the letters?
Letter 1: Shy, "B-/C+"
student; my only
her was in lab.
student; got only a "B-" in my class; got to
know me fairly
well, and I admired her perseverence and talents outside of organic chemistry.
student; earned an "A" in my class; got to
know me fairly well.