How to get the most out of a letter of recommendation from Adam Elga ===================
If I write a letter for you, I will write about specific interactions we have had and work of yours that I've helped you do. I will try to use details to give the letter readers a vivid picture of your abilities.
In other words, the letter will mostly explain what I've learned about you by saying something about our work together. This work typically consists of work on a paper or project, or discussions over a period of time in or out of class. I believe letters that give such detailed anecdotes and information are much more effective than ones that only give evaluations of students, or of completed papers.
Because my letters largely consist of details of interactions between students and me, I won't write a letter unless there have been enough interactions for me to say something helpful. In particular, here are some example circumstances in which I won't write a letter:
an undergraduate student has been in a class or two of mine but I have not interacted with the student much about their work or the class
a graduate student looking for a job letter has not worked closely with me on substantial projects or seminar work, (unless it is a teaching letter and I have seen the student teach over a period of time, for example over the course of a semester when they have been an AI for me and I seen them teach several times)
an undergraduate student was my thesis advisee, but the student almost never consulted me during the writing of the thesis
the letter would need to be based largely on already completed work that a student asks me to read.
it has been long enough since I've interacted with the student that I don't remember much about the details of the interaction, and I don't have written notes that fill in the details.
the letter deadline is extremely soon and I am not able to allocate the time to writing the letter
Ask early. That way, if I am not able to write one for you, you'll know in time to get another writer. And if I am able to write one, I'll have time to write a good one.
Give me as many helpful raw materials to work with as you can. For example:
copies of papers that the I graded and liked, with my comments
a list of classes of mine you've taken and what grades you got in them, together with a list of other forums in which I got to see your work, if there are any
reminders of particular fruitful interactions that we have had (such as discussions or comments in or out of class), to jog my memory
Also, please let me devote as much energy as possible to the contents of the letter, by making the mechanics easy:
well before the first letter deadline, give me a list of places the letter should go and the deadlines for those places (exception: graduate students asking for job letters should not do this if the standard departmental procedure through the graduate coordinator will take care of getting me that information).
for any letters that will be submitted hard-copy (as opposed to via web submission): fill out and give me all relevant forms, and include fully addressed envelopes. You needn't put stamps on the envelopes, but I ask that you fill them in with both the destination address and my return address (Adam Elga / 1879 Hall Phil Dept / Princeton NJ 08544). I also ask that you sign the form waiving your right to see the letter. (Again, graduate students on the job market should follow the standard procedures, as directed by the graduate coordinator.)
Last updated [2010-12-05 Sun].