Letters of Recommendation

Generally speaking, I will write for students who:

  • have earned an A or an A- in two classes with me
  • have participated in some intensive research activity with me (e.g., UREP)
  • are a senior thesis student of mine
  • or have otherwise developed a professional connection with me

If you fit in these criteria, you may ask me if I will write a letter for you. Please ask in advance (24 hours is not “in advance”) and be as specific and detailed as you can … in the space of some reasonable length (a paragraph or two is fine).

Why do you have these criteria?

At the university level, unlike some high schools, letters of recommendation are not automatic: they represent my professional attestation to your character and record.

I teach about 400 students per year, mostly in extremely large courses. That’s approximately as many as anyone else in the Political Science major and frequently more than anyone else. As I describe below, I cannot accommodate the workload of the requests that would ensure without having some policy.

These criteria enable me to write a good letter for you. I put time and care into my letters, and I want anyone who reads what I write to be able to trust what I say.

What do I do after you’ve said you will write me a letter?

Once I’ve said yes, then:

  • Fill in this form
  • Email me ( paul dot musgrave at gmail dot com)┬áto tell me you’ve filled in the form!
    • Use the subject line “[Your last name] Letter of Recommendation”
    • Include as attachments to this email your CV/resume, personal statement, cover letter, etc–anything you will be sending to the employer/school/whatever plus anything else I should know
  • Waive your rights to view the letter of recommendation. (Why should you do this? Because it sends a stronger signal to the receiver if you have waived your rights to see this recommendation. This is a common and accepted part of the etiquette of letters of recommendation.)

What does it mean to write a letter of recommendation, anyway?

Letter writing is great, mostly! But it’s work.

It takes me between 15 minutes and an hour to write a letter of recommendation (the first time; subsequent letters are faster). It’s uncompensated work. If I have several of them to write, it adds up. So I tend to do them in batches, near the end of the month, when I can set aside some time after a working day to crank through them. This means that in general you should give me at least a month’s notice, especially for your first letter. (Subsequent ones may be much faster, although I may also be traveling or otherwise engaged, so you should still aim to give me at least a week.) I understand that sometimes opportunities arise late, but if I don’t have sufficient time it may be very difficult for me to turn a good letter around.

Now, bearing all that in mind…Remind me if you haven’t heard from me, and the deadline is growing near. I would rather have a reminder email from you because I may have overlooked the letter (it happens!). I will not be upset if you remind me. So please remind me, remind me, remind me … starting about a week in advance.