Obtaining letters of reference is not something that can be done in one semester, so plan ahead. Start developing relationships now. Find an instructor that you like and take another class with him/her. See if you can do a research project or independent study with the instructor. Be proactive. It is easy to sit through four years of class at UM and never get to know a instructor, but don’t let that happen. Make the effort. Stand out in class. Go to office hours. Get involved. Join UROP. Go on a Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU). There are many ways to know instructors; find one that works for you
The best letters of recommendation are written by faculty who know you, from whom you have taken multiple classes and/or have completed substantial projects and/or have received positive evaluations. Instructors provide insight into your academic competencies and aptitude as well as personality characteristics that may contribute to your potential to succeed in graduate school, such as motivation, conscientiousness, and timeliness.
Three things to consider before approaching faculty members
1. Know what graduate schools are looking for in their applicants.
2. Think about which faculty know you well enough to write a letter that includes anecdotes or specific examples of your performance.
3. Choose a variety of letter writers.
*Note: Some of your references will likely not be faculty members. You could approach a teaching assistant, an internship supervisor, an employer, a supervisor/coordinator who oversaw your work on a volunteer or community service project, etc…
Requesting a Letter of Recommendation
If an instructor agrees to write a letter
Deadlines and reminders
Getting to know faculty who can write strong letters of recommendations is a long process that should begin early in your academic career. Consider pursuing the following avenues to get to know faculty and for them to get to know you.
UM offers many opportunities to get involved with research through programs like the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) faculty research within departments and university-wide research programs like MHIRT. Committing to a research project for at least one year can be a good way to get to know a faculty member and for a faculty member to get to know you. However, be as selective as you can (within reason); choose a project that suits your interests and strengths and that pairs you with a faculty member who is researching a subject that appeals to you. As you become more familiar with the project, look for ways to become more involved and to assume more responsibility without being pushy. Engage the faculty member with questions relevant to the project. Ultimately, it is important that your research experience is supervised, documented and evaluated highly by a faculty member who will then write a letter of recommendation.
Ways to Make the Most of Your Research Experience
Applied/Field or “real world” experiences can also be a good place to get to know faculty. Programs such as Camp Davis, NELP, BioStation and GIEU (Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates) are a few examples of such programs. While these experiences may be too short in duration to establish a strong relationship with a faculty member, they are can serve as a foundation upon which you can build that relationship in future semesters. During your applied/field experience, be sure to do the following:
CLASSROOM EXPERIENCES AND OFFICE HOURS
Perhaps the most obvious place to get to know faculty is in the classroom. However, a faculty member will not have the opportunity to get to know you from the other 300 students if you simply attend lecture. You will have to find a way to engage the course material and the instructor. Here are some ideas…
Departmental colloquia, public lectures, receptions, and events are a great place for students to connect with instructors on an informal basis. It is a chance for the students to present themselves to the faculty as “junior colleagues,” especially for students interested in pursuing graduate school.
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