Recommendation Letter (LORs) for PhD
A Letter of Recommendation (LOR) is another crucial document required for your admission process to study abroad. As significant as a Statement of Purpose (SOP) and Resume, a LOR from the right person can guarantee you a seat in your dream university. Just as the SOP and Resume cover all your capabilities, academics, individual qualities, and professional experiences, the LOR becomes living proof of these activities from your professors or employers. A LOR for PhD applicants holds a vital place in their application procedure as this one document will pitch in the interest of your chosen field.
Types of PhD LORs depending upon the university
Generally, a PhD applicant is required to submit two LORs. However, to play it safe it is advised that the applicant should have at least three LORs ready. Depending on the university you will find different ways of submitting a LOR from your recommenders.
Subjective/ objective questionnaire format
Similar to some MBA B-schools, few universities directly send an e-mail containing objective and/or subjective type questions to the recommenders mentioned by you in the application form. Within this e-mail, mostly there is a link to the university’s site where the recommender is asked to answer certain questions. These questions are usually based on individual qualities and capabilities. The recommenders can be asked to rate the individual on a given scale or explain as to why she/he mentioned a particular quality about the applicant. In other cases, the LOR questions can be directly received by the recommender via email, wherein he/she just needs to fill out the answers, and mail it back to the university. It is done so as to maintain the authenticity of the document and retain secrecy from the applicant.
Generic format similar to MS LOR
Most of the universities will straightaway ask for generic LORs. Similar to MS and MBA LORs, PhD LORs too will have the same format. Only the content is expected to be brief in terms of the applicant’s research work. Starting with a strong introduction, the LOR should contain at least three qualities of the applicant with supporting instances. These qualities can be focused on social interaction, technical skills or know-how, ability to conduct dedicated research, and subject-related capabilities apart from academic proficiency. Also, since a PhD is an advanced degree programme, the recommender should concentrate more on research works, projects, thesis work, research skills, interest/ passion towards the field, dedication, and self-motivation.
PhD being a competitive and challenging programme, each and every document in your application process is essential. Even with excellent test scores and academic background, students’ applications can get waitlisted or even rejected solely on the basis of the quality of the rest of the documents. In such cases, documents such as sample research essay, SOP, and LOR comes as a rescue by being the deciding factor while choosing between candidates with a similar profile. Hence, it is imperative to choose the right person who will be your recommender. The ideal person from whom you can get a PhD LOR is:
- Subject professor
- Project Guide or any academician under whose guidance you completed your project or Master’s thesis
- Any other professor or employer with whom you worked on a research work/project
- Academic recommendations can be taken from an internship or project supervisor
- Lab supervisors
The recommenders should be able to substantiate your academic strengths and interests.You will also have an upper hand if you have already worked in that particular field with some famous professors or researchers. A LOR from such notable personalities will be an add-on to your profile.
The recommender should be able to endorse you as a person, know you closely as a student of the department, observe your capabilities as a student and should also be aware of your future plans. Thus, the recommender should be acquainted with you (academically or professionally) for no less than a year. Also note that friends, acquaintances, family members or relatives are not supposed to write any kind of recommendation letter as they are not aware of the applicant’s work, and hence, cannot discuss the applicant’s qualities.
How to draft a PhD LOR
An ideal PhD LOR should strictly be of one-two page in length and not more than that, encompassing five to six paragraphs in total. Begin your LOR with an introduction that should directly refer the candidate to the university/ college. It is basically an introduction of the recommender to the university and for how long he/she has been acquainted with the applicant. Along with this, the recommender should also convey in what capacity does he/she know the applicant and since when (time period). These points should be addressed directly in the first paragraph itself. The next paragraphs of the LOR should be divided into three to four body paragraphs, wherein the recommender should discuss certain distinct qualities/ skills of the applicant, demonstrated through instances when he/she observed that quality in the applicant. The recommenders should focus on these traits:
- Strong subject knowledge with respect to the applicant’s project/thesis topic
- Analytical skills
- Self-motivation and confidence
- Additional courses/knowledge applicant gained to complement his/her work in the chosen field
- Passion and dedication towards the topic/field and towards research work
- Research skills
The last paragraph is the conclusion. It should sum up the abovementioned qualities/skills of the applicant. End the LOR with a strong recommendation from the referee to the university to accept the student’s application and grant him an admission letter.
To conclude, LOR is a vital aspect of the documentation procedure during your application process. It provides you with an edge over other similar profile candidates as it gives a human touch to all the academic and professional excellence you have already mentioned in your other documents. Hence, a LOR becomes a stage where the recommender supports and recommends your application for acceptance directly to the university.