Reference Letters

This is sort of a continuation of my post on Monday about my scholarship renewal process.

Part of the scholarship renewal, my supervisor needs to write a referece letter that pretty much highlights the same things I talk about in my progress report. However, he has the leeway (and space) to also point out other work I’ve been doing that is not specifically research related (like being a co-chair on a student committee or running a student track at a conference). All stuff that should work in my favor, but there’s no where in the renewal documents for me to talk about them.

This time, my supervisor has actually shown me the letter he is writing.  I’ve never seen one of them before (which is usually how it goes). And so it was interesting to see what he wrote. Most of it’s pretty straight forward – pretty much a list of what I’ve done over the past year – but it finishes with some very nice compliments about my research abilities. Which made me feel really good, and I smiled for a long time afterwards.

My supervisor is not one to heap praise on people. Nor is he one to put them down in front of others. (If he says something negative towards you in front of others, you know that you need to fix what you’re doing.) So seeing this letter was one of the first times I’ve really seen how he views me. I know that he’s not upset with my research or progress, and occasionally from comments I’m pretty sure he’s happy with my work and results. But the letter was a nice confirmation that things are going well.

I, thankfully, have yet to been ask to write a reference letter for someone. But I suppose it could happen in the future, as I have supervised a high school student last summer, and have another starting next week. At least now, I’ve seen a letter to give me an idea about how to write one. I’ve also had a few tips from people – but that’s another post.

For now, knowing what my supervisor wrote makes me want to make sure that I continue to work hard and produce results so that his opinion doesn’t change or he feels let down.

Have you ever seen a reference letter from your supervisor? Or past professors/advisors/employers?

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2 thoughts on “Reference Letters

  1. Typically, when I ask for a letter of recommendation, it’s done with the implied assumption that it will never pass over my eyes. For letters used to get me into graduate school (which are part of my student records), I’m technically entitled by law to see them, but I prefer to honor the expectation that it’s between my professor/advisor/whoever and the intended recipient.

    It sounds like you have a really awesome and forward-thinking supervisor. Writing recommendations is a less-publicized duty that we face whether in academia, industry, or government. It’s great that your supervisor decided to turn it into a teaching experience for you.

    • Generally when I need reference letters/letters of recommendation the instructions state that they should be placed in an enveloped and signed across the seal (making sure that it’s private). So this was my first experience seeing one.

      I’m not sure if I have the right to see what people wrote to get me into grad school, but I’ve never thought about checking before. Either way, I’ve no burning desire to see them, and they were written with the expectation that I wouldn’t see them (which is fine with me).

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