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Writting a Letter of Recommendation

Writting a Letter of Recommendation

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Published by Vince Vo

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Published by: Vince Vo on May 21, 2011
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Burroughs Wellcome FundHoward Hughes Medical Institute
 Writing a Lettero Recommendation
 Addendum to 
Making the Right Moves:
A Practical Guide to Scientifc Managementor Postdocs and New Faculty
second edition
Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientifc Management or Postdocs and New Faculty,
second edition© 2006 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund All rights reserved.“Writing a Letter o Recommendation”: Electronic addendum published 2009 Writer: Laura Bonetta, Ph.D.Production: Martine Bernard DesignPermission to use, copy, and distribute this publication or excerpts is granted providedthat (1) the copyright notice above appears in all reproductions; (2) use is or noncom-mercial educational purposes only; and (3) the publication or excerpts are not modied inany way (except when used or noncommercial educational purposes). Requests beyondthat scope should be directed to
.The views expressed in this publication are those o its contributors and do not necessarily refect the views o the Howard Hughes Medical Institute or the Burroughs WellcomeFund.This publication is available online at
.Burroughs Wellcome Fund21 T.W. Alexander DriveP.O. Box 13901Research Triangle Park, North Carolina27709-3901
Howard Hughes Medical Institute4000 Jones Bridge RoadChevy Chase, Maryland 20815-6789
s a beginning independent investigator, chances are you will soon have to writea letter o recommendation on behal o a student, a postdoc, or even a colleague. Your job as letter writer will be to describe the candidate’s strengths and weak-nesses as they relate to the position or program in a way that is both thoughtuland personal. A letter that alls short o this goal will be o little value to thoseevaluating applications and will not help the candidate get what he or she is ater.So, it pays to put in the necessary eort and time to write a “good” letter. Thischapter provides insights and advice rom experienced investigators on how todo so. It is not meant to be prescriptive but rather to oer some suggestions rom which you can pick and choose.
etters o recommendation are ubiquitous in an academic research career. I you teach one or more senior-level undergraduate courses or have undergraduatestudents in your laboratory, you might have to write dozens o letters a year asstudents become graduate-school bound or look or employment. I you do notteach undergraduates and have primarily graduate students and postdocs in yourlab, you will have signicantly ewer letters to write—maybe or only one or twopeople each year.In addition to the people in your own lab, graduate students and postdocs inyour department may ask you to write letters or them when they apply or el-lowships or seek new positions. Colleagues might also ask you to write letters o recommendation on their behal or various promotions or awards, but that may not happen too oten until you are more established.
For Whom Should You Write?
 As a mentor, you have an obligation to support students and postdocs in your labin their job search and to help them nd a good match or their abilities and aspi-rations. I they ask you to write a recommendation letter, it is customary to sup-port them in this way. The best thing to do is to sit down with them and discusstheir plans
they start applying or jobs. I their career goals are unrealistic,talk about what they need to do to become more competitive or help steer them

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