WRITING A LETTER OFRECOMMENDATION
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 thoughtuland 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 ater.So, it pays to put in the necessary eort 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 oer some suggestions rom which you can pick and choose.
BEING ASKED TO WRITE A LETTER
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 signicantly 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 oten 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