Oct 31, 2022

Professional networking while pursuing your undergraduate and graduate degrees (insights from an anti-social academic on socializing)

Photo by Fatih on Unsplash
Overview: Networking requires more than just attending a conference and collecting a pile of business cards. To network, you need to make meaningful connections with others in your professional community so that you can exchange ideas and information. This is something that students should be doing within their own departments, across their institutions, and at professional events like conferences. Dr. Delphine Dean has helped many students overcome that awkward feeling of approaching people they don’t know and forming robust networks that helped those students enter their dream fields and positions. While a single blog post could not capture all her suggestions, the following post highlights the critical concepts to get you started.

Post Contributor(s): Drs. Marian Kennedy and Delphine Dean.

Finding your research advisor and mentor(s) in graduate school

Overview: For a research-based MS or PhD program, you will need to identify a research advisor. This faculty member is responsible for collaborating with you on your research contained within your thesis or dissertation. You advisor will help you set your research hypothesis, scoping your experimental plans, dealing with technical questions, resolving any emergent ethical questions, etc. 

In some cases, your research advisor can also become a mentor. A mentor provides their mentees with motivation, emotional support, serves as a role model, and gives support in determining career path options. However, the assumption that all research advisors will be able to provide every one of their advisees with mentoring in every area should not be made. While some faculty are excellent research advisors, they may not have the skills (or passion) for helping students balance graduate school responsibilities while raising children, perspectives on negotiating job packages, networking, etc. Therefore, we encourage graduate students to find a research advisor who can guide them on a research project they are passionate about and then to also assemble their own team of formal and informal mentors for their professional and personal lives. This mentorship team will help guide each graduate student as they enter and then matriculate through graduate school.

Post Contributor(s): Drs. Marian Kennedy and Oliver Myers


Photo by Josep Martins on Unsplash

Applying to and completing a graduate degree program can be an exciting time in your life. It can also be the first time that you notice that your existing network of friends, parents, etc. does not have answers to your questions or guidance on the things you need to know. You might need advice about what graduate programs to apply to, guidance on how to undertake paper revisions, resolve personal conflicts with peers in your research group, manage your finances without the support of parents, etc. If that is the case, as it is for many, you should add at least one mentor your network. A mentor has more expertise and experience than you in some domains and their guidance can increase your academic and professional success (including numbers of research publications and citations, recognition in the field, and research self-efficacy). In addition, this person will provide support (and enthusiasm) for your ideas and efforts. A mentor can share their knowledge and personal experiences with you to address your issues. This is different from a role model, who demonstrates the professional attitudes or values that you would like to embody but do not necessarily interact with you.

The need for a mentor is not new or a symptom that young people today are particularly unsuited to independence. Indeed, mentor-advisee relationships go back to early civilization! The term “mentor” originated with a character named Mentor in Homer’s The Odyssey. For those of you who have never read it, you can find a quick summary here. Mentor was a friend and advisor to Odysseus to whom the latter entrusted the care of his son when he went to Troy to fight. While the term did not come into use until much later, Socrates mentored Plato in the fifth century BCE and the Bible tells of Paul’s mentorship to Timothy. Mentors act as coaches, confidantes, advocates, guides, etc.

Reflecting back on our careers, we have both sought out mentors in various phases. In graduate school, Dr. Myers sought mentors to help him persist through his graduate program, leading peers and identifying his first position outside of graduate school. These mentors supplemented the work of his research advisor who oversaw Dr. Myers’s dissertation work, and he credits them with his success in becoming a researcher.   

For both of us, most of our mentoring relationships have been informal. That is, we never specifically asked someone to be our mentor. Instead, we simply ask them for input on a specific concern or situation that could not be answered through a little bit of reading or Googling. A description for how to do this is outlined well in the “Are you my mentor?” chapter in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandburg. In this chapter, she suggests that asking questions and gauging the response results in much more productive relationships between an advisee and mentor than a formal request. When identifying your mentor, geography is not vital. You can absolutely have a mentor who you talk to on a phone, Zoom with, or just email. What is important is that they can hold your questions in confidence, are willing to give you time in their busy lives and that you respect them enough to take their advice. In addition, you will need to identify a system that determines when and how many mentors you connect with each month.

There are some advantages to formally asking someone to be your mentor. This may make it easier to work together to identify the scope of the mentoring relationship—that is, how you will communicate, the outcomes you want from mentoring, etc. Both of us asked for formal mentoring during the tenure process. We wanted a formal relationship with another faculty member in your departments to discuss the unwritten rules for promotion, and by having a formal mentor we were able to get consistent feedback and guidance over the six-year tenure process. Without this, we might have been tempted to put off those vital, but sometimes uncomfortable, discussions.

The last path for mentoring that you can take is peer mentoring. During peer mentoring, you are part of a team who want to grow in a particular area. Dr. Myers entered a program like this as a student, as part of the University of Maryland Meyerhoff Scholars Program

As we conclude, we want to emphasize that it is rare to find a perfect mentor, that is, a person who can help you in all situations. Therefore, we would strongly suggest that you create a mentoring team for yourself as you apply and then matriculate through graduate school. These mentors might include: 

  • Graduate students who can provide you insight on how to navigate the application process for graduate school, choosing an advisor at your institution, etc.
  • Faculty members on your research committee who can help you think through your possible career paths after graduation.
  • Researchers publishing in your focus area can help you with methodology, theoretical frameworks, etc.
  • Researchers who may will give you perspective on the different benefits between collaborative efforts with large teams of researchers vs. those that will just include you and your research advisor.

Remember that mentoring is not a one-sided action. To get the most out of mentoring, you must be able to collaborate with your mentor. In addition, you need to be honest with them and be open to constructive criticism. Finally, as your experience changes, your relationships with existing mentors will change. That is, you will need to continuously evaluate your team of mentors and adjust by either changing the intervals in which you meet with them or add new mentors. Students who were previously in our research groups normally transition into valued colleagues at the end of our mentoring relationship. And when we realize that has occurred, it is always a great moment. 

About our guest contributor:  Oliver Myers is the Associate Dean of Inclusive Excellence for Undergraduate Studies in the Clemson College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Science/. He is also an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering where his research group focuses on the characterization of smart materials and structure mechanics.

Acknowledgements: This blog post was edited by Kate Epstein of EpsteinWords. She specializes in editing and coaching for academics, and she can be reached at kate at epsteinwords.com.


Oct 24, 2022

Navigating the application process for the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship Program

Overview: Over the last 15 years, it has become harder to find funding for graduate school.  More departments are moving to a model in which internal funding (such as slots for teaching or grading assistantships) are used only for students pursuing PhDs.  In addition, many grants that faculty are awarded to conduct research are awarded for a period of three years, which is less than the typical length of a PhD student program. 


A solution for students (and their research advisors) may be to apply for awards from “scholarship for service” programs.  These awards require the recipient to work for a designated employer for a period of time after their graduation.  For students in engineering and science, one of the largest of these programs is the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship Program, which is funded by the US Department of Defense.


This post provides an overview of the program and then provides insight on tips for a successful submission from a recent recipient in the midst of their PhD program (Camden Brady) and a recipient who is now working for the Department of Defense (Dr. Hunter Rogers).  If you are a US citizen looking for funding support to complete a STEM degree, you might be interested in a scholarship-for-service program offered by the US Department of Defense. This program can support undergraduate or graduate students supports students through the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service Program. This program is open to undergraduates and graduate students who are pursing either a master’s, or Ph.D. in select science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Applications this year are due on Dec 1st, 2022. This program is unlike the NSF GFRP in two main ways. The first is that students are supported in areas that are of interest to the US Department of Defense. The second is that recipients are obligated to obtain civilian employment with the Department of Defense upon their degree compl’tion.




Post Contributor(s): Dr. Marian Kennedy, Camden Brady (a PhD student at Clemson University within the Department of Industrial Engineering), and Dr. Hunter Rogers (Research General Engineer at the 711th Human Performance Wing of the Air Force Research Laboratory). 



Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash
The Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship program offers graduate students support in exchange for committing to work for the Department of Defense (DoD) for a period of time after earning their degree.  Support includes full tuition, an annual stipend (of varying amount) and opportunities for internships during the graduate school years. For those supplies for support for graduate school, students need to apply in the year before they begin graduate school or early in their graduate school programs. 


The website for this program is masterfully designed compared to many of its programmatic peers, allowing for easy navigation and offering helpful tips and data!  The award statistics for each cohort on the site include these statistics for the 2022 cohort (who applied in 2021):    

  • 482 awards
    • This is smaller than the number of awards granted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows Program (GRFP).
  • 19% success rate
    • This is a higher success rate than that published by the NSF for the GRFP.
  • 3.75/4.00 average cumulative GPA
  • Distribution by degree program:  BS 46.89%, BS/MS 12.66%, MS 13.90% and PhD 26.56%. 

This shows that half of the awards are granted for graduate students with approximately 25% of funds going to MS students and 26% towards PhD students.  The website also indicates the percentage of applicants and recipients from each discipline. Of course, I checked my own: 2.3% of the recipients and 2.7% of the applicants were from materials science and engineering, respectively. 


Basic Outline of Application Process

The administrators also deserve applause for their library of videos that will guide you through the steps in the application process. Most the application process is much like that for any scholarship you might apply for, including submission of transcripts, letters, etc. The main component of the application that might be challenging is the personal statement. In it, undergraduate applicants are asked to address all the following prompts (all of these are on the program’s website linked above):

  • “Your educational and professional goals”
  • “The factors and experience that led you to choose your field of study”
  • “How working as part of the DoD civilian workforce will further you technical and professional goals”
  • “How your experience, interests, and goals will further the DoD mission”

Graduate students must answer all of those as well, and also answer an additional prompt:

“Elaborate on the kinds of research you have engaged in or would like to engage in during your studies as well as during your expected tenure with the DoD. Please discuss these research interests in sufficient detail for an expert who is technically competent in your field to judge your understanding of the questions to be addressed, relevant hypotheses and approaches one might take to answering the questions, and other research principles required to investigate in the research area you identify.”

As a student, I did not investigate this program.  Scouring forums, I found that students have mixed perceptions of the required job after graduation.  Some seemed to appreciate job security (a plus during a market downturn), while others were concerned that if they participated in the SMART program they would be too limited.


Tips for getting started from two recent recipients

Since I have not had experience either mentoring or receiving this award, I reached out to Camden Brady, a PhD candidate in Industrial Engineering at Clemson University.  Camden was awarded a SMART Scholarship in April 2022 to study how humans and artificial intelligence can form more effective teams.  This work is overseen by his faculty mentor, Dr. Kapil Chalil Madathil.  Dr. Hunter Rogers, who was also in the SMART Scholarship program under Dr. Kapil’s supervision, weighed in on her experience as well. You can learn more about Dr. Hunter’s research on Google Scholar.


Q:  How did you first learn about the SMART Scholarship program? 

Camden Brady:   My mom informed me about the SMART scholarship once I graduated high school and began my college career.  I pushed the scholarship to the side during my undergraduate career because I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do yet and I didn’t think I would be qualified for it. 


Dr. Hunter Rogers: My advisor informed me about the scholarship program after I had completed a submission for the NSF GRFP. My parents both worked in civil service for the DoD and the program seemed like a natural fit for me, especially once I learned about the variety of research programs I could be a part of within the DoD.


Q:  What made you decide to apply?

Camden Brady:   I was worried about funding for grad school, so I talked to my advisor, Dr. Kapil, and he highlighted this opportunity.  He really encouraged me to apply.  I still didn’t feel like I had what it took, but I devoted a lot of time to making the application the best I could.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: Much the same as Camden, I saw that this scholarship program had the potential to remove the weight of funding off my back. After realizing I was familiar with the areas of DoD service and scouring the supporting facilities research, I decided to reformat my GRFP application and apply.


Q:  What were the critical steps in your application process?

Camden Brady:   I had to write a personal statement which highlighted myself and why I believed I deserve the scholarship.  This was followed by a research statement (a component that is only required for those using the scholarship to fund graduate school).  Based on this, you may receive an interview from one of the sponsoring facilities you selected if they are interested in learning more about you. Finally, if the sponsoring facility selects you, then you receive the scholarship.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: A big step for me was the personal statement. I was not very experienced at writing about myself.  Working with my advisor who was more experienced with proposal writing really helped me craft a strong personal statement. After submission, I was left waiting to see what interviews I would receive, if any.  I spent time thinking about how I would convey my experience and how my research was crucial to the DoD.


The scholarship program offered me funding if I would commit to working with the Air Force Headquarters group A9, which is a Mathematical Modeling/Operations Research group operating out of the Pentagon.  It was a very technical assignment and didn’t have any connection to my focus area (Human Factors research) that I had spent time on during my Ph.D. program. This unit selected me from the pool of candidates because they appreciated how I thought through technical problems, and they wanted a person who could bring a new perspective to their projects.


At that point, I had to decide if I wanted to accept the funding (and branching out into a new area right after I would graduate) or decline this funding opportunity.   I chose to accept the scholarship and it worked out better than I imagined, as I was ultimately able to return to Human Factors research in my current PhD position.


Q: What’s one piece of advice you have for students completing fellowship/scholarship applications?

Camden Brady:   My process to apply for a SMART scholarship was rushed because I started preparing my application late.


While it worked out, I would suggest reaching out for help/advice as early as possible from your advisor. 


During the start of my application preparation process, I sat down with my advisor and Dr. Rogers to discuss the SMART scholarship application process.  I also had my application statements revised about 4 times in 2 weeks.  This process helped increase the professional tone of my statements and eliminated grammar error.  I also spent a significant amount of time in the application process speaking with my lab members about their projects.  Since I was new to the research scene, this helped me gauge what research areas I was interested in.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: I am going to tell you what I told Camden in our meeting.   Applicants should consider their fit for DoD work and culture.  A good description of this can be found on the application portal.  The SMART program is looking to find academically talented individuals to support the military through their technical skills. The DoD is putting a significant amount of resources into the development of scholars and their careers, so you need to assure them during the application process that you will be a good fit for the DoD and have the potential to build your career in your sponsor facility. They go through some trouble to find the best candidates, and to make sure that those scholars will love their jobs, because that’s what creates a sustainable workforce.



Q: Some students say that completing scholarship/fellowships helps them learn about themselves.  Did you have that experience and if so, what did you learn?

Camden Brady:   I did learn more about myself during the application process.   I learned about potential research areas, identified projects that interested me and solidified what I wanted to do after completing my graduate program.  It also forced me to think about my experiences thus far and how they have impacted my educational and career goals.  For example, I had two previous internships before completing the SMART application and while I was filling in the application, I realized how my internships changed my career aspiration from a role in manufacturing to a researcher studying human factors.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: I learned a lot about my ability to adapt during my internship with A9 and I was really able to hone in on what research directions excited me.


Q:  Did you apply for multiple graduate fellowships or scholarship opportunities in parallel?

Camden Brady:   No.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: I had applied for the NSF GRFP and started one with the Department of Energy as well.



Q:  How and when did you first make the connection to your Department of Defense Partner?

Camden Brady:   I partnered with the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic in Charleston.   My advisor recommended that facility to me because of connections he had.  I was excited because I also love Charleston.  In my application, I applied for a range of sponsoring facilities.  When they contacted me for an interview, I was thrilled.  During the interview, we started discussing the DOD project I am currently helping with.


Dr. Hunter Rogers: My story is a bit more complex because I ended up transferring my commitment to a different sponsoring facility.


My original sponsor facility, Air Force A9- a mathematical modeling group, initiated my SMART scholarship interview. After getting accepted as a scholar, I was very motivated to make sure that my dissertation work would be of importance to the DoD since they were funding my training.  Therefore, I made an effort to reach out to researchers from the Air Force contributing to human factors studies.  I was able to connect with a group located at the Air Force Research Laboratory.  I appreciated the correspondence and their support as they made an effort to read my publications over the next two years. I was surprised, that this group decided to offer me a position after graduation and I worked with both A9 and 711th to find an equitable solution.  At the end, I transfered my commitment from to the 711th Human performance wing of Air Force Research Laboratory with the support of A9.   


Q: I get this question all the time, so I thought I would ask you both.  What made you decide to stay at the same institution for both your undergraduate and graduate work? 


Camden Brady:   I will answer this with a list.  The first two bullet points were heavily weighted than those following.  However, I wanted to explicitly mention the more personal factors. 

· I had established connections with peers, research lab, and my research advisor at Clemson University.
·  I was already attending an institution with a well-known program for research of human factors and that was the area I was interested in pursuing.  
·  Clemson is also close to my home, which I appreciated during my undergraduate career.  It was nice to return home for a home cooked meal every once in a while, and to visit my girlfriend.
·  I appreciated that I was already familiar with the area.  Starting graduate school can be tough because expectations are drastically different and going somewhere new, where you would need to navigate an unknown area, could add to my stress levels.
·   I considered Clemson a great school during my undergraduate years and now into graduate school.  I love everything about it including our sports teams. 



Dr. Hunter Rogers: Clemson had been my home for four years during my undergraduate program.  As I was graduating with my undergraduate degree, I still felt like I wanted to spend more time at Clemson.  Additionally, the institution achieved an R1 designation at the end of my undergraduate program.  This meant that I would be getting my doctorate from an institution with an exceptional level of research.  (More information on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education® can be found here.) Finally, I knew most of the Human Factors faculty and knew I had some great minds around me to guide my research.


Q: In addition to funding, what has been the largest benefit to participating in the SMART Scholarship program?



Dr. Hunter Rogers: Job security made a huge difference to my graduate experience. After the initial interview with A9, I had an internship lined up every summer that would help me gain experience and would end up with a job that I was prepared for as I already learned the culture of the institution.  I would already have experience of the team, culture, type of work, and how to navigate the institution, which would improve my transition to full time work. Additionally, I wouldn’t need to constantly apply and interview for jobs throughout my graduate school years. Just before defending your dissertation is the most stressful point, and having to worry about a job then would have been hard.


Q: Any advice for graduate students transitioning from their degree program to their first position after a SMART scholarship?



Dr. Hunter Rogers: Take advantage of asking questions and making connections with people in your internships facilitated by the SMART program during your graduate program. This will help socialize you as an employee and help others match you to the right projects.   Also, work with those contacts to find areas to live, social areas etc. to help make the full life transition.


Q: What was the most enjoyable part of the research process for you and the least enjoyable part of the process as you completed your dissertation? 



Dr. Hunter Rogers: The most enjoyable part for me was getting to see other people excited about my research and the designs I was able to complete. Least enjoyable was the qualifier and comprehensive exams that are required within some Ph.D. programs at Clemson.  The first exam (qualifying exam) is there to determine how much of the core materials you have mastered within the first year of your Ph.D.  The second exam (comprehensive exam) helps faculty determine if the research you proposed for your dissertation is sufficient for a Ph.D. and if you have the knowledge needed to complete the research proposed, respectively.


(Note from Dr. Kennedy:  Most PhD exams have similar types of steps or exams, but the specific scope of those steps is determined by each program and not the university). 




Q: There are many productivity programs and software out there.  Are there any tools you would suggest for graduate students?  More specifically, were there any tools that were especially helpful as you finished your dissertation and transitioned into your first post-doctoral position?



Dr. Hunter Rogers: I am a huge fan of Microsoft Excel! I made sheets to track my personal spending as I tried to move to Washington DC for my placement (which ended up not happening, which made things slightly easier).  I also had a checklist and timeline in Microsoft Excel for all the things I needed to wrap up with writing and forms/steps needed for moving into the new job.   As a graduate student, I also made use of the counseling and psychological services on my campus to help work through the stress and anxiety I was dealing with.



Acknowledgements: This blog post was edited by Kate Epstein of EpsteinWords. She specializes in editing and coaching for academics, and she can be reached at kate at epsteinwords.com.


Oct 19, 2022

Cultivating relationships with your future letter writers and activating those relationships during application season

Overview: Letters of recommendation will have a large impact on your admission to graduate school, with the power to tip your application between the acceptance pile and the rejection pile.  The review teams are looking for a knowledgeable member of your discipline to provide testimony about you and weigh in on your future success as a graduate student and a member of the scientific community.  I have asked two of my colleagues, Drs. Margaret Ptacek and Renee Cottle, to join me as I wrote this blog post.  Dr. Ptacek's research group focuses on understanding the processes that control genetic divergence among populations and the contributions of these processes to local adaptation and speciation.   Dr. Cottle's research group seeks to improve the lives for those with inherited metabolic diseases.   


Post Contributor(s): Drs. Marian Kennedy, Margaret Ptacek (Professor, Clemson University Department of Biological Sciences), Renee Cottle (Assistant Professor, Clemson University Department of Bioengineering) 



Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash
Letters of recommendation (LORs) should come from people who know you well and have the experience to comment on your success in a graduate program.  Review committees use LORs to learn about personal characteristics of applicants as well as their prior experience.  You want your LORs to give anecdotes about the experiences that your letter writer has had with you in class projects, field trips, or research labs.  In a great LOR, the letter writer makes the applicant “come alive” for the reader and they can see what type of person you are in terms of intellect, drive, commitment, and ability to learn.  Since these degrees are often research based, that means your letter writers should either have an advanced degree equivalent to the one you are earning, manage people with the advanced degree you will be earning or, preferably, be researchers mentoring graduate students.  This last category could be faculty at your university, staff members at national laboratories, or researchers at industrial facilities with adjunct positions at a university. 


The first step in getting a letter of recommendation, is getting to know your potential letter writer well. 

As faculty, we see a lot of students each day.  Many of those students sit across from us in auditoriums or classrooms, often listening to a lecture and taking notes. They also don’t talk to us very much except to clarify points in class or ask about deadlines.  We know little about them other than through observation of their written performance on their graded exams. 


To help us as faculty get to know you, here are some ways that we can interact more.

  • Attend our office hours.  You can discuss class work or just talk to us about your career goals, etc.    
  • Conduct research with us during the normal academic year.  You can complete research for academic credit, volunteer, or even apply to be a paid research assistant. 
  • Apply to complete research with a faculty member at a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site. 
  • Get involved in your department by joining student clubs or chapters affiliated with it.  These student groups normally have a faculty member as their advisor and this person gets to know the students well. 


Before you ask a faculty member for a letter, do your homework. 

You need to gather all the information that a letter writer will need.  First, make a list of all the programs you are applying to and their respective deadlines.  You will also want to highlight how the faculty member will need to submit the recommendation letters (through an online web portal, College Net,

email to admissions committee or grad program coordinator, etc.). 


Next, make sure that you provide documents containing the following information:

  • When the letter writers first met you (semester and year) and in what capacity (instructor, research advisor, club advisor, etc.). 
  • Why you are interested in going to graduate school.
  • Your long-term career goals.
  • Why you chose your field and program.
  • Why you chose to pursue a MS or PhD.
  • Your GPA and GRE scores (if you have those).
  • Anticipated graduation date.
  • Your research interests and experience.


If all that information is included in the personal statement you prepared for your graduate application, then you can just plan on attaching the personal statement to your email.  This is often a good idea anyway because it helps your letter writer know you a bit more as a person outside of class and they can comment on your experiences outside of school, your resilience, your interest in science since childhood, etc.


Be very specific when you request your letter of recommendation

You want to ask faculty members if they can write you a “good” or “strong” recommendation letter.  A marginal letter can make review committees hesitate about accepting you. 


So, in the first few lines of your letter to them, let the faculty member know that you are interested in graduate school and then ask the golden question:    

“Do you have the bandwidth to write me a strong recommendation letter for graduate school?”

Then include a list of programs you will be applying to with their deadlines.  By specifically asking the faculty members, you will invite them to reflect on if they know you well enough to write a strong letter.  They will also need to identify if they have the bandwidth in the timeframe before the deadline.  If they hesitate, move on, and ask another person to write your letters. 


If they agree, make sure to send them a follow up email with your resume, personal statement, and the information highlighted above. 


Ask early

The farther ahead of the deadline you ask us, the more likely it is a faculty member can agree to the request and carve out time to write a good letter.   Unfortunately, there are more good students than we have time to write letters for.  At some point, we will not agree to write any additional letters simply because we have committed what time we have for such letter. So choose wisely. Ask faculty to write your letters of recommendation for graduate school, and ask your TA to write letters where the review committee does not necessarily need the input of a PhD like an application to be a dorm resident assistant or to join a study abroad program.


What to do if you have worked much more with a graduate student than a faculty member

You have a few options.  The first is to “remind” the faculty member which graduate student in their group has really observed you with research.  The other is to see if the graduate student could cowrite the letter with the faculty advisor. 


What to do after you have been accepted into your program or received your fellowship

As soon as you get accepted or receive your fellowship, you start a new phase with your letter writers.   You should immediately let them know what happened and thank them. Having written letters for you, these individuals are emotionally invested in you achieving your goals.   In addition, you will continue to need letters of recommendation or references in the coming years.  By staying in touch with these people, you will have a higher chance that these people will be willing to continue to write LORs as you begin to apply for jobs.  We would suggest putting a note in your calendar to follow up with these people every 6 months or a year. 


Where else can I find some advice? 

Letters of Recommendation for Grad School: Beware the Bad Letter-Writer” post on  MyGraduateSchool Blog

  • Dave G. Mumby, Ph.D. keeps an excellent blog. He has written books and consults on applying to graduate school programs. Dr. Kennedy loves this specific blog post because it highlights the negative impact of a mediocre letter. 

Graduate Letter of Recommendation Templates and Examples 2022-2023 on Wordvice Blog

  • This advice is for faculty writing letters of recommendation.  It does take faculty about 45-60 minutes for an initial letter of recommendation (once all the initial information is gathered) and then another 20 minutes for additional letters to make sure they are tailored to each specific program.  You might find the information valuable in this post since it will help you identify the information you should provide to anyone who has committed to writing you a letter.   

Advice for Graduate Research Fellowship Letter Writers

  • ·  This site is geared to helping faculty craft letters of recommendation for the NSF GFRP program.  Read it to know what types of things go into the letters and make sure that the people you are requesting your letters can comment on those things.  For example, in an NSF GFRP letter, the writers must comment on your prior research experiences.  It should be helpful if one of the letter writers was one of your research advisors and you will want to provide the others a list of your research experiences.


How to get recommendation letters in STEM” post on the PhDxlife blog

  • Lots of great advice.  Their tip about asking a letter of reference writer if they want to receive a reminder and at what frequency is particularly smart.   

Some Tips for Writing Recommendation Letters

  • This blog post was written by Kate Epstein, the editor who removes a bulk of the errors before you read my posts.  She wrote this for those who write recommendation letters.  Understanding what does into a letter is helpful when you provide materials to your letter writers.  


Acknowledgements: This blog post was edited by Kate Epstein of EpsteinWords. She specializes in editing and coaching for academics, and she can be reached at kate at epsteinwords.com.



Where else can