LoR from graduate student?

(Applications Advice, Letters of Recommendation . . . )
armysgt
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LoR from graduate student?

Postby armysgt » Fri Jan 11, 2013 2:49 am

So a lot of the courses are taught by PhD students at our university... are recommendations from them less favored than a recommendation from a full-time professor?

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jan 11, 2013 2:53 am

armysgt wrote:So a lot of the courses are taught by PhD students at our university... are recommendations from them less favored than a recommendation from a full-time professor?

Ideally, it's probably better to have a recommendation from a full-time prof. However, if the grad instructor has actually worked with you, knows your work best, and will be able to write a strong letter with specific information about why you're a great applicant, that's better than a generic "good student, got an A" letter from a full-time prof. (The flip side is that if you have a relatively new grad instructor they probably don't have a lot of experience writing LORs...but the flip side to the flip side is that they themselves were probably getting LORs more recently than the full-time profs were, which may help.)

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TripTrip
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby TripTrip » Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:50 am

A. Nony Mouse wrote:Ideally, it's probably better to have a recommendation from a full-time prof. However, if the grad instructor has actually worked with you, knows your work best, and will be able to write a strong letter with specific information about why you're a great applicant, that's better than a generic "good student, got an A" letter from a full-time prof. (The flip side is that if you have a relatively new grad instructor they probably don't have a lot of experience writing LORs...but the flip side to the flip side is that they themselves were probably getting LORs more recently than the full-time profs were, which may help.)

FTFY.

The credentials of the letter do not matter in the least. It is the content that matters. You could have a senior undergraduate TA writing the letter for you and it would be preferred to the prof if they could write more intelligibly about you in particular.

B90
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby B90 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:08 am

TripTrip wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:Ideally, it's probably better to have a recommendation from a full-time prof. However, if the grad instructor has actually worked with you, knows your work best, and will be able to write a strong letter with specific information about why you're a great applicant, that's better than a generic "good student, got an A" letter from a full-time prof. (The flip side is that if you have a relatively new grad instructor they probably don't have a lot of experience writing LORs...but the flip side to the flip side is that they themselves were probably getting LORs more recently than the full-time profs were, which may help.)

FTFY.

The credentials of the letter do not matter in the least. It is the content that matters. You could have a senior undergraduate TA writing the letter for you and it would be preferred to the prof if they could write more intelligibly about you in particular.


This is true. In fact, letters from well-known/famous profs are likely to not help you because it is assumed you chose that person thinking adcoms would be impressed. You want them to be impressed by YOU, not who you know.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:28 am

B90 wrote:
TripTrip wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:Ideally, it's probably better to have a recommendation from a full-time prof. However, if the grad instructor has actually worked with you, knows your work best, and will be able to write a strong letter with specific information about why you're a great applicant, that's better than a generic "good student, got an A" letter from a full-time prof. (The flip side is that if you have a relatively new grad instructor they probably don't have a lot of experience writing LORs...but the flip side to the flip side is that they themselves were probably getting LORs more recently than the full-time profs were, which may help.)

FTFY.

The credentials of the letter do not matter in the least. It is the content that matters. You could have a senior undergraduate TA writing the letter for you and it would be preferred to the prof if they could write more intelligibly about you in particular.


This is true. In fact, letters from well-known/famous profs are likely to not help you because it is assumed you chose that person thinking adcoms would be impressed. You want them to be impressed by YOU, not who you know.

But didn't y'all just say that it doesn't matter who writes it if the content is good? :P

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North
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby North » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:29 am

B90 wrote:This is true. In fact, letters from well-known/famous profs are likely to not help you because it is assumed you chose that person thinking adcoms would be impressed. You want them to be impressed by YOU, not who you know.

That's not... What? That's not the point. If, say, the President of the United States
A. Nony Mouse wrote:has actually worked with you, knows your work best, and will be able to write a strong letter with specific information about why you're a great applicant
then that's fine for an LOR too. The point here is that a recommender's prestige is much less important than what he has to say -- whether he is famous or not.

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North
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby North » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:30 am

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
B90 wrote:This is true. In fact, letters from well-known/famous profs are likely to not help you because it is assumed you chose that person thinking adcoms would be impressed. You want them to be impressed by YOU, not who you know.

But didn't y'all just say that it doesn't matter who writes it if the content is good? :P

Yeah, we did. Disregard, dude, disregard.

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TripTrip
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby TripTrip » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:32 am

I think B90 was just trying to make a point that prestige doesn't matter for LoR writers. Even if the POTUS writes your letter, you won't fare any better than another applicant who had a TA write a better letter.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:33 am

I will give one further plug for the prof - generally, a prof is more likely to be able to convincingly say something like, "X is in the top 10/5/1% of x,000 students I have taught over 20 years" than a PhD student. However, I totally agree that this is all else being equal. Content > author status.

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North
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby North » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:36 am

TripTrip wrote:I think B90 was just trying to make a point that prestige doesn't matter for LoR writers. Even if the POTUS writes your letter, you won't fare any better than another applicant who had a TA write a better letter.

Nah, it seemed like she was trying to suggest that a recommender's prestige could actually hurt an application because AdComms would think that you "were trying too hard to impress them." That's the first time I've seen anyone take it the opposite direction like that, but it's just as wrong as thinking a LOR from a TA would hurt.

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TripTrip
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby TripTrip » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:51 am

A. Nony Mouse wrote:I will give one further plug for the prof - generally, a prof is more likely to be able to convincingly say something like, "X is in the top 10/5/1% of x,000 students I have taught over 20 years" than a PhD student. However, I totally agree that this is all else being equal. Content > author status.

I was about to give the default "nope!" answer, but then I realized there is a bit of truth to what you're saying. One of my recommenders (prof) showed me the letter she wrote. Her teaching experience includes undergrad and grad, and she even co-taught a course at a law school. At one point in her three page letter, she said, "In my years of teaching, I would rank [TripTrip] as my top student." If you can find a professor to knock it out of the park for you like that, definitely go for it.
Last edited by TripTrip on Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

B90
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby B90 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:52 am

TripTrip wrote:I think B90 was just trying to make a point that prestige doesn't matter for LoR writers. Even if the POTUS writes your letter, you won't fare any better than another applicant who had a TA write a better letter.

This is partly what I meant.
Also, having a senator, judge, etc. write a rec. shows that you are naive. It's like majoring in something "law related," because you think that will add credibilty. If you actually worked for a judge, and that judge can write convincingly about your performance, go for it obviously.
If you have two LOR possibilities who will write equal letters, one being a prof. And one a TA, go with the prof. I didn't think that needed to be said.
Adcoms are used to getting tons of LORs from "impressive" people that are written very generically. I was cautioning against making the mistake of thinking status will overcome lack of content.

armysgt
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby armysgt » Fri Jan 11, 2013 6:00 pm

Okay, thanks for all the wonderful feedback. I gather that the title of the person does not matter as long as they know me in an academic setting.

Now a slightly different question.. What about the content of the classes themselves? Let me put it in context:

Introductory civilization/history lecture - has about 150 people, so personal contact with professor highly unlikely, but weekly discussion sections of about 25 people with a TA(a graduate student), with whom I can interact with fairly often.

I can probably do well in this class, but it's pretty evident from the title of the course ("Introduction to civilizations of ..) and course number (low) that it is not such a challenging class. Also, the TA seems disorganized and probably does not have significant experience in teaching. What'd you guys think about getting a recommendation from him?

Who said recommendations were the easiest part of the applications?! :( :(

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North
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Re: LoR from graduate student?

Postby North » Fri Jan 11, 2013 6:23 pm

I thought that getting LORs was second only to the LSAT in terms of stress.

Okay, so, prestige or a recommender doesn't matter. You do, however, want someone who will be able to tell law schools about your possession of qualities that law schools find important. Here's the best overview I've seen:
The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions wrote:Recommendation Content

Feel free to print this section out for your recommenders if they ask for your input or guidance. Recommenders will need to write one global letter that will work for all the schools you apply to. Here are some typical qualities that law schools care about as they put together an incoming class:

    • Intellect and native intelligence (your academic horsepower)
    • Academic performance (what you’ve done with that horsepower)
    • Analytical skills and reasoning ability
    • Written communication skills
    • Oral communication skills
    • Independence of thought and creativity
    • Quality of class participation
    • Work ethic and self-discipline
    • Enthusiasm and dedication
    • Character and ethics
    • Maturity and common sense
    • Leadership qualities (can be thought leadership)
    • Potential for the study of law (to the extent they can judge)
    • Resilience, stick-with-it-ness, grit
    • Cooperativeness and concern for others

Similarly, if you have to ask an employer or former employer for a recommendation because you are unable, at this stage in your life, to track down enough professors from your college days, try to pick one who can address the skills that law schools will care about the most. Here are some examples:

    • Your analytical skills
    • Your writing skills
    • Your speaking skills
    • Your research skills
    • Your attention to detail
    • Your persuasive skills
    • Your problem-solving skills
    • Your presentation and soft skills (the “can we put her in front of employers/clients” test)

Don’t ask your recommender to opine on all of these, just the ones he feels competent to discuss based on his experience with you.


If you feel that the TA can write at length about your having a few of the above qualities, then go for it. If not, find someone who can. Note, however, that you should try to get two academic LORs.




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