recommendation letter

A laptop computer with the screen open. A coffee cup to the left of the computer and a stack of scientific magazines to the right.

—from the PI's desk

No matter if your long-term career goals include research, medicine, or using your STEMM degree primarily for science communication, policy, or another direction, participating in an undergrad research experience is a unparalleled opportunity. This is in no small part due to the personal and professional development you gain from the exposure to in-depth, experiential learning--especially one that takes places over the course of a summer.

In addition to learning new research skills, communicating your results, and making a discovery to solve a problem or answer a question, you have the opportunity to earn a recommendation letter to support future applications for grad, medical, or professional school, and graduate fellowships.

However, if you are early in your undergrad career, you may not need that letter until a few years after your summer research experience. Sure, you could come back to your mentor after that time and request a recommendation, but that approach has some major disadvantages. Most importantly, the more time that passes between when you leave the lab and when you ask for a recommendation letter, the fewer the specific details about your strengths and successes your mentor is likely to remember—and it’s those specific details that can turn a strong letter into an epic one.


10 Pro-Tips to Wrap up Your Spring Research Semester

A list of 10 Pro-Tips to wrap up the Spring Semester in a single list on a chalkboard graphic. They are 1. Finish Strong. 2. Discuss what you won't complete. 3. Write a solid report. 4. Complete notebook. 5. Label everything. 6. Clean up before you go-go. 7. Lock down future schedule. 8. Ask for papers. 9. Thank everyone. 10. Leave contact information.

—from the PI's desk and the Lab Manager's bench

The close of the spring semester brings thoughts of lounging on the beach with a good book, hanging out with friends, or starting an exciting summer internship. In other words, all the things that will make your summer fun and enjoyable. However, don’t let your enthusiasm for the beginning of summer distract you from wrapping up some key tasks in the lab.

— from the PI’s desk

No matter if your career track is a pre-X (pre-med, pre-grad, pre-dental, pre-vet, etc.), or you're headed for the job market after graduation, you'll need recommendation letters along the way.

Invest 1 hour of your spring break to do a little prep work so it's easier to secure those recommendation letters before your professors are crushed with the pre-summer activity rush.

Here's a breakdown of how to spend that 1 hour.


How You Doin'?

— from the Lab Manager's bench

One of the reassuring things about taking an undergraduate lab course is knowing exactly what you need to do to earn the letter grade you want. For most instructional labs, you can calculate your grade at anytime to know whether or not you’re excelling, and opt for the extra credit assignments if needed.


I Need a Reference Letter in Two Years. Should I Ask Now?

—from the PI's desk

We received a request for help from a former undergrad in the lab (edited here for brevity and to maintain anonymity):

Hi Undergrad in the Lab, I have a question for you. I recently finished a 4 month summer research project. I understand the importance of references and I was thinking of asking my supervisor for a reference for professional school but I'm planning on applying in 2-3 years. Should I be asking for a reference letter now while they still remember me or is that a bad idea?

Did Someone Write a Recommendation Letter for You?

Every time someone writes a letter of recommendation for you, it’s important to send a thank-you email expressing your gratitude. It doesn’t need to be a long email (in fact you want to keep it under six sentences), but it should be sincere.

For the maximum benefits, send the thank-you email the same week the letter is done. However, if someone wrote a letter for you last summer and you didn’t know to send a thank-you email, get it done today. It can still count.

Although there are more, here are three reasons you should send a thank-you email: