Lukewarm References

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Lukewarm References

Postby dasgut » Sat Feb 11, 2012 3:08 pm

Do you think most profs would tell you if they're going to write you a lukewarm reference? Wouldn't they just refuse to write it?

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Re: Lukewarm References

Postby castlevania87 » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:42 pm

You need to tell them what level of schools you are aiming for. Also PhD or Masters, PhD application largely depends on great reference letters.

Profs at my institutions are not embarrassed to say NO. I heard some student turned down by a professor.

My advisor told me that he wouldn't write strong letters if he didn't think I would be qualified for that school and he would frankly tell me that. But that didn't happen. :D

Maybe you should also ask if they are willing to write strong reference letters.

wine in coffee cups
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Re: Lukewarm References

Postby wine in coffee cups » Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:19 pm

dasgut wrote:Do you think most profs would tell you if they're going to write you a lukewarm reference? Wouldn't they just refuse to write it?

Generally, I think you're right. I think it takes a specific kind of avoidant/non-confrontational personality to sabotage a student with a blah letter without at least hinting that they should look elsewhere for a reference. To be honest, most professors I've had in math-related fields seem to be on the other end of that spectrum of awkward: extremely blunt with no effort to deliver bad news gently. Of course, you would know better than anyone here what the deal is with your letter writers.

Speculatively, what might be a more common issue is accidentally lukewarm references. Surely some well-intentioned professors end up emphasizing strengths and research interests that turn out not to be a good match for particular departments, especially if they are writing one letter for a diverse set of programs or if you have changed paths significantly since you last worked with them. Another possibility is that someone's idea of a glowing recommendation might end up not reading compellingly if they aren't a strong writer or just said generic nice things.

But, in your case, I think you're stressing about this unnecessarily. Per the profiles, Yale thought you were an interesting enough applicant to interview, so your references must have come across pretty well to them, right? If there were any issues raised in the letters that they wanted more info on, they would have dug into those specifically during the interview, so you would have gotten some hints as to any yellow/red flags. Whatever the situation, I think you should enjoy the rest of your weekend! Do your best not to have panic attacks and second-guess things out of your control while waiting to hear from the crazy number of places you applied to.

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Re: Lukewarm References

Postby ANDS » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:53 pm

They'll write them, and they'll come right out and tell you if you ask in the right way:

"I am applying soon. Do you think you can write me a STRONG letter of recommendation. . ."

I had an instructor, who I had for Algebra, caution me (in case I was going for straight math) that because of my B+/B in two semesters that she wouldn't be able to write a strong one based on that. Once I let her know what I needed her to actually comment on she was fine writing a strong letter. I ended up not needing it, but its all about having an honest dialog with your references.

Because of my conversation with her, I ended up getting one from another source that has paid far more dividends.

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Re: Lukewarm References

Postby dasgut » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:54 pm

I think I walked to softly in asking for my references. Sigh.

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