Posts Tagged ‘how to’

Progress Report-2: Bad News

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Sadly, I must detail the mistakes I made during this week, yet at least I can share useful tips and procedure about asking your professor to write recommendations/anything at all. My breach in not only good procedure but also bare minimum courtesy warrants this post.
So rather than talk about stress and things imploding on themselves, allow me to present…

How to Get Recommendation/Help from Your Professor

I would like to tell you that I only make the right moves, however this week is evidence to the contrary. I am a pro at over committing and not considering deadlines as firm lines. Furthermore, rather than plunge headlong into my project and inform my professor of what I needed, I waited until all of the pieces were together. On paper that sounds like a great idea, but when time is of the essence–that is to say, you don’t have time to wait–you cannot afford to just sit back until everything falls into place. I have a confession to make, I waited until nearly the last minute to inform my professor that I needed a statement about my project for a grant proposal. While I deserve to be locked away in academic prison, I was given a message to spread and allowed to walk away with my head still nicely attached to my shoulders.

The Academic Prison...for those who don't take time to be considerate...photo provided by Time Pearce

1. Always work in hard copies

Dropping into your professor’s office and casually discussing some letter or favor you need is not a firm and sealed deal, particularly when you leave out the array of fine details you need. “Hey, I am working on a grant that is due next Friday can you help me out?” Is vague and not helpful. Where are the details? Do you expect your advisor to remember a single sentence that is made in passing without you putting forth the effort of a follow up email? That should be a negative! If you mention it in passing, be sure to also send an email or better yet print out a sheet of paper with your request. A piece of paper on a desk that you have personally handed over is worth more than a passing comment or a quick email. All of us receive contact from friends, colleagues and family, filling whatever social network, email service or whatever one uses. Be smart turn in a paper, shake a hand, sit down for a minute with your advisor. Most of them don’t bite.

2. Attach any relevant information to your request

If you ask your professor to help out with writing part of a grant proposal or recommendation, be sure to address what you are doing. Are there specific things the professor needs to raise while writing? If there are additional requirements or details where can they be found? “Hi I am applying to X, can you write a letter for me xthx!” Does not give the level of detail of, “I am applying for x school/program/thing, and here are links to the school’s site so you can see what they are looking for in the letter.” Just because your advisor has written grad letters before or is really tight with you, does not translate to her doing extra leg work that you should be doing. The writer’s job is to write the letter or statement, not dig around the internet, make phone calls or send emails to figure out what the hell you are doing. That’s your job. Don’t be lazy about it.

3. Provide more useful information on your work

This week while drafting both my history proposal and grant proposal, I waited to hear back from different librarians and allowed myself to fall behind on writing many of the critical documents. Besides the underlining issue of just starting on time or *gasp* early, the student (or requestee) should offer a brief sketch of what they are working on as well as what they attend to write. “Grant letter now plz!” Is not so helpful. But a conversation with your advisor about what you need as well as giving them an outline of what you plan to write allows the professor/writer enough information to write his letter to resonate with your material. Had my professor not already been somewhat familiar with my thesis project perhaps I would not have escaped with a yes to my request for a rationale statement. The bottom line is, regardless of what stage you are at, offer at least something for the professor to work off of.

4. Pay attention to time!

Of all the failures I had, timing was the biggest. The solution to this problem links nicely with #3, but first let me explain a little further. There is no excuse for asking a professor to do anything for you, even if you give a week’s full notice. Everyone is busy, and if someone were to give you seven days notice to do something that requires time and effort, you would be pissed right? People (sweeping statement ahoy) make plans well in advance, so do not just assume that your professor does nothing but sit in his office waiting to help you out. Professors are often more than willing to help, but like most people, they have busy schedules and balance any number of activities. Late notice is a deal breaker. Not only does it make you look bad, ill-prepared, but chances are your advisor will have to turn down your request. That’s just how it is. You cannot really blame the professor for not being able to make time. If you don’t give at least TWO WEEKS NOTICE, forget about whatever you are requesting. Plan ahead as much as you need. Now, I realize that sometimes a proposal does not come together until the last minute. Well might I refer to #3, turn in whatever information you have and whatever you plan to do. This way you have accomplished a few things: you are able to give proper notice, you will turn in any relevant material that you eventually will write, and you will look far more professional giving both proper time and material. Win-Win yes?

5. Make the process as easy as possible

Don’t forget that your professor’s job is to write the letter, not worry about where it is going to or how it will get there. When asking a professor to write a letter of recommendation or anything that needs sending, be sure to supply an addressed and stamped envelope. Some professors have nifty university official envelopes, but that is a minor detail you can ask about when asking your professor for a letter of recommendation. The take away message for this is, don’t make the person helping you have to jump through bureaucratic or logistical hoops. A professor is more likely to write a good recommendation when your leg work/homework are all taken care of. Maybe you can be cool and create a nice packet of information with all of the proper supplies! Regardless, your goal should be to be professional, while also making your professor’s job as straightforward and hassle free as possible.

6. Did you catch #4?

As soon as you know that you need anything from a professor, make that the top of your priority list. Don’t even wait a day. Send out a cursory email if you have to, but do not delay. An email about the assignment and a request for a meeting where you will drop off any relevant material is absolutely awesome. A good word from a professor can make your project shine in ways that you would individually be hopeless to achieve. You might say your project is important, but a Ph.D stating that your project deserves funding or that you make a suitable candidate for a certain program goes a long way.

In other news this week I have completed my history proposal first draft as well as turned in the majority of my grant proposal. Yes, if you have not guessed it, I broke all of the above guidelines. But many thanks for Dr. Fernsebner teaching me correct procedure as well as sparing my life. I am now a disciple of proper timing and planning.