Has a student recently asked you to write a recommendation letter? The following list of comments and suggestions may be helpful to reference writers.
Review all the materials the candidate provided to you, including the applicant’s essay drafts, transcripts, resume, and other information.
Meet with the candidate at least once. During your meeting with the candidate, ask for additional information, talk about the candidates academic and career plans. Ask the candidate to identify strengths you might emphasize in your letter or previous academic and social interactions you had with the candidates.
Reflect on the general characteristics desired in the fellowship. Such characteristics may include, intellectual curiosity, rigorous application, leadership, risk-taking, collegiality, written and oral communication skills, teamwork, integrity, maturity, sensitivity, energy, warmth, and potential for making major contributions to the discipline and to society. Which ones are you most qualified to address?
Based on your experience of the candidate, is there a complimentary episode or anecdote out of which you could develop a narrative for the selection committee?
Guidelines for Specific Scholarships or Fellowships
Address and Titles
Contextualize your professional and personal familiarity with the applicant: where have you known student, for how long, in what capacity and relationship: class, lab, research, or extra-curricular or civic activity? Establish your personal knowledge of the student, if possible: incidents unique to your relationship are more credible and helpful than information also appearing on the resume. Avoid duplicating what’s available elsewhere in the application packet.
Possible sources for such evidence include, papers and exams (an excerpt or two may be quoted), research data and how they were collected and processed, conversations with the applicant, contributions to classroom discussion or dynamics, first and most recent observations of student (re: growth), effect of the candidate on you or on peers, scholarship website to match candidate with desired criteria.
Point to specific examples of the applicant’s accomplishments: name the topic of a brilliant paper and state why it was star quality, not merely that it is publishable. If the student performed well in some other capacity, explain the nature of the work, its outstanding features, and how they relate to the goals of the fellowship at hand.
What especially qualifies the candidate for success in the proposed project or course of study? A paragraph on this subject links past performance with promise.
Spotlight the candidate. Committees don’t care about institutional rankings or your own credentials and achievements.
Rely on your own observations of and experiences with the applicant. “My colleague, Dr. Doctor informs me that Kevin was his finest student” is hearsay and will be duly dismissed.
Addressing merit or impacts of the proposed activity
How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?
Advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning, for example, by training graduate students, mentoring postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty, involving undergraduates in research experiences, and participating in the recruitment, training, and professional development of K-12 mathematics and science teachers.
Broaden participation of under-represented groups, for example, by establishing collaborations with students and faculty from institutions and organizations serving women, minorities, and other groups under-represented in the mathematical sciences.
Enhance infrastructure for research and education, for example, by establishing collaborations with researchers in industry and government laboratories, developing partnerships with international academic institutions and organizations, and building networks of U.S. colleges and universities.
Broaden dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding, for example, by presenting results of research and education projects in formats useful to students, scientists and engineers, members of Congress, teachers, and the general public.
Benefits to society may occur, for example, when results of research and education projects are applied to other fields of science and technology to create startup companies, to improve commercial technology, to inform public policy, and to enhance national security.