Reference Letters

If I have agreed to write a letter of reference for you, please send me the following information by e-mail (address at bottom of this page) at least two weeks before the first letter is due:

These materials should be in a common file format like plain text, Word, or PDF. If there are paper forms to be filled out, please leave them in my mailbox in 405 Snow. (Snail mail address: 405 Snow Hall, 1460 Jayhawk Boulevard, Lawrence, KS 66045-7523.)

In your e-mail, please include the answers to the following questions. (Depending on what you are applying for, some questions may not be relevant, but the more details you can provide, the better.)

  1. What is your name, year, and major?
  2. For what are you applying (scholarship, summer REU, graduate school, etc.)? Is the program(s) you're applying to looking for any particular qualifications in applicants? (If possible, include URLs for the websites of specific programs.)
  3. By what date must my letter be received?
  4. What are some of your academic accomplishments? (Examples: scholarships, lab work, tutoring....)
  5. What are some of your nonacademic accomplishments? (Examples: summer jobs, volunteer work, ....)
  6. What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you?
  7. Are there other mathematics instructors you've recently had at KU whom I could ask about your work? (This is completely optional, but can help me write a more complete letter.)
  8. What makes you particularly qualified for this position/honor/award?
  9. What are your long-term goals and how will this position/honor/award help?
  10. Is there anything else you want me to know?

I will also want to meet with you to discuss these questions in person, but having this information in writing will help me write an accurate letter. I will try to let you know by e-mail when I have finished your letter, but you should feel free to send me e-mail reminders as the deadline approaches.

Some general philosophy: Writing reference letters on behalf of students is an important part of my job, and I take it very seriously. My goal in writing a reference letter is to give my candid, professional opinion of why you are qualified for whatever position, program or scholarship you are applying for. I think the best letters are those that say something beyond what the reader can learn from the applicant's resume, transcript, standardized test scores, etc. If I merely write "Student X received an A in my class," it will not help your application much. On the other hand, the more informed I am and the more detailed my letter is, the more weight it should carry - hence all the details I ask for above.

Should you waive access? It's entirely up to you. Whether you choose to waive access will not affect the letter I write for you. (Your other letter-writers may feel differently; ask them.) If I cannot honestly write you a strong letter, or if I think there is someone else whose letter will strengthen your application more, then I will tell you.

If you are applying to graduate school, you may be interested in my advice on writing personal statements. Some other resources regrading graduate school and applications are available from the Teaching section of my website.

Special notes regarding reference letters in support of applications for US permanent resident status ("green cards"): There are specific criteria set by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for EB type visas. I will attempt to address those criteria, but I do not have the legal expertise to know exactly what criteria must be met for a particular kind of visa or how USCIS enforces these criteria; for that you need to consult a competent immigration attorney. By the same token, attorneys do not have the mathematical expertise to evaluate your research or whether it meets these criteria. Therefore, if I agree to write a letter in support of your green card application, I need to write it myself. It is inappropriate for me to sign a description of your mathematical research that is written by an attorney who is not a mathematician. I am willing to work with your attorney to tailor my letter to address specific USCIS criteria, but the letter needs to be my honest professional appraisal of your work, and I retain final control over any letter that bears my name.

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Last updated 9/7/21