Grad school - changing major - letters of recommendation

I’m in the process of switching programs within the math department at my university. I’m currently in the MS in Statistics program, changing to MS in Teaching Mathematics. One of the things I need to submit is a letter of recommendation. I think it’s a bit silly that I’m being made to do this - I’m already a grad student in the math department, after all, and I also earned my BS in Math at this university. The MST adviser knows this. So obviously, whoever I choose to ask for a recommendation letter will be a professor in this department at this university, one of the MST adviser’s colleagues. But, whatever; rules are rules.

I’ve never gotten to know any of my professors very well; in fact, the one I know the best (and that’s not saying much) is the MST adviser. But, what, am I going to ask him to write a letter to himself? The next person that comes to mind is… one of my Statistics professors. I just completed a class with him that I’m pretty sure I got an A in, and this is the third time I’ve had him. The problem is, he’s a Statistics professor. From the discipline I want to transfer out of. I feel a little funny about asking him to write me a letter of recommendation.

So what I’m looking for as far as advice here is… Put yourself in the professor’s shoes (even better if you’re a professor!): how would you react to a student asking for a recommendation letter in this case? Would you maybe be offended? Or am I just being silly?

I think you are being silly.

Given the options you mention, I’d pick the Statistics professor, and tell him you hope that since he’s taught you three times, he’d be willing to attest to your studiousness and excellent potential, and offer him a packet which includes a copy of your resume, a copy of your transcript and a statement from you which says why you’d be happier teaching math than doing statistics.

To my mind, approaching the MST adviser would potentially be more awkward, but if he already knows you want to transfer, approach him with the same packet I suggest above, and just generally ask him to write the letter to the “head of the committee” or whatever.

I should have been more clear… the MST adviser is the guy who the letter will be addressed to. If it wasn’t for that fact, he’s the person I would go to first.

Thanks for the packet idea. That’d be a good way to approach the Stats professor.

The other option is to go to your MST advisor and ask him this question. Can’t hurt, and worth it on the off chance that your understanding of the situation is different than his.

The letters of recommendation that I have written do not necessarily include their academic courses. I will do this when there is little else to recommend the person. Success in graduate school is much more than a person’s scholastic achievement, it is their focus, their determination, their mental agility, and so on.

A GOOD letter of recommendation should be tailored to a specific purpose. That is to say, a letter that I would write to work at a national lab would be very different than for g school admissions.

If someone is willing to write you a letter of recommendation, they should be willing to write it for any endeavor – they are stating their faith in your ability. It doesn’t particularly mean that you have to go a specific way. If the person writing the letter does not think the choice, here stats or teaching math, is a good one, expect to get their advice. It is free and feel free to ignore it.

I hope this helps.

Just because his name would go on the letter doesn’t mean he’s the only one who would read the letter. So he still might well be willing. Worst case scenario, he declines on the grounds that if you can’t drum up anyone else’s support for the transfer, you don’t belong in the program you wish to switch to. [I suppose, theoretically, the worst case scenario is that he declines with prejudice and you don’t get approved for the transfer because you were stupid enough to ask him for a recommendation, but really, I think it’s a lot more likely than you think that he’d be willing to write the recommendation for you, or at least turn you down politely.]

The packet idea came from a professor I had in undergrad, who suggested that people who wanted letters of recommendation help the professors out by providing as much information as possible. It has been reinforced by a career counselor along the way.

Well, instead of building it up in my head and fretting over it like I usually do with these things, I decided to try a novel approach with my Stats professor: I simply asked him. He said he’d be happy to write me a letter. Heh… who knew? :slight_smile: