Suggested Guidelines for Writing Effective Letters of Recommendation for Keck Science Research Fellowships
Solid letters of recommendation contain a number of
common traits. Committees that review Keck Science Summer Research Fellowship
Applications have developed the following guidelines for faculty mentors
that write letters in support of Student Research Applicants.
Comments from the Review Committee include:
"I like when I come away feeling that the writer really knows the student.
One or two anecdotes about the person's strengths really helps with my decision."
Specific personal knowledge is much better than just "this student is
a nice person." A great letter often describes a particular experience
or relationship with the writer; it means the writer really cares
about and knows the candidate well. Remember, the committee is trying
to project how this student performs. A good letter should address
- Begin the letter by briefly stating your position,
where you work, your relationship to the applicant, and how long
you have known and/or worked with the applicant.
- Describe the candidate's personality and work
ethic, using concrete examples that demonstrate a strong relationship.
- Be vivid and specific, including memories of
the candidate, anecdotes, something to indicate that you know
this candidate very well and think highly of him or her. Letters
that matter to the review committee bring the candidate to life
on the page.
- If the applicant will use any complex techniques
or need any specific instrumentation or facilities, the letter
should indicate the availability of the equipment and training
in its use.
- We prefer that all or most of the funds
awarded to the student researcher be used to cover student salary. If non-salary items
(e.g., consumables, equipment, software, or travel) are required for the project, please
tell us whether you have, or will have, funds to cover such items.
- If the applicant's work falls within the constraints
of an ongoing project, clearly state how the applicant's work
meshes with the larger project and is a unique contribution.
- Describe and evaluate in detail the student's
scholarly work, especially work related to the proposed research
project, if possible. The letter should help the review committee
understand the significance of this research, and the potential
for contribution that it has.
- Address the scholarship criteria specifically
in ways that demonstrate your abundant confidence in the student
and your knowledge of the candidate beyond grades and classroom
- When possible, please provide evidence of the candidate's leadership
and teamwork skills. The most effective letters use narrative
technique to highlight the student in action; as a group leader in classes, lab assistant,
researcher, volunteer, employee, innovator, etc.
- Reflect, refer to, and elaborate on themes in
the candidate's proposal. The student should provide a copy of
this proposal for you. Request one from him or her if the student
hasn't already provided it for you.
- Rank the candidate in relation to other students
you have mentored/taught/worked with, if possible.
- The length of letters of recommendation varies
greatly, but one page is generally enough. The most effective
letters consist of wisely chosen content. Remember that a concise
letter is usually more useful than an overly verbose one.
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