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Will Styler

Assistant Teaching Professor - UC San Diego

Will’s Letter of Recommendation Guide

Lots of students ask about letters of recommendation, and so I figured I’d put all the information needed in one place. Grad Students: Not all of these things will apply to you (particularly the ‘Should I ask’ and ‘Classes taken’ bits), but the basic requirements stay the same.

Should I ask Will for a Letter of Recommendation?

I’m pretty limited in time to write letters, and I end up getting a lot of requests, teaching mostly undergrad classes. As such, I will only agree to write for somebody if I feel like I can give a strong, specific, and meaningful positive recommendation which is likely to help your application. As a result, I’m not able to write for everybody who asks, and whether or not I’m willing to write for you depends on the answer to four big questions:

  1. Have we interacted in enough depth for me to be able to give details?
    • I generally write for students I’ve had extensive interaction with, students who’ve worked with me one-on-one (e.g. for an Honors Thesis, 199, IAship, RAship, or other departmental involvement), or folks I’ve come to know well over the course of many classes and office hour visits. If I’ve only had you for a single larger class, or had you for a few classes but without strong interaction (e.g. in office hours), it’s very difficult to write a strong letter which graduate programs will value and which will actually help your case, so I’m pretty unlikely to be a good choice to write for you, and I’m likely to decline.
  2. Can I recommend you strongly based on your academic performance?
    • It’s much easier to recommend students earning A’s and High B’s in my classes and submitting awesome work. Although it doesn’t matter as much for non-academic letters, and extenuating circumstances can definitely help explain things, it’s much harder to write a strong letter when your grades in my classes don’t appear to match your effort or my praise.
  3. Am I the right letter writer for the program you’re applying for?
    • You’ll want to carefully consider whether a recommendation from a Linguistics professor carries weight. If you’re applying for Linguistics or Cognitive Science, Audiology, or Speech Pathology grad school, absolutely, I’m a fine choice. But outside of related fields, it’s a good idea to speak with somebody in your field to get a sense whether letters from outside-of-your-field faculty are appreciated, valued, and desired, or whether it’d be wiser to ask another professor whose work is more closely related to your field.
  4. Are you giving me enough time to do a good job?
    • Deadlines have a way of creeping up, I know, but barring exceptional circumstances, I’ll want your materials in hand around a month before the first letter is due (although if I’ve written for you before, this can often be accelerated).

Of course, you’re always welcome to ask, particularly if you think you meet these criteria or if you think there’s some other extenuating circumstance that makes me still make sense. After all, the worst thing I can say is ‘Sorry, I’m not a great choice’. If you’d like to ask…

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

If you think I’d be a great choice to write for you, given the above criteria, please send me an email containing…

You’re also welcome to come to my public office hours (see my homepage) and chat with me then about your application.

Once I get that information, I’ll take a look and let you know what I think. If I’m willing to write the letter, I’ll need a bit more information!

Information I’ll need to write for you

In order to do my job well and give you the most effective recommendation(s), there’s some information I’m going to need from you. Knowing the below is useful for me, and frankly, being able to clearly answer these questions will help you in planning your applications as well, so it’s a win-win situation!

You’ll need to send the answers to the below questions, for each of the programs you’re applying to, at least a month before the first letters are due! I’ll always do my best to advocate for you, but the simple fact is that my best will be better with more time to prepare!

UCSD Letter of Recommendation Release Form

For some reason, you’re now being asked to complete and email me the following UCSD Letter of Recommendation Release Form. Make sure to email this form to me along with your other documents.

General information about you as a human

To start, I’ll need details about you as a person. These are things like…

  1. What your long term goal is, and how this fits in
    • Something like “I’m hoping to get my Ph.D and then become a professional squirrel psychologist” or, more plausibly, “I’m applying to law school to do contract law work”
    • If this is addressed in your personal statement, as it should be, you can skip this
  2. What classes you’ve taken with me, your final grade in the course, and what year (e.g. “LIGN 101, Fall 2018, I got an A!”)
    • This just makes sure I don’t forget that I also had you for that one class three years ago
    • If it’s been a while, also include information about your final projects or other outstanding work you’ve done for me
  3. Any accomplishments or other exceptional things that you’re trying to emphasize in your application overall
    • This could be something like the breadth of your background in Linguistics, or your fluency in 12 languages, or the fact that you once beat Noam Chomsky in a poker game in Atlantic City.

Also make sure to include:

Please include all application materials as PDF or Plaintext or Google Docs, rather than Word Documents

Program-Specific Information

For each school or program individually, ordered by due-date, I’ll want to know the answers to the following questions:

  1. Where you’re applying
    • This should be in the form of “The Department of Linguistics at UC San Diego in San Diego, California, USA”
  2. What you’re applying for
    • Something like “I’m applying to the Ph.D Program in Linguistics” or “I’m applying to their school of public health”
  3. Why you’re applying to that specific program
    • If you’re doing things right, there’s a reason you’re applying to each specific program. Tell me what it is.
    • Something like “At UC San Diego, I’m hoping to work in their Phonetics lab, working on the interface of computational linguistics and speech with Will Styler”
    • If you’re applying for a transfer, tell me what your major would be and why that school’s a good choice
  4. Any particular emphases for that specific letter
    • Something like “I’m really hoping to work with Dr. Styler, because he’s a giant nerd. Also I think I’d fit in really well there because [relevant facts about yourself]”
    • This is also where you’d tell me that, for instance, “for this particular program I’m really pitching myself as a cognitive scientist”, or “this job is for a computational linguist, so please emphasize my computational experience”
  5. Where the recommendation is submitted
    • Either a web address, mailing address, or if there’s an application system (like Interfolio), tell me that.
  6. If applicable, give me the URL or text of the job ad
    • … and please make sure to promptly designate me as a letter writer in their system, so the system will let me submit whenever I’m ready.
  7. Tell me when the recommendation is due
    • All I need is something like “February 31st, 2020”
    • If you need multiple letters, give me an ordered list

Also be sure to include: