TIPS FOR RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING
- Let your curiosity and enthusiasm show. This will come naturally if you've chosen a research project and mentor that you are sincerely interested in.
- Structure your project with short and long term goals. Your mentor should help you with this. The clearer you are about expectations for the project in the beginning, the easier it will go as the project gets underway. Expectations to clarify include: when you will need to meet; the duration of the project; who else will be involved; and whether a paper or presentation will be required at the conclusion.
- Always be timely with deadlines.
- Take time to read the materials your mentor suggests. Show them that their time and effort with you are well spent. Be confident in sharing your responses to books and articles.
- Send thank you notes and emails whenever your mentor takes time to meet with you, looks over a draft, or helps you in any way with your project.
Getting letters of recommendation doesn't have to be difficult if you look at it as an academic-career long process just like any other part of your curriculum. You will need to: collect a set of references, maintain a relationship with these people and equip them to write the very best letter they can.
Some common misconceptions:
"I shouldn't go to office hours if I am just breezing through the class."
Collecting references requires that you not only perform well in front of your reference, but that you establish a relationship with that person. This is the part often neglected by students. If you want this person to write a glowing personal letter about how you are not only an excellent student but walk on water in your spare time, you have to make a connection. Ask them about their research. If they teach in your department, ask them about what courses or other professors they recommend as being highly stimulating. If this is a volunteer situation, ask them how they became involved in the activity. People enjoy talking about themselves and will naturally feel inclined to ask about you in return. It is important to remember that going to office hours for these reasons is not "sucking up." Most professors would enjoy visitors who aren't trying to cram before an exam or whining about a grade.
"Now that the term is over, I don't need to go and talk to them."
This is an even tougher point. You must maintain some form of contact with references. What if your favorite reference up and moves to Maine. This would be a bad event to discover three weeks before your letters are due. Also, keeping up with your references gives you the best excuse for keeping them current on you. Which sounds better, "When she took my class two years ago..." or "Since taking my class, she has been heavily involved in research with my colleague who swears by her work"? References can't make statements like that without updates on what you are doing.
"The letters don't have to be in for another month, I'll just see them next week."
Your references will need many items when they sit down to write your letter of recommendation, the most important of which is time to do a thoughtful and meaningful letter. How good will the letter be if he or she is cursing you for adding another short notice task to an already hectic week?
Useful items for your references when writing letters:
- Your transcript
- Any relevant personal statement
- Addressed and stamped envelopes
- Any description of the criteria for the award or school - one written in your own words would be the most helpful
- Your résumé
You should follow up with each reference by either personally thanking them and letting them know the outcome, or, at least, by sending a thank you note. Developing and maintaining a relationship between yourself and future references will require an active effort throughout your career as a student. Equipping these references with the pieces of you they need to write an informed letter will take planning as each deadline draws closer. The rewards you gain from these efforts, whether entrance to graduate school or winning a Fulbright Fellowship, can be immense.