I am generally happy to provide references for students I have taught or tutored. However, before listing me as a reference, there are a few things you should consider…
Before requesting a reference
When applying for a PhD, reputation and the professional networks of your potential referee(s) are worth considering, particularly the extent to which these overlap with your own research interests.
Always try to get reference letters from faculty who know you well and can readily attest to the quality of your work from firsthand experience, such as a high distinction mark and standout seminar participation. For example, someone who teaches a 100-student lecture may not have any real idea of who you are. Something similar might be said for your personal tutor if you do not interact with them apart from the required meetings (even more so if you fail to attend those).(1)
Keep in mind that references for academic applications (as well as some employment applications) ask for a frank appraisal of your abilities relative to your peers.
When requesting a reference from me
I will need at least two or three weeks of time before your submission deadline; longer lead times are beneficial to you.(2)
Be sure to send me the following:
- Your current CV/resumé.
- A list of the classes you are taking and your UCL student number. Or, if you have already graduated, your unofficial UCL transcript.
- If marks have been returned, any written work you’ve submitted for my class(es). If I supervised your dissertation, you do not need to send a copy of that.
- A statement of your aims behind applying for the job(s)/program(s) of study. The more information you provide here, the more I can say about how your strengths will fit to the specific position and your longer-term goals.
- If the reference is to be physically mailed, you will need to provide a stamped, addressed envelope. If the reference is to be submitted online, I will need the link or submission email address.
If you do not contact me prior to listing me as a reference, or do not follow the guidelines above, I may not be able to provide a particularly helpful recommendation (or any at all).(2)
At UCL, your personal tutor has a duty of care to provide a reference. This may be useful if no one else on faculty is particularly well positioned to do so (with caveats; see the comment above).
It is a good idea to waive your right to view your references at a future date. Your selection is visible to all parties involved and consequently disallowing blinded references may weaken the referee’s signal: a referee may divulge less information and is less likely to provide a frank performance assessment, while the admission committee may also place a less weight on the reference’s contents.
(1) In my department, we get roughly 20 personal tutees in addition to the many students we see on a more regular basis in our classes and the 15 or so whose BSc/MSc theses we supervise. Out of all of these students, we see and typically know the least about the personal tutees who don’t interact beyond the university-mandated minimum number of meetings.
(2) If I write a letter for one round of applications, it does not necessarily mean I will write a letter for future rounds. Information and its availability change over time (as do people), which may influence a potential letter.