On Students Writing Letters for Faculty

A graduate student in philosophy writes in with the following query:

I’m a philosophy PhD student and avid reader of Daily Nous. I particularly enjoy reading the posts that provide advice for graduate students, and I was wondering if you had considered having a post on how to write letters of support for your supervisors and/or faculty members? It’s something that nobody really teaches (and it feels a bit weird to ask your supervisor how you should praise them). For those of us who are fortunate enough to have wonderful supervisors who get nominated for awards or promotions, it’s a bit tricky to figure out how to go about writing a good letter…. I’ve struggled with things like avoiding gendered language when describing how supportive my supervisor is and figuring out whether to discuss my supervisor’s research at all (since probably nobody cares very much about what I think about it). I thought this might be something that other graduate students also have questions about.


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8 years ago

Thank you for asking this. I’m a Ph.D. student as well and am friendly with some faculty in my department (we have dined together, hung out). I am wondering whether it is good or bad to mention the social aspect of the relationship in such letters. I have thought that it might be good, in that it shows the faculty member’s involvement with the departmental “community,” but it might be bad in that it may seem to diminish the value of my praise (if it is perceived that I am writing for a friend). Like the student who wrote in, I would find this somewhat awkward to discuss with the people for whom I might be asked to write. Help, please.

8 years ago

I nominated my dissertation director for graduate school faculty of the year a few years ago (FWIW, he ended up getting the award). In my letter I included the following (each was a paragraph):

– The ways in which I have gotten to know him (him advising me; being his TA; taking his seminars)
– His contributions to graduate student scholarship in the department (gave examples of awards and jobs won by students he advised)
– His mentorship (mentioning his publishing accomplishments and the ways he involves grad students in his publishing, providing opportunities to teach in his classroom, etc)
– Other impact on grad students (taking on many students as advisees; taking students to conferences; collaborating on publishing; speaking at grad student conference.

I hope this helps!