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Letters of recommendation

I am happy to provide letters of evaluation to students who request them. Please make an appointment so that we can discuss your plans, and how I can best assist you. Please understand that I write these letters for many people, so I need your help in locating information about you. It is acceptable to ask for many letters of recommendation, provided you take care of all the routine information that is requested. For maximum efficiency, I need the following things from you (electronic copies, and preferably in one clearly labeled email:

  • An unofficial copy of your transcript.
    Mark the courses you took from me. Mostly you will have taken a course from me this term or last term that I remember well, but you may also have taken one from me last year ... or was it the year before?
  • Your statement of purpose.
  • Your CV or resume, and any other information you think might be helpful.
  • One single page or excel file that lists, for each application, the name of the school, department and/or program to which you are applying, and the deadline date. This is my record of the letters I have sent, and when they were sent.
  • The university-required FERPA Recommendation form that authorizes OSU to release information about you that is otherwise protected under FERPA regulations. Return to me via email and not to the registrar as it states on the form. The FERPA form allows us to write the letter of recommendation in the first place. It is different from the waiver of access, which waives your right to read the letter of recommendation. You can include the names of all universities/companies/agencies to which you apply on a single form, and some students simply write "any organization for which I request a letter of recommendation". I don't know if that's legal but it seems more sensible than filling out new forms all the time. Note that there is an expiration date, so a blanket release lasts only as long as you want it to.

When you fill in your application form, please note the following:

  • I strongly prefer to write confidential letters. Check the waiver of access box on each recommendation request (paper or electronic). If there is no place for such a waiver on a form or if you do not wish to waive that right, please discuss with me.
  • Fill in the portion of any form that requests routine information about me:
    Name: Janet Tate
    Title: Distinguished Professor of Physics, Emerita
    Department: Physics
    Institution: Oregon State University
    Address: 301 Weniger Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331-6507
    phone: (541) 737-1700
  • Most recommendations are submitted online and I receive an email request to submit a recommendation for you. Once I have submitted the recommendation, the acknowledgement to me is usually instantaneous and I presume that you are informed, too. However, requests for recommendations are sometimes caught by a spam filter. I keep my spam file very low and check it often, but sometimes these requests do get missed. I therefore appreciate a reminder about a week ahead of the deadline.
  • If the recommendation is to be submitted by email/postal service on paper forms that you obtain from the university (very rarely), please supply those forms, where you have filled in routine things like my name, address, title. Sometimes, there are no forms, and only a letter is requested. If so, please note that and forward the request you received for the recommendation letter. It may contain information that is useful for me as a letter writer.

Applications for REU programs, grad schools, and jobs are really important. I, along the rest of the faculty, want to help you as much as possible, but we merely report what we know. We are often asked to assess motivation, ethical behavior, creativity, work ethic, oral and written communication skills in addition to academic performance. Here's how to help generate a good report: Go often to a faculty member's office hours to discuss physics. Ask questions in class. Volunteer answers in class. Be actively engaged in class. Make an effort to make your homework and lab assignments well written, tidy, logically clear and display a feeling for the important physics in the assignment. Keep copies of particularly good assignments and remind the faculty member about them. Attend departmental seminars and colloquia, and discuss them with faculty members. Your letter from your research advisor will be particularly important. Bring your work to your advisor; don't wait to be asked. Make time for discussions with your group members and your advisor. Be active in SPS or outreach or other activities that demonstrate your interest in physics.