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Kalamazoo College
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Requesting Recommendation Letters

Important Tips from your professors and students:

Your professors are always eager to help you in your quest to enter graduate school or participate in a summer research opportunity.  But we do expect you to be well prepared and organized if you need letters of recommendation.

a)  Plan ahead.  It is customary to give all materials to your Professors AT LEAST 3 WEEKS before the earliest deadlines for your letters.  Aim for more than 3 weeks, if possible.  (May take longer, if during Christmas/Summer breaks or if your professor is on leave/sabbatical).

b)  Be organized.  Provide ALL materials in a folder at ONE time, and check that everything is there. (Writing "PS: my grades and resume will be in your box next week" - or forgetting to give us a form the school wants us to complete - gives us more loose materials to keep track of.  Most of us do not start writing your letter until all the information is in anyway, so it’s best to wait till everything is gathered).

c)  If you decide to send more applications out, just ask us and send all the materials we need again.  If we still have your accompanying materials (ask us), you may only need to send your new addresses etc. + attachment.  Even though the process may be faster as we will already have a letter on file for you, it is a good idea to still allow about 2 weeks.

Remember: Graduate Schools expect to see substantive letters with specific information and details, and your Professors need sufficient time and complete materials to write strong letters for you!

Here is information you should provide for Professors who agree to write your recommendation letters

A POCKET FOLDER (not a bunch of loose papers, please) with all the following materials.--make an organized Table or a List, providing ALL the following information for each school to which you are applying:

1)  ADDRESSES (with names of individuals to address letter to, if provided).  Please list the addresses * in chronological order of most recent deadline first.

  • * that is much more helpful to us than alphabetical or random order!

2)  NAME OF DEGREE & DEPARTMENT or SCHOOL (e.g., "M.A. in Educational Psychology at School of Education," "Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Department of Psychological Sciences")

3)  ANY SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS (e.g., "enclose in official envelope provided," "requests 2 copies of letter")

  • please give your recommender a hard copy of the above information, and also send professor an E-MAIL ATTACHMENT of this document (We'll print your addresses on envelopes straight from your attachment, so double-check your addresses).
  • if the school has sent you any Forms or Envelopes for the professor to include, don't forget to put them in the folder.  Paperclip things that go together.
  • check through all Forms carefully: Often, there is a part that you must complete or sign yourself.  Be sure to fill in the Professor’s school address: 1200 Academy St. Kalamazoo, MI 49006 and phone 269 337-7331

Here are the accompanying materials you should also enclose in your folder...

  • your SIP title, mentors/advisors, and a brief description of aims and results (or full abstract) of your project
  • your resume (a draft is okay)
  • your grades (an unofficial photocopy is fine)
  • optional:  it is very helpful if you include a copy of your Statement of Purpose (a draft is fine), or just a paragraph or two telling us about your career goals and why you have chosen your field

Example of a Table to prepare for professors when requesting recommendation letters:

School and type of program Letter and forms Sent to: Address (for letterhead, etc) Form (y/n) Due Date (to me or to school per indicated)
University of Oregon Counseling Psych doctoral program Me (insert your home address)

Counseling Psychology Program

5251 University of Oregon

Eugene, OR    97403-5251

Yes January 4th or before
Southern Illinois at Carbondale Counseling Psych doctoral program Me (insert your home address)

Southern Illinois University

Carbondale

Department of Psychology

Graduate Admissions Coordinator

Mailcode 6502

Carbondale, IL    62901

Yes January 4th or before

Sample #1

Personal Statement sent for Graduate School Admission (Used by permission):  

Another resource for application essays: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Flats/5353/classes/purpose.html

Dear Admissions Committee,

My primary objective in applying to the Biomedicine, Bioscience, and Society program at the London School of Economics is to prepare for a practice and research career in Clinical Neuropsychology.  While working as a researcher in cognitive neuroimaging, I have become increasingly interested in the impact of science technology on social conceptions of identity and health.  Because I expect that my doctoral studies will leave little time for interdisciplinary scholarship on science and its role in society, I have come to view masters-level education in science studies and bioethics as necessary supplemental training for my future career as a clinician/researcher.  I believe that the BIOS program provides an ideal venue for my scholarship in this area and am excited by the opportunities it presents for a young scientist looking to broaden her understanding of her field.


Since completing my undergraduate education in Psychology, I have spent two years as a Research Assistant in the Developmental Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Yale Child Study Center.  My primary duties at Yale are to design, run, and analyze fMRI experiments of social processing in typically developing individuals and children with autism spectrum disorders.  Under the supervision of clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Schultz, I have acquired significant expertise in brain imaging during my tenure at Yale and have gained exposure to the most advanced techniques of cognitive neuroscience.  My position has afforded me a new appreciation of the power of neuroimaging in the study of the human mind, and has convinced me that as brain science continues to expand our knowledge of the biological correlates of social and emotional behavior, I want my research to contribute to the discussion. 

Accompanying my increasing skill in neuroimaging has come a heightened sensitivity to the impact that neuroscience and other biosciences have on changing conceptions of human mind and personhood, an impact that I feel is too often left unexamined by researchers involved in the biosciences.  Neuroimaging research results seem particularly prone to dramatic misinterpretation and oversimplification, which is especially unfortunate given the very intimate human experiences under investigation and the high degree of public interest in the field.  The scientific community as a whole does little to counter the growing public perception that new brain technologies are discovering very simple biological explanations for the most complex cognitive, social, and emotional human processes; I am perhaps particularly sensitized to the power of fMRI images and data reporting in furthering that misunderstanding.  As I enter this discipline, the sciences’ historical influence upon social conceptions of the human mind and body are of great interest to me – as is the view the scientific community takes of its role in shaping and informing current public discourse.

As a social neuroscientist whose primary investigative interests involve clinical populations, I am particularly intrigued by the biosciences’ impact upon normative boundaries between “normal” and “pathological” behavior.  Many of the children with autism spectrum disorders I work with, though they may display unusual social behaviors, would not have been considered impaired or in need of treatment even a decade ago.  However, science’s attempts to characterize the full spectrum of autism-related phenotypes have resulted in expanded diagnostic criteria, and we now view those same behaviors though the lens of an autism label.  I am fascinated by the process by which conceptions of “disorder” develop, and by the influence that clinical labels have on our interpretation of human action and personality.  The role that biotechnologies like genetics, neuroimaging, and biology play in investing psychiatric labels with such authority is of particular interest.

Although the United States is currently experiencing a groundswell of interest in bioethics - and, more recently, in the nascent and more academically narrow field of “neuroethics” - broader academic resources for the interdisciplinary study of the history and impact of scientific technology are rare.  I believe that the LSE program in Biomedicine, Bioscience, and Society could provide more fulfilling and diverse opportunities for my Masters studies than could any of the American programs available to me.  The neuroscience and bioethics-related focus of Dr. Franklin and Dr. Rose’s Core Seminar is especially exciting given my academic background and interests, but I am also enthused about the supplementary course work available – particularly on the philosophy of the social sciences, cultural constructions of the body, and pharmaceutical economics.  All of these research opportunities have a great deal to offer a future clinician and neuroscientist, and I know that I could profit enormously from their influence.

Given the accelerated pacing and significant writing requirements of the program, I understand that study with the BIOS program will not be easy.  However, I am confident that I can thrive in the interdisciplinary academic environment it offers.  Throughout my academic career, my colleagues and supervisors have found me an engaged and adaptive scholar who synthesizes complex material with ease.  Although research is always challenging, academic writing is very rewarding for me; I relish the opportunity it offers to deeply engage with material, and consider my analytic skills a particular strength.  I have gained experience in a wide variety of research areas in psychology, but I feel the practical experience in neuroimaging presents a particular asset given the relevance of the technology for current social study of the sciences.  I look forward to bringing that experience to bear as I investigate the controversies of the biosciences.

The chance the BOIS program offers to ground my examination of biological technology’s impact upon society in a long-ranging historical framework, coupled with the opportunity to inform my research with study of such varied disciplines as anthropology, economics, philosophy, and law, makes it an ideal fit for my academic interests and career goals.  I would be honored to continue my education under the aegis of your program. 

Thank you for your consideration,
Jane Doe

Sample #2 (used with permission)

Personal Statement

Though I entered college intending to pursue a degree in literature and writing, I quickly discovered that my true passion lay in the field of psychology.  I loved learning theories of human motivations, behaviors and cognitions, and applying them to the world around me.  I have always been an observant, analytical individual, and my psychology courses at Kalamazoo College gave me the necessary tools to broaden my perceptions and insight.  I was also drawn to the multi-faceted, constantly evolving nature of psychology.  For every behavioral phenomenon, there are multiple, sometimes contradictory, explanations; research into these phenomena informs our understanding and application of psychological concepts and spawns new theories for empirical testing.  I am passionate about engaging in this vibrant community of dedicated investigators and practitioners.  It was also during college that I became invested in women’s issues, including gender dynamics in educational settings, as well as women’s leadership and communication styles, which led me to complete a concentration in women’s studies.  I believe my passions for understanding the individual, creating and sharing knowledge in a professional community, and investigating women’s unique experience of the world may best be pursued in the field of Counseling Psychology.

My studies at Kalamazoo College provided me with a strong background in psychological theory, research methods, and clinical application.  An interviewing and narrative analysis class really piqued my interest, and this fascination with self-presentation led me to choose a narrative research topic for my senior thesis.  I conducted independent field research, interviewing female exotic dancers, and analyzed their identity constructions using social-role theory as well as theories of narrative resistance and emotional labor.  Conducting this research, I developed excellent rapport-building and interviewing tactics.  Additionally, this thesis allowed me to analyze sexuality and power from a unique female perspective, giving the women I interviewed a voice largely silenced in previous literature.  I received honors on my thesis, as well as honors in psychology.

Rather than continue on to graduate school immediately, I pursued clinical experience with drug-abusing, emotionally disturbed teenagers at a wilderness therapy program.  As a senior field instructor for Aspen Achievement Academy, I worked with a staff team to implement intervention strategies with students aimed at behavioral modification, empowerment, more effective communication, and greater self-understanding.  I also worked with parents in this capacity, offering insight into their child’s problem behaviors and emotional turmoil in a family context.  I found this clinical work incredibly inspiring and personally fulfilling; it was a true privilege and a constant challenge to create a supportive environment wherein I could confront students with their thinking errors or ineffective coping strategies and stand by them as they made self-discoveries.  While at Aspen Academy, I received training in motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive therapy, as well as group management, conflict resolution, and de-escalation strategies.  I also developed the creative problem-solving techniques, flexibility and openness essential to managing staff and students in the wilderness.

I could not have done this type of work without engaging in my own personal and professional growth; teaching effective coping skills in an unpredictable, uncontrollable environment required me to possess those skills and role-model them for my students.  Towards this goal, Aspen Academy requires field instructors to engage in weekly feedback sessions.  I value this culture of honesty and helping one another to become more personally insightful and more effective professionals.  I began teaching these skills to future instructors on three staff trainings, and subsequently mentoring new staff in the field.  I am deeply passionate about my work at Aspen Academy, both professionally as a counselor and mentor for adolescents and staff, and personally as a life-changing experience.

Following three years of clinical work, I pursued more extensive experience in empirical research at the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital.  There I primarily worked on three addiction studies: a treatment-focused fMRI study testing the effectiveness of injectable naltrexone on alcohol-dependent individuals, an inpatient study of the effectiveness of electroacupuncture on opiate dependence, and an fMRI study investigating impulsivity and brain functioning in HIV positive individuals with and without cocaine dependence.  I gained skills in recruitment, clinical interviewing, subject follow-up, phlebotomy and data management.  I also received training in behavioral research design, including fMRI and laboratory research.  With guidance from the principal investigator, I have assisted in data analysis and co-authored one conference presentation to date.  I will likely co-author several more presentations and publications related to these three studies in the near future.

I am committed to pursuing a career in counseling psychology as a scientist-practitioner.  Foremost, I endeavor to advance psychological science in innovative and unique ways.  Concurrently, I seek to expand my clinical repertoire to gain the skills necessary to become an effective therapist.  I aspire to meet these goals with enthusiasm and a never-ending engagement in personal and professional growth.  Specifically, my interests lie in identity formation including narrative self-presentation, and in intervention and treatment techniques for high-risk adolescents and families.  I am also particularly interested in women’s issues, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, though I have not yet had an opportunity to pursue these interests in a clinical or research setting.

(Insert paragraph on specific faculty members at each university with whom I would enjoy working.)

As a student at (university), I would bring a rigorous academic background, experience in research and clinical settings, a strong work ethic, and, above all, a passionate desire to learn and contribute to the Counseling Psychology program.