Letters of recommendation or references

I am often asked to provide letters of recommendation for students. In general I am happy to do so, but I do ask that you please follow a few simple guidelines:

  • It is University policy that we must have your written permission before providing a reference. So ask me, by e-mail or in writing, before you provide my name as a reference, and wait for me to confirm that I am willing to provide a reference.
  • Give me a list of the institutions to which you have provided my name as a reference; unexpected requests for letters will be assumed to be phishing attacks and thus ignored (yes, these attacks have happened).
  • Let me know when you will need the reference by - requests often arrive with no indication of due date which means that they get placed at the bottom of my to-do stack.
  • If you are applying for an academic programme, let me know the institution, programme name and start date.
  • If you need a telephone reference, then let me know well in advance and I will let you know the times at which I can be contacted.
  • Remind me of any activity relevant to your application. For instance, if you are applying for a web development position, then you may wish to remind me that I taught you in CS2003, or any project work that you think you did well in and would be of interest to the application.
  • Note that I do not give references to students; I will send them directly to the institution or employer.
  • Also note that if a recommendation request asks me to rank you in the top 1%/5%/10% etc. of students in a class, or that I have ever taught, then I will not fill out this section. If the reference form forces me to fill out this section, then I give everyone the highest score. If you fear that this will have a negative impact on your application, then I suggest that you look for an alternative referee.