Getting a Letter of Recommendation
I was very nervous about getting a letter of recommendation. Many of my science classes had huge class sizes. I went to office hours but most of the undergrad I was focused on learning the material and soccer not building relationships with professors. Luckily I realized it could be a lot easier than I imagined. Like several people tried to tell me, many professors are happy to help students and are supportive of you finding success whether that route is Ph.D., nursing, or medicine. I think the most typical way people get a letter of rec and the suggestion I got was to talk to teachers during office hours and I did. I went to my Ochem office hours all the time I had her for 2 quarters and she said she wasn't able to write me a letter of rec. Looking back I should have tried harder to have more conversations with science teachers of smaller class sizes.
What worked best for me is asking to set up an informational interview. This is something my athletics department put me on to that has been very helpful. Informational Interviews helped me get shadowing opportunities, mentorship, connections, and letters of recommendation. Whenever there is something someone is doing that I am interested in (professional/ education environment) I might email them to ask for an informational interview. Everyone I have asked has actually said yes so far surprisingly! For example, I emailed a professor/ physician at a school I was really interested in( I was really into her work with underserved), I emailed a physician from a virtual shadowing event( so I could have a one on one conversation/ learn more/ network).
So for my science teacher who may have known me from office hours but I probably didn't stand out I asked to do an informational interview. We set up a time to talk over zoom and I asked about their career getting a Ph.D. and also their research interest. I was able to share with them my interest in medicine and what I found interesting about their research. It was a great opportunity to have an easy talk where we both got to know each other and I learned more about research which I wasn't very involved in at that point. This really helped me build a professional relationship with my professor that helped me ( I think) get a better letter of recommendation. If I was earlier in my education I likely also would have asked if there were openings in their lab I could apply to.
Overall, there are many ways to build a relationship with a professor to help you get a letter of recommendation and they all include starting a conversation, reaching out, speaking up. The most natural way to do this is not to go into it just trying to get a letter of recommendation but as a great opportunity to learn from them and their experiences. Asking for a letter of recommendation once you know a professor can actually be really simple.
Here's an example:
Hello Professor Y,
I hope you are doing well! Thank you again for being a reference for me and for being a great teacher. I'm excited to apply what I learned in your Neurobiology of Brain Disorders class at my new position. I am applying to medical school this spring and I was wondering if you would be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation. I learned a lot in your class and believe you can speak well of my critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills.
It can be helpful for letter writers if you specify in your request what you want them to highlight about you from the AAMC competencies.
Example Informational Interview Request I sent to a physician:
My name is ------. I saw your profile online and your work with individuals experiencing etc sounds really interesting. I am interested in going into medicine and addressing disparities. Would you be open to talking over the phone or over zoom so I could learn more about your experience working in these fields? Thank you, Aliyah Walker
Example Questions to ask:
What is it like working in your clinic/ hospital/ jail/ school?
How is your time split between research, patients, and anything else?
What is the worst part of your job?
What is your advice for someone in my position?
Could I shadow you when it is safe?
Questions specific to their research/ field: I have heard of this issue in your field and I am curious what you think.
The best questions are always things you genuinely are curious about!