Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Ask

"I was wondering if (or hoping that) you would...

A) ...be interested in writing a letter of recommendation."
B) ...have time to write me a letter of recommendation."
C) ...have time to write me a strong letter of recommendation."

Ah yes, you are used to taking multiple choice tests. All of the above might be acceptable, but of those choices, which is the
best answer?

Let's make it
boldly clear (don't you wish all tests did that?).

"I was wondering if you would have time to write me a strong letter of recommendation."  Why choice C when A and B are also fine? Asking if they have time gives them an "out" if need be (you'd rather they not write it if it isn't going to good). And they might even effusively say I will make time to write you a glowing letter! Add the word strong so they get that this is not just any random letter, but one to get you in the door of your favorite hospital for a pediatric residency. And again, you'd rather they not write it if it's not going to really sing your praises. 

What else might be part of the ask?An offer to update the prospective letter writer on what you've been up to. That you are indeed applying for a residency in pediatrics. A hello, hope you have been well. A question or two to pick their brain about pediatric residency programs. A thank you... perhaps for past teaching or for possibly writing you this recommendation letter. Logistically, have those materials that they'll need readily available (essentially, the LoR cover sheet with your AAMC ID number and the FERPA waiver that you waive the right to see the letter, and the address of your dean's office) to make it easy for them to submit the letter. 

How to ask?
A) text message
B) a tweet
C) email
D) phone
E) in person
F) via STAT page
G) don't ask, just assume they will offer

A?  Have you ever texted each other before? Assume you need something more formal, more official, more... old school.
You don't need to make it so public and recorded by the National Library of Congress, for that matter.
C or D? 
Sure, either by email or phone would be appropriate, if you have in fact emailed before, that would be a fine choice. And when calling or emailing, do at least offer to set up an in person meeting to follow up.
Sure, in person would work, but you might have to schedule the in person ask, unless you just happen to come upon your prospective letter writer or are seeing him/her anyway. However, in person you aren't really able to give the prospective letter writer an easy "out" if it isn't going to be a strong letter. On the other hand, at least in person you can remind them who you are!
It's not urgent, would be better to use a different method, as you might be paging them in the middle of a code or other important patient encounter.
Perhaps if someone has offered, during your research or advocacy time together or at the close of your clinical experience during 3rd (or early 4th) year, then yes that is a really good sign. But don't assume! Ask.
For your pediatric residency application, do all your letters need to be from pediatricians?
No!  See "The Ask part II" coming soon...

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