Equiller--a guest in one of the upcoming podcast episodes--and I got into a great discussion last week about career tips. We discussed a lot, but we both had a good laugh about the times when we have provided recommendations for former students and it has NOT worked out so well. I vividly recall strolling into a meeting and saying hello to a colleague I hadn't see in several months. As we were catching up, I remembered that I had recommended a student for an internship program at her office. Confident that I was going to get a glowing review, I asked brightly, "How's it going with the student?"
Awkward silent pause followed by an uncomfortable, "Well, not so well," in response.
Ughhhhhhh! Please just let me disappear right now!
I wanted to melt into the floor. Instead, I stood and listened to how the person either wasn't showing up consistently or wasn't doing quality work. I honestly don't remember the specifics as I have truly tried to erase that moment from my memory. I don't even remember which one of my students it was anymore. But, one thing I did NOT erase was the feeling. The memory of that feeling has made me much more selective when it comes to serving as a letter writer or reference for a student who is applying for an internship, job, scholarship, etc.
I have a blog post coming out soon all about how to ask a faculty member to serve as a reference. Before we even get that far, though, it is important to note that you need to demonstrate characteristics that would be worth bragging about. Then, when you actually get the job/internship/etc., be reliable and professional and open to feedback. If it is not going to work out for you, be direct in letting your supervisor know and providing adequate advance notice. Just know that you are setting the tone for future students from your program who will be following in your footsteps. You want to leave a positive impression of yourself for the sake of your own professional relationships, but know that you are also leaving an impression about other students from your program as well. Try your best to make it a good one.
While we are at it, consider the impression you are making among your classmates and teaching assistants in the classroom as well. One of my other upcoming guests was actually hired by a former classmate years later. Also, Equiller, who I mentioned earlier, was recommended for a job by her former teaching assistant--me! :)
I am not saying you have to be perfect. No one is perfect. However, I am saying that you should try your best to leave a positive impression on others in your educational and professional network.
That's all for now. Check back soon for a how-to guide on asking for a reference.