So you want a recommendation letter from me?

There are many opportunities for students to apply for scholar ships, summer schools and other possibilities that help them to propel their track further. I am glad to support students to this end, as I think that it may offer a way to approach inequalities that still prevail in the system, supporting people with fewer possibilities. In addition, many scholarships are also offering networking and learning opportunities, which can be an exiting amendment to university education. In addition, more and more master programs ask for a support letter, and many students like to add it to their resume in general.

While this may be a helpful addition if it is specifically being asked for in the course of an application, I have to say that I never looked at such recommendation letters when people applied at position in my team. For legal reasons, these letters are rigged, as we can hardly write a true account of the person, but instead write something altogether positive that may even put the person under a lot of pressure. After all, who can live up to the high praise we generate in these letters of support. Therefore, it is very important to me to write these letter personally, and not to rely on generic statement, if at all possible. In order to achieve this, I typically interview the potential candidates that ask for a letter of support, and try to write a letter that is specially tailored for them. Since I teach the two large lectures in our bachelor program, and I am also active in three masters programs, I get many requests form students, about 1-2 per week at an average. I am able to put up with the time constraint, but if I support 10 candidates to one organisation in one round of applications, which is typically once or twice a year, letters of support may have a tendency to lack credibility. An organisation would probably consider it to be strange to receive so much praise about so many students from one professor, but this is only an assumption on my end.

What is however more difficult is that almost all scholarships are only handed to the best students. The margin is typically at 10 %, yet many organisations even expect the best 5 %. This is insofar difficult since many of the students wrote exams in my lectures, and I know their grade. For this simple reason, I can only support students that are at leats in the top 25 % of the respective exams. This is already quite a stretch compared to the best 5 %, but I am willing to use this criteria to enable more students to apply for scholarships. For those students that did not receive any grades yet -typically 1st semester students- I am glad to accept a motivation letter with no more than 500 words that clearly outlines how the scholarship or activity would benefit their career.

For those students who do not meet this criteria, I can make exceptions in two cases. First, if students engage themselves in the work of the student body, and actively participate in the management and development of the university, then I am also willing to support them. This does not include any work vaguely associated with the development of the university, but only elected positions as student representatives. I feel that if people run for office and are willing to actively contribute to the development of the university as a whole, I owe them my full support. The second exception for people that are not among the best 25 % is for people that worked actively in my team, and that left a positive impression. If I am sure that the active and continuous efforts of a candidate merit a recommendation, I am glad to go through any lengths to support the person.

Now for those people who do not meet these criteria, I suggest that you may contact other teachers, ideally from seminars, who may support you. It is unfortunate that the institutions that write out scholarships or demand letters of support use grade as a baseline, but I guess they need to use some sort of threshold criteria, and for mere it is difficult to ignore this.

Generally I can only support people who contact me at least two weeks before the deadline. Since my responsibilities are numerous, and I rely on long term planning to match the diverse tasks I face, I expect the same from potential candidates interested in my support. If I deviate from this rule, it is ultimately my family that suffers, since my work time is tightly knit and integrates diversity of tasks with a thrive for efficiency to create solutions.