References and letters of recommendation

I receive a lot of requests to provide references for students and recent graduates. In general, I am happy to so. If you’re going to ask me for a reference, please read the simple guidelines below before you give out my name to potential employers.

  • Think carefully about whether I’m the best person for the job. If I was your personal tutor but you’ve only been to see me twice, each time to ask about how to get a deadline extension, what can I realistically write when your future employer asks me about your punctuality and ability to handle deadlines? Project supervisors often make good referees as they’ll have worked more closely with you for a few months.
  • The Data Protection Act requires that the university have written permission from you before giving out information about you to a third party. So ask me, by email, before giving out my name as a referee. You’ll need to give me a list of the companies or institutions to which you’ve applied, else I might be breaking the law by complying with any given request. Unexpected requests will be assumed to be phishing attacks and ignored.
  • Tell me what deadline you’re working to for the reference.
  • If you need a telephone reference, let me know well in advance. I spend so much time out of the office collaborating on papers or teaching that I’m rarely reachable by phone.
  • Remind me of any academic activity you think relevant to your application. If you’re applying for Clinical Psychology Assistant positions, and you took my Clinical Psychology class, then remind me of the fact. My memory’s pretty good, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Please note that most universities and companies won’t accept a reference that comes via the applicant. They don’t trust you not to rewrite it. I will only send references direct. I’m not keeping secrets though and you’re welcome to a copy if you want one.

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