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I feel really bad that this hasn't gotten *any* response. I think it's because we just don't know the answers.

However, I can say something about #3: It's more common than you think, and it's not inappropriate to do this. Just ask. The worst that can happen (and I mean this) is that they'll say no. Of course, just how you do it is important.

Something like this: Hello, [Dr. X]. I'm writing hoping that you might be willing to write me a reference letter that I could put in my job file. If you could find the time, I've attached my CV and a couple papers/publications. If possible, I'd love a chance to have a chat at [upcoming conference Y].

Of course, you don't have to include the last part, but if you can write this before going to a conference where you're pretty sure X will be, then this form of networking is KEY.

Also, you should be doing this *anyway.* I almost always plan to meet a few new people at conferences, often from blog or Facebook interactions :)


In response to Rachel on #3, I'm not so sure that the worst that can happen is that the person says no. I've heard from many people that positive but nevertheless short or less-than-extremely-enthusiastic letters can hurt a candidate. When you ask somebody for a letter who you don't know, and who's not invested in you as a candidate, you run a risk of getting such a letter. If you have a placement director who can look at the letter first and decide whether or not to include it in your file, then there's no problem. But in case, being a few years out, you don't have access to that sort of service, I think you're running a risk including a letter in your file written by somebody who doesn't know you all that well, unless you're very confident that the letter will be very good.


Sorry, there was a background, unstated assumption that a candidate could have someone (like a placement director) to review the letter to decide whether it's suitable for inclusion.

My "what's the worst that could happen" comment was merely about the act of *asking* for the letter. Yes, I completely agree with the caveat.

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