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anonymous faculty member

I had a number of external faculty write recommendations for me (but not on my committee). If you are in the same geographic area as these people, you should audit (or take for credit, if you can and you are still doing coursework) their graduate seminars. (Of course, you should ask permission first, but I've almost never heard of anyone say no to this.) You could also look into reading groups, etc. at their departments. You should also try to get to know their students.

I don't work at a program with a really elite graduate program, but I can report that I get irritated sometimes when students (either from my program or a nearby one) ask me for things/letters/to be on committees/etc., when they have never expressed any interest (even, e.g., asking if they can occasionally sit in) in the courses I am actually teaching (which, at the graduate level, are on what I am actually working on--so if a student is interested in my work, they should be interested in my course). I think this attitude on my part is sort of unjustified, but I still have it. And I think the longer you wait in grad school to make contact with the relevant faculty, the worse it looks (because the more it looks like you just want them to write letters for you/be on your committee, but not that you actually care to have talked to them earlier on in your grad career).

I have more to say about how much I hate the culture of philosophy rewarding people who ask for stuff, but I do think Marcus is right that it tends to work. I think, though, that you need to be careful. If you do too much of this, you risk senior/established faculty beginning to talk to one another about how often you are asking them to go to their conferences, have them read your work, give talks in their departments, etc., and I have definitely heard some frustration being aired about certain extreme cases of "go getters" who seem like they are trying too hard. So I would just say if you are going to use this strategy, it is important to use it carefully and judiciously. Don't just send out emails to every faculty member who has any connection to your work. Talk to a select few people and build a relationship with them. And try not to be a brown noser. No one likes that.


I have not had grad students ask that I be on their committee, but I have had grad students write and ask about my research. As long as someone is polite, I am happy to help. That said, here is an annoying thing I want to mention.

If you write a faculty member at another institution, and they respond, write them back and say thank you! I have replied to grad student emails with detailed responses only to get no response. This does not make a good impression, to say the least.

If you want to get a famous outside member, absolutely take their course first. This is by far the most obvious route. I did get an outside member to serve on my committee simply by writing to them, saying I liked their work, and explaining what I wanted to do. The person had me send them a few papers and then agreed to be on my committee. However, even though this persons is pretty well known, they do not teach at a graduate school, and hence sitting in on a seminar was not an option. One last option is to get one of your own faculty members to write a letter recommending you. This is obviously most effective if your faculty are close to the faculty at the other institutions.

In the end, it seems there are the type of faculty who are inclined to almost always say yes, and those who rarely do. My own adviser always gave in and ended up on an absurd number of committees. I know other faculty whose default is to ignore the email.

non-leiterific grad student

Early in my graduate career, I took a course from a *very* famous person in my area at a top program. Alas, I was unable to get a rec letter from this person---who, I'm sure, is writing too many letters already---but he enthusiastically encouraged me to submit one of my term papers for publication, and in the end, it was published. So while my participation in the course didn't turn into the "golden ticket," it resulted in things far more valuable (for me, at least): confidence, knowledge, and professional guidance. (The publication was the cherry on top.)

Despite being a chronic introvert, I've put myself out there more than most grad students. Shockingly, I have not yet been cussed out. In general, I've found faculty at other universities (even the fancy ones) to be generous and supportive, if a bit swamped by other obligations. If you do it right, reaching out can help, and it's very unlikely to hurt. Just avoid looking like a mercenary, and commit yourself to learning from the master, as it were, as opposed to ingratiating yourself for the sake of a letter. More concretely: take a class from the professor in question, participate actively and intelligently, and work your tail off on your term papers. That's the way to "network" while maintaining self-respect. Make friends by being scrappy, not sycophantic.

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