The Importance of Academic References
If you are like any other teenager, I am sure you have been told to try to find and maintain strong professional references. These references usually consist of past employers or supervisors from volunteer opportunities. While professional references are very important, you also need to consider academic references.
What is an academic reference?
An academic reference is someone that can speak to your knowledge and research abilities in your field of study, usually a professor that has a doctorate degree and is an expert in the field. Some students may be tempted to ask a graduate student that is teaching the course or a teaching assignment for a reference, but because they do not have a PhD in the field they are not considered an appropriate academic reference.
Who is a good candidate to be your academic reference?
One of the most important things to consider when you are choosing an academic reference is how well the professor knows you. You want to get a professor that you have worked with closely throughout your time in university. Avoid picking professors you had in a class of 500; They should know you personally. It is best to pick your fourth year project supervisor or a professor from a seminar course that allowed for a lot of discussion and one-on-one contact. You also want to choose a professor from a course you did particularly well on – it is difficult to get a good reference if you received a poor grade.
Start to cultivate relationships with professors as soon as you start in school. Discover who works in the field you’re most interested in and arrange to meet them prior to your last year of school. Inquire about working for this professor as a teaching or research assistant. You want a professor that knows you and that worked closely with you so that he or she can write a very personal letter. Generic reference letters look bad and do not stand out. You are much better off to get someone that knows you well and can speak to your academic achievements.
Why is an academic reference valuable?
Academic references can speak to your mastery of your major and your researching abilities. While most of your professional references can speak to your abilities working in a particular field and within the context of that job, an academic reference can speak to your knowledge of a subject, research abilities, potential, work ethic, oral and written communication skills and overall abilities. Not only are academic references a great asset to have when applying to jobs, they are a requirement when applying to graduate school or any type of professional degree (e.g. Law school or Teacher’s College). Most graduate programs require two to three academic references. These references are an integral part of the application process and can make a big difference in whether or not you are accepted. A glowing reference from an expert in your field can significantly improve your chances of being accepted into competitive programs.