Applications and nominations often require accompanying letters of support. What can you do to ensure that your letters are as strong as possible?
This can make you appear like a student and doesn’t shine a light on your new role as faculty member. Think about how you can expand your references in your first years as a faculty member. For instance, early on it will be good to include referees from your own institution who can speak to how you are establishing yourself as an independent researcher and as a valued colleague.
If the application says references are optional, provide references. But make sure your letters will enhance your application. Be mindful of advice about who not to use for a reference. For example, the following is the Sloan Foundation’s advice to applicants for a Sloan Research Fellowship:
“Selection Committees recommend that letters of support be submitted by someone who can speak objectively and knowledgeably about the quality and significance of a nominee’s work. Letters submitted by co-authors, personal associates, or professional mentors are, in this sense, less useful to Selection Committees than letters submitted by those with more professional distance from a nominee’s work.”
Here the Foundation suggests that you avoid references who may be seen as having a clear bias or a conflict of interest when writing on your behalf.
Additionally, many awards specify the need for letters from scholars outside your home institution. Be on the lookout for such advice. It is important to have at least one individual write on your behalf, who is not from UB. This is especially true in the case of research awards. Ideally, your nominator should be from outside UB.
These individuals were selected because they fit the profile of who the granting organization funds. Given that, they have gained a certain level of credibility in terms of speaking to the potential of a future awardee. Whenever possible, reach out to past collaborators, current or past colleagues, etc. who have won the award that you are applying to. And, of course, seek their support in other ways: ask for advice, sample materials, and/or ask if they are willing to read your materials before submission.
You can located awards received by your colleagues in the UB Awards Recipient Database.
Your referees are busy and writing letters can be taxing when multiplied across all of one’s contacts. Make it easier to support your application by doing the following:
The semester gets busy, so it is important to provide an internal deadline that is before the actual deadline. Set internal deadlines for yourself to send reminders to your referees.
If someone wrote for you in the past, make sure that you highlight what has changed about your candidacy. You want to avoid outdated letters at all costs. Reviewers can tell when a letter has been recycled. For some awards, your application may stay active for 2-3 years. In this case, it is still important to update your packet with the most relevant information.