I write many letters of recommendation each year (easily over 50) so thought I would post some tips on making the process a little easier.

Start Early:  I recommend planning for job or graduate school applications early… at least the spring if you plan to apply in the fall.  For example:

  • Spring:  Talk to your profs about your job and grad school interest and mention recommendation letters. Start your applications (if you can), application statement, and NSF application (if applicable).
  • Summer: Finalize grad essays. Be sure to show them to professors for feedback!
  • Fall:  Send email requests for letters (remind them they met with you in the spring)
  • Winter & Spring: Wait anxiously and drink way too much coffee. Receive acceptance letters. Email thank you notes (or cards) to your professors.

Ask For a Recommendation Early and In Person: Ask me in person during office hours and ask me waaaaaaay ahead of time, preferably September if you’re applying in late Fall or winter…  but try to ask at least month in advance. At a minimum, ask 2 weeks in advance… and if you ask the same week I hope you know me well and have been working in my lab. If I cannot provide one, do not try to push it. It may be that I don’t really know you (simply taking one class with me usually is not enough) or it may be that I’m writing many already and do not have time to write another carefully crafted letter. But do ask!


After I say yes, send me some useful material in one email:  Writing letters is challenging, so I like to have all sorts of useful material that I can draw from. Since I don’t have total recall memory, help me out by sending an email with the following items.

  1. A document with (a) your name, email and phone number, (b) a list of programs you are applying to, ordered by deadline (Indicate if email or paper form and if form, attach those to the email too), and (c) a few key bullet points regarding your intended research focus.  If you want, use this Microsoft Word template:  Recommendation Request Form
  2. The most current version of your application statement (even a draft is okay)..
  3. A list of all the courses you took from me; include year/quarter taken, and grade.
  4. A copy of your best previously submitted work from my courses (along with grade and comments if you still have them)
  5. Your resume or CV
  6. Your transcript


Contact Me By Replying To The Same Email: If you realized you forgot something, of if you are reminding me about deadlines, reply to the same email you originally sent me. Remember, emails are “threaded”, so if you send me a reminder that a letter is due in one week, reply to the same request so I can see all of the emails and materials together.


Send Me Reminders: Send me an email reminder 2 weeks before a letter is due if I have not submitted it. If it is due in one week, call me or see me in person.  Don’t forget to reply to the email you sent me. Don;t hesitate to remind me when letters are due!


Fill In Recommendation Forms Completely:  Be sure to fill out my name and information correctly on the various request forms/websites.

  • Name: Sean Bruna
  • Title: Assistant Professor
  • Department: Anthropology Department
  • University: Western Washington University
  • Office Phone: (360) 650-2290
  • Fax: (360) 650-7668
  • Email: sean.bruna@wwu.edu


Don’t Stress Out:  Applying to graduate school or jobs is practically a full time job, so no need to stress out if you start early. You can can always call me, email (yes, even a new email that is not “threaded” if you forget) or just stop in to talk.

Good luck!