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Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD Students (with Sample) - Need, Parts, Qualities

Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD Students (with Sample) - Need, Parts, Qualities

Edited By Apoorva Singh | Updated on Apr 20, 2024 04:21 PM IST

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Students: For PhD students, a letter of recommendation is a crucial component of the application documents. While other admissions materials, like transcripts and test results, are factual, a letter of recommendation for PhD students integrates the plans and facts of a CV and statement of purpose. A résumé is a summary of your accomplishments, transcripts are evidence of your achievements, and an SOP describes the significance of the course and your readiness for it. A reference letter for a PhD is an unbiased opinion on everything mentioned above.
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A PhD application usually requires at least two letters of recommendation for students from their professors. This allows the admission committee to know the applicants as people with skills that would otherwise be difficult to know from their resumes, transcripts and SOP. A letter of recommendation for PhD students should mention at least three qualities of the applicant – a social quality and at least two technical or subject-related qualities.

Moreover, as a PhD is an advanced specialised programme, the subject-related quality should be focused on projects carried out and specialised courses that will aid his/her PhD research. Read the complete article to know all the details about PhD letter of recommendation, PhD reference letter samples, and more.

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What is the need for a letter of recommendation for PhD students

A recommendation letter for PhD student from professors holds much more importance than those applying for undergraduate or master's courses. Grades and GRE scores play a big role in receiving admission from a university. The LOR for PhD admission is usually the deciding factor when choosing between candidates with similar credentials. Go through the key points to be included in the reference letter for PhD students from the professor to gain an understanding of what it is before you ask your professor to write a PhD reference letter for you.

Types of LORs for PhD

A PhD candidate must provide two letters of recommendation (LORs). Nevertheless, to ensure caution, it is recommended that the candidate should prepare a minimum of three LORs. Various universities may have different requirements for LORs from recommenders.

Academic Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD

Usually, universities require applicants to submit two or three Letters of Recommendation (LORs) for PhD from their previous educational institution. For undergraduate programs, these LORs can be obtained from teachers at your high school, while for masters or PhD, professors from your university can provide them.

Professional Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD

A Professional Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD from a Supervisor differs from an Academic LOR by emphasizing certain content related to the applicant's teamwork skills, industry knowledge, and leadership qualities.

Select the right person to write recommendation letter for PhD

Before asking someone for a recommendation letter for PhD application, you should know whom to ask. PhD is purely an academic degree and therefore you need to have a recommendation letter for PhD from those who can vouch for your academic inclination and strengths. PhD recommendation letter should be written by academicians with whom you have worked or someone who has supervised or taught you. If you are aspiring for a PhD programme or want a lor for PhD post-doctoral research, you should ideally ask your master's project guide or PhD guide to be one of the referees for your letter of recommendation for PhD students.

Your faculty must go through a sample recommendation letter for a PhD from a professor before sitting down to write one recommendation letter PhD for you. Other letters of recommendation for PhD students from teachers and professionals can be taken from persons who are from the same field or specialization in which you intend to do your PhD. You can also take your recommendation letter for doctoral programs from your supervisor who has an understanding of your academic capabilities.

Friends and relatives are not supposed to write your LOR for PhD admission for a number of reasons; first, they do not have first-hand information about your academic capabilities. Second, as they have not professionally or academically worked with you, they would not be able to present relevant information in the PhD letter of recommendation about you. Also, the recommender might not have in-depth knowledge of the discipline you intend to do a PhD. Last but not least, relatives cannot be objective about your qualities. That's why it is not a great idea to take your student recommendation letter from them. So a letter of recommendation for PhD students from teachers, professors, supervisors, coaches, etc., is only applicable.

The person who is writing a letter of recommendation for PhD students would be a professional who has known the applicant academically for no less than one year. The recommender should not only know you as one of the students in the department, but they should also know you as a person, your capabilities as a student, as well as your control over the subject they have been teaching. They should also be aware of your plans.

Letter of recommendation for PhD students: Qualities to focus on

Recommendation letters for Ph.D. students from supervisors, and professors are very subject-specific. Referees should speak of strong subject knowledge as well as analysis traits. A Letter of recommendation for student should show the student as possessing positive qualities like intelligence, self-motivation, responsibility, and amiableness. Emphasis should be given to passion and dedication as well.

Advanced study like a Ph.D. is often a challenging and demanding program. Therefore, the LOR for PhD admission should also display perseverance, competitiveness and the ability to work independently. Courses and knowledge related to PhD programme-related packages, extra courses, and statistical analysis techniques should be exemplified in the letter of recommendation for the PhD program.

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Parts of a LOR for PhD students

A student recommendation letter for a PhD will typically be between one to two pages. The document of recommendation letter for PhD student should be well differentiated into 5–6 paragraphs. The LOR for PhD should begin with an introductory paragraph about the recommender and his/her association with the applicant. You must read a PDF of the PhD recommendation letter sample before you ask your recommenders to give you one.

The next 3 to 4 paragraphs in the letter of recommendation for PhD program should outline the different academic and social qualities of the applicant with suitable substantiation. No quality should be mentioned without a suitable example. Finally, the concluding paragraph will sum up the above with a line recommending the applicant for the programme.

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Elements of Letter of Recommendation for PhD Students

Below is a LOR for PhD sample from a professor. Candidates can consider it as a letter of recommendation format for PhD and refer to it while writing their LOR for PhD.

Reference letter sample for PhD student




Dear Admission Committee,

About the reviewer association with the applicant.

It is a pleasure to recommend Ms Tenzin Pema for a PhD programme in Psychiatry at [University Name]. I have known Ms Tenzin for the past two years through her work in my Project titled, ‘Learned Helplessness and Achievements in Adolescent Males and Females’. Pema has completed her Masters and MPhil in Adolescent Psychology from [University Name]. She first approached me two years ago about the possibility of working in my project as a Research Fellow. We discussed the scope of the project and her job responsibilities in our first meeting.

Quality 1

Subject knowledge

She had asked good questions and also referred to a few studies that have been carried out by the students in the Department as their Master's and M. Phil Projects. I was impressed by her preparedness for the interview and her inquisitiveness to know more on the subject. On appointment, I often found her in the library looking for other similar studies done. She often discussed her findings with me as well as discussed the course of action and possible evaluation techniques for the project. After a long secondary research, we decided to evaluate our subjects on the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (FFI) before the actual experiment. This study examined the psychometric properties of the Children's Attributional Style Questionnaire (CASQ), the 48-item questionnaire designed to assess children's causal explanations for positive and negative events

Quality 2. Leadership skill

During that project, Pema demonstrated the ability to work independently with creativity and enthusiasm as well as effectively lead a team of 3 Project Fellows for sample selection and data collection techniques. She trained the team on all aspects of the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (FFI) as well as CASQ. She was also able to collect the CASQ data of more than 50% of the students a year later.

Quality 3. Social and Communication Skills and

Analysis skills

Her communication skills put both the subject as well as the interviewer at ease thus facilitating an unbiased and effective data collection. Pema has good clarity on the various data analysis statistical packages especially MATLAB and ANOVA which immensely helped us in doing a comparative study through various methods. She was quick to learn R and use it effectively for analysis. She would invariably be the first person at the school well-prepared for the day.

Quality 4. Team skills

The Project Fellows in the project always had praise for Pema. They always mentioned her patience and perseverance in clarifying their doubts about the standardised data collection and analysis techniques. Pema had doubled her efforts on data collection when she found that one of the project fellows was down with a fever and cold. She had not let this affect the Project Schedule.

Quality 5. Creativity and patience

Pema is very creative and patient with the kids. The long questionnaire would be too tedious for the kids so she would often make origami for them as they worked on the questionnaire.

Quality 6. Achiever

Her hard work and perseverance paid off when her paper, ‘Learned helplessness and achievements in pre-adolescent males and females’ was selected for publication in an International Journal.

Strong Recommendation

Ms Tenzin Pema is clearly the best student that I have worked with in the past few years. I strongly recommend her for a PhD programme from [University Name]. She would be an asset to any university she joins.

Referee information



Department of Social Psychology

University Name


Email ID:

Contact No:

Like there is a letter of recommendation for PhD students from professors, you can also read about PhD reference letter sample pdf, sample LOR for graduate school from coworker pdf, letter of recommendation for PhD in computer science, sample recommendation letter for employee, etc which will give you a fair idea what a recommendation letter is all about.

A recommendation letter for PhD students from a professor or supervisor gives a human touch to the applicant’s profile. A reference letter for PhD student from a professor is the only document that can present the applicant’s social side to the admission committee. Therefore, choose a referee who can not only substantiate your academic strengths but also cite appropriate examples of your social qualities in your recommendation letter for PhD students.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

1. Who should write letters of recommendation for PhD students?

It is crucial that the person writing your recommendation letter is someone who is familiar with your academic abilities. The most frequent writers of letters of recommendation are academics; professors or supervisors, but, other experts who are familiar with you and have overseen your academic or research work may also be suitable candidates.

2. How long should a reference letter for PhD be?

The reference letter should be 1-2 pages long with 5-6 paragraphs.

3. How do you recommend a PhD student in a student recommendation letter?

PhD suggestions are highly specialised. Referees should emphasise both analytical skills and in-depth topic understanding. Letters of recommendation for students should highlight their intelligence, initiative, responsibility, and interpersonal skills.

4. Do you need a LOR for post-doctoral studies abroad?

Yes, PhD, postdoc, and scholarship applications typically require two to three letters of recommendation. These letters should come from professors who know your work and can detail your possibilities.


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