Nearly all award, job, or school applications require letters of support and these letters matter! Letters of support are used by review committees to authenticate nomination statements and learn about the exceptional qualifications of the nominee. These letters are highly valued as evidence of the extraordinary work of the applicant. In fact, I have experience in which revising only the letters of support from a previously non-winning application resulted in a win. Letters of support influence the outcome!
If these letters are so important, who should write these letters and how will you ask? When considering letter writers, it can be difficult to know where to begin. To enhance your likelihood of success, there are several criteria to consider before selecting a writer and making the ask!
Who should write my letter of support?
Identifying letter writers can be tricky business. While you may be able to think about many people who would say nice things about you (no you cannot ask your mom), there are several criteria to consider as you make your selection.
1) Is the person a previous recipient of the award or position? Previous winners of the award or position you are nominated for are highly regarded by the organization and committee bestowing this award. In addition, previous awardees will have particular insight into the organization that may impact how they frame their comments about you and your work.
2) Does this person meet the requirements of the award or position ? Awards may have specific requirements/recommendations for nominators or letter writers. The specific award application will provide guidance regarding your selection. For example, an award may require letters from students and faculty, practitioner collaborators, letters from outside of your institution, letters from organization members, or a letter from your direct supervisor or mentee. It is essential to have a letter reflecting each required person in the application materials. Even when not specifically required, selecting a diverse group of writers can ensure writers speak to different strengths of your work. For example, for a faculty position select letter writers to share about your research and teaching excellence.
3) Does this person meet the criteria of the award or position? Awards and positions always have specific criteria that characterizes an exemplary candidate. Successful applicants select letter writers who meet these criteria. If you are applying to a research award, select writers who are excellent researchers. If you are applying to a teaching award, select writers who are exceptional educators themselves. Often award or position applications require a statement about the qualifications or the CV of the letter writers in order to frame their letter within the context of their expertise.
3) Is the person well known in the field for the criteria? After you have identified writers who meet the award criteria, ask yourself, “Is this person the top in this field?” If the writer must be an organization member, ask yourself, “Is this person active in the organization?” Ask the most prominent, active, or senior person who knows your work well enough to speak candidly about it.
4) Does the person know your work well? It is important that your writers know your work well. Informed writers can better identify which of your amazing attributes to highlight for any specific award. They will have specific evidence to provide to support the arguments they make about your expertise and extraordinary contributions to the field. Pragmatically, someone who knows you may be more likely to find the time to write your letter of support.
5) Is the person a strong mentor or advocate? If the writer is a strong mentor or advocate they are likely to be more invested in writing your letter than otherwise. At minimum, they will likely complete your letter on time.
How Do You Invite Letter Writers to Write for You?
I am always asked, “How well do I need to know my letter writers?” The answer is, it depends. Some letter writers you might know very well. For example, the award criteria may lead you to select your graduate advisor, a peer colleague, a student or a mentee. For other awards or positions, you may have met your writer just a few times at a conference, but they are on the steering committee for the awarding agency or are top in the field making them an excellent selection. Proactively prepare for soliciting letter writers by intentionally meeting folks at a conference or when they visit your institution. Ask to be introduced so you can at least begin your request email with, “I enjoyed our conversation when we met at…” Whether you know your letter writers well or not, there are some important steps you should take when inviting letter writers to write for you.
Once I write my first letter of recommendation, I am very happy to revise it for a new award or position. Thus, feel free to ask your same letter writers for multiple letters if you are applying to multiple awards or positions and the letter writer meets the criteria.
Below we provide some example emails requesting letters of support for awards or positions. We hope you find them to be useful model texts as you Make the Ask to Seal the Deal!
Example #1 (unfamiliar)
Dear Dr. XXXXX
It was a pleasure talking with you about XXXXXX when we met at XXXXX conference. I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me for the XXXXXX award. I have included the criteria of the award here and hope you can speak to the importance of my research for under-resourced communities. I am attaching a draft letter for your convenience and my CV. The nomination package is due XXXX so please submit your signed letter on letterhead to XXXXXX at XXXXXXX.org.
Please let me know if you are willing to submit a letter on my behalf.
I’m not sure where, but I recently read that writing letters of recommendation is “ubiquitous for academics or those following a research career.” Isn’t this the truth! It seems like a very short time ago that I was the student asking for a letter for graduate school or an award, but now, I am pretty consistently asked to write letters for students moving on in their academic careers. I know the weight that these letters can carry. I also know that I didn’t ever receive any sort of formal training or instruction on how to write an appropriate, impactful letter. If you are in the same boat, then you will love the series of posts that will be coming on our website over the next 6 months!
Our first post, written by our very own Dr. Hope Gerde, focuses on how to ask for a letter of support. This post will be followed by one about writing letters of support for students for grad school and for faculty positions, with more to follow. We hope you find these helpful!
Chair of the Professional Development Committee
By: Dr. Beth Phillips and the Mentoring Committee
Hi again POWER, a friendly reminder about our exciting upcoming event with very special guests. This Group Discussion Event will be held on Wednesday September 29th from 1-2:30 (eastern time) via Zoom.
Discussion Breakout Rooms will include the following topics, each co-facilitated by our invited guests and members of the mentoring committee.
Careers outside academia
Supporting diverse mentees
Promoting equity in research and dissemination
Writing statements for tenure and promotion
Invited guests who will be facilitating discussions include:
Nicole Patton Terry -Florida State University
Julia Mendez -University of North Carolina Greensboro
Carola Oliva-Olson – SRI International
Doré LaForett – Child Trends
Each attendee will have the opportunity to participate in multiple extended discussions.
To Register click HERE: https://fsu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4HIflZkcXEKP34a
Please feel free to forward this email to colleagues, peers, and friends—non-members and those considering joining POWER are more than welcome to attend! We hope this will be very well attended to show the power of POWER to our guests!
We look forward to having you join us and our guests!
By. Sara A. Hart, Ph.D.
Many people are interested in preregistrations but are worried they don’t know how to do them or will do them wrong. What’s interesting about preregistrations is pretty much everyone who has been to graduate school has completed at least one preregistration: a prospectus! In your prospectus, you lay out your research questions, hypotheses, and plan for how you will collect and analyze your data, and often, you include a power analysis. Preregistration is when a researcher publicly posts their study plans before conducting the study, including aspects such as research questions, hypotheses, sampling plan, independent and dependent variables, and analysis plans. The preregistration is then posted openly on the Internet, with a timestamp, before the study is started.
You might have also heard of registered reports, which are a type of preregistration that occurs with peer-review. Many of our field’s journals now have registered reports (e.g., Journal of Educational Psychology, Developmental Science; a full list is https://cos.io/rr/). With a registered report, you write the introduction and the methods section, including the proposed analysis and power analysis (making them just like a prospectus), before conducting the study. You then submit this to a journal for Stage 1 review. Review then occurs normally but rather than being focused on the results, it’s focused on the importance of the research question and the proposed methods. If the journal accepts your Stage 1 manuscript, the journal accepts the paper “in principle.” Then, you go and complete the study, write up the remainder of the paper (not changing the introduction or methods other than tense changes), and submit it as a Stage 2 manuscript. At this stage, the reviewers are contacted again to make sure you followed your plan and that the results are appropriately discussed and reported. But a Stage 2 manuscript cannot be rejected *because* of the results, helping reduce publication bias and protecting you if you get null effects (which are unfortunately hard to publish normally).
Preregistering your study has numerous benefits. First, you might be required to do it if you are a federally funded investigator (it is one of the SEER principles!). Second, preregistration makes your a priori hypotheses clear, allowing you to differentiate between confirmatory and exploratory analyses. Third, preregistration reduces questionable research practices, such as peeking at data, selective reporting (e.g., looking for an effect over many related outcome variables and selecting to publish the one that was statistically significant only), HARKing (Hypothesizing After Results Known), p-hacking, and the like. Fourth, when you do a registered report, you get the benefit of additional smart people working through your research questions and methods with you, increasing the chance of useful reviewer comments that improve your science.
Are you interested in trying out a preregistration? Any type of study can be preregistered, including secondary data analyses, reviews, and qualitative work. Fortunately, there is a growing repository of templates you can fill out to help you complete your preregistration. Before starting, try to Google and see if you can find a template to help guide you through the process. I’ve also found other people’s preregistrations and used them as templates when I couldn’t find a standard one. A very handy list of templates that might help you is available https://osf.io/zab38/wiki/home/, and for meta-analysis, check out https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/ (which walks you through questions and then posts your preregistration in one place). Complete your preregistration, and then post it anywhere that will time stamp your document, and hopefully give you a DOI, making it citable. I’ve used OSF (https://help.osf.io/hc/en-us/articles/360019738834-Create-a-Preregistration), figshare (https://figshare.com/), Prospero (linked above), Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) (https://sreereg.icpsr.umich.edu), and AsPredicted (www.aspredicted.org). Then write up your study, using your preregistration as your guide for your analyses! If you’ve made a mistake with your preregistration, just note in your manuscript what is not preregistered and continue on your way.
My own experiences with preregistrations have been mostly positive. When doing them, it feels as though you are slowing your research process and that can be frustrating. It frontloads a lot of work which we normally reserve for later, and it means a study is not “starting.” But when it comes time to write up the study paper, writing the methods and results is a breeze. I’ve also found that it really can be remarkable how reflecting on your analysis steps can be refreshing, especially firmly being able to differentiate between exploratory and confirmatory analyses. Preregistering every part of your analysis plan can be very difficult, especially for complex analyses. I have a preregistered paper published where I laid out a plan for if my variables were skewed but forgot to give a plan for if they were kurtotic! All I did was simply say explicitly in the paper that I didn’t preregister what I would do, but that I would follow my plan for if I had had skewed data (which fortunately worked to correct my kurtotic variable). I have also found that a preregistration can protect you during the review process from reviewers who want to change your paper with analyses you didn’t plan to do. In a different era, I might have felt tempted to work them into the manuscript, and maybe try to tell a story about why they were there. Now, I can either point to my preregistration and say that those analyses are not part of this study, or I can do the analyses, clearly label it as exploratory (and I’ve even explicitly said that a reviewer requested it in the text!), and just leave it there, not woven into the story. I encourage you to try out doing a preregistration. It will not be as foreign as you might think before doing your first one. It is the same research process you are used to, just in a different order than you are used to.
More resources on preregistrations, and open science more broadly:
van Dijk, W., Schatschneider, C., & Hart, S.A. (2021). Open science in education sciences. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(2), 139-152. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420945267
Cook, B.G., Fleming, J.I., Hart, S.A., Lane, K.L., Therrien, W., van Dijk, W., Wilson, S. (in press). A how-to guide for open-science practices in special education research. Remedial and Special Education. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/07419325211019100 (open access version, https://edarxiv.org/zmeba/)
In January 2021, The POWER Mentoring Committee hosted a wonderful discussion with one of our dynamic Ambassadors, Dr. Shelley Gray, about mentoring students and junior colleagues. Dr. Gray shared excellent advice regarding how to structure mentoring relationships in ways that are beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee. POWER members engaged in a robust discussion about the challenges and satisfactions of mentoring. Dr. Gray has provided us with the slides from this event with us, so the larger community can benefit from her guidance. We share them with you all here:
Date: January 28th 2021