Choosing referees as a prospective Graduate school applicant

References and choosing referees are essential throughout your academic career. They will be taken into account when you apply for a PhD program, doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, as well as academic jobs. (They may play a different function in a job hunt for a non-academic position.) 

Naturally, you want references who will praise your efforts and your potential. There are also some requirements for the referees you list. The lack of such individuals can convey a message as powerful as a letter that isn’t very encouraging.

A solid professional relationship with the referee is the foundation of a good reference. It is insufficient if they read what you wrote or delivered and found it interesting. They should ideally be acquainted with your work ethic as well as your general academic interests and prowess. It will help if you discuss your professional goals and how various areas of your work contribute to them with at least one of your referees. Now, let us see some of the best practices for choosing referees. 

Who do I choose as a referee? 

Choosing referees is one of the essential steps in the admissions process. The university will look at your academic transcripts and other information when considering whether or not they want to admit you. So, you must choose your referees carefully and make sure they are qualified people who are familiar with the program requirements for all of the universities that you hope to apply to.

Referees are the people who have direct knowledge of your academic background and personality. They understand your strengths and weaknesses and can provide helpful feedback on your application. Your referees should be people who know you well and have seen you in action. You do not need to use all three referees for an application – one or two are enough.

Your dissertation supervisor is one of the expected referees. Your supervisor knows how well you follow through on obligations (such as submitting work), how you react to criticism and suggestions, and how much modification goes into the final product that is presented to others, in addition to having read your work. Even though most of your intellectual interests have not yet resulted in publicly shown work, they are also aware of the depth and range of your academic interests. Although you should seek their counsel and help early, certain advisors will be more aggressive in offering professional advice and coaching. Even so, a past teacher, supervisor, or mentor can be a good option. 

How do you find out about potential referees?

It is essential to build and maintain relationships with others who might provide references. You don’t need to see them often, but there should be ways to maintain contact. You can seek advice relevant to their area of expertise and let them know about conference presentations or papers you are submitting. If you are wondering how to identify these potential referees, here are some ways. 

  1. Ask current or former classmates, professors or other professional contacts for recommendations about specific professors at their respective institutions.
  1. Search for alumni from your target institution via LinkedIn and ask them if they know someone who would be a good fit for the program you’re interested in (if applicable). This can be especially helpful if there are no current students on LinkedIn. It’ll give you an idea of how many alumni work in the field.
  1. Contact key people at the targeted graduate program and ask them if they could recommend someone else who would also be a good fit for your application — but also make sure that person is not affiliated with that particular institute/department/unit (i.e., that person does not work there). 

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What should You have in mind when choosing a referee?

When Choosing referees, you should be careful. You should choose people who know you well and can speak to the quality of your work and character. Your referees should be able to speak directly about the skills, qualities and interests that are important for graduate school success. However, here are a few things that you should keep in mind:

  1. Make sure that they have experience working with students in a similar field as yourself. This will help them understand what type of student you are and how well prepared you are for graduate school.
  1. Be sure that your referees are familiar with the application process and can answer questions about it specifically for each school’s application form. This will save both time and money if there is any confusion at all regarding what exactly needs to be done during the application process (for example, if someone wants an addendum on their application.)


When choosing referees, give the referee the chance to watch you teach and provide you with constructive criticism if you selected them expressly for their understanding of your teaching talents. Don’t hold off until you absolutely must have a reference letter. Develop a relationship like this with the instructors you TA for. They won’t likely make an effective referee for this area of your profession if they aren’t willing to mentor your growth as a teacher.

You’ll want to enlist fresh referees as your profession develops. Create these connections so that you can ask for recommendations when you need them. These connections may begin with a chance encounter at a conference or even during a job interview. A feeling that someone really enjoyed your work is a cue to include that person in your network. When a strong connection has been established, you can ask them for a reference when you need one. 

Never list a referee without first getting that person’s approval. Additionally, you should inform your referees about each application they are included and offer to send them any pertinent documents.

Choosing referees as a prospective Graduate school applicant
choosing referees
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