Letters of Recommendation Policy

Thank you for considering me as a person whose letter of recommendation or reference you would like to have to advance your career in either academia or industry. In order for me to write you a strong letter of recommendation, I have formulated a series of guidelines and document requirements that aide in the letter writing process. Please note, as I am visiting assistant professor, the weight of my letter of recommendation may be viewed significantly less than that of an established tenure-track professor.

With this being said, please take note:

  1. You must have taken a course or completed a research project with me.
    • Depending on your performance within the course, this could be waived if discussed in advance.
  2. You must have received a grade of at least an A.
  3. You must grant me permission to talk with a recruiter or college, otherwise I will decline to act as a reference.
  4. You must waive your right to view the letter and/or reference data.
  5. I will only write 5 letters of recommendation.
    • Please keep in mind that there are many students who I need to write letters for and, thus, I have to impose a cap.
    • I’ve found that students who require more than five letters to not have a clear picture of what they want to pursue.
  6. I must have a minimum 2 weeks turnaround time for letters of recommendation.
    • Requesting a letter earlier is better as I can look over and critique the application package.

Do not randomly add me as a reference to your application without receiving confirmation that I will write the letter.

Guidelines Around References

Prior to agreeing to write a letter of recommendation, I need to be able to say that I know you well. These guidelines characterize how well I know you. When trying to see how well I know you, keep in mind that the more positive your answers are the stronger and more specific your letter of recommendation will be.

  1. Frequency of engagement emphasizes the number of encounters I can draw on when writing the letter of recommendation. Strong letters of recommendation come through multiple engagements, e.g:
    • Did you visit my office hours frequently?
    • Ask well-phrased questions during class?
    • How often did we talk about your group’s final project?
      • Was it in a positive light?
  2. Duration of engagement describes how long we’ve known each other. For instance, have I only known you one semester or did you take more than one course with me?
    • Please note that I will only write a letter of recommendation based on past accomplishments.
    • That is to say, if you are taking a course in the same semester that you need your letter of recommendation, I will not be able to write it.
  3. Type of engagement describes how we were connected. Was I either your: instructor, research mentor, or activity leader?

If we have had no memorable encounters and you still need a letter of recommendation or reference, the best that I will be able to provide is a statement that describes your academic performance in the course. In which case, I would strongly suggest that you consider speaking with another person for a letter of recommendation or reference.

Letter of Recommendation/Reference Request Format

When sending a request for a letter of recommendation or reference, please be concise with your request. In particular, please:

  • Avoid long paragraphs in favor of lists.
  • Send an e-mail from your Illinois account.
    • Non-Illinois e-mail accounts are fine, but they will be delayed in reaching me.
  • The start of the subject line must follow the format of: [Recommendation Request] - Your Name Here

Within the e-mail, please make sure that the following documents are attached:

  1. Headshot Photo
    • Helpful to jog my memory about the number of times we interacted during office hours or the course.
  2. CV or Resume
    • List of activities, accomplishments, and skills that you have.
  3. Standardized Test Scores from Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and, if applicable, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
    • If applying for a doctorate program (e.g. Ph.D.), please make sure to take the test one semester before applications are due.
    • TOEFL-like tests are encouraged for international students.
  4. Unofficial transcripts
    • Provides an overview of the kinds of coursework and the quality of knowledge obtained.
    • Please make sure to include all transcripts for each University that you attended.
  5. Any application material prepared such as a personal/research statement, project portfolios, or certification tests.
    • These materials allow me to reference moments that you would like to standout to the admissions committee or industry recruiters.
  6. A statement within the e-mail that says:
    • > “I agree that James Balamuta can release my grade information and describe my course experience as a part of the letter writing or reference process.”
  7. If Academia, please provide an overview of the Universities that you have applied to and their corresponding due dates for letters of recommendation.
    • Please supply a list that contains the following information for each letter:
      • University (e.g. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign);
      • Program (e.g. Statistics);
      • Degree Type (e.g. Master of Science); and,
      • Due Date (e.g. December 15th, 2019)
  8. If Industry, please submit the list of companies that you have applied to.
    • Please make sure that the list contains the following information:
      • Company Name (e.g. ACME Inc.);
      • Position Name (e.g. Data Scientist);
      • Position Duties (e.g. Modeling data, algorithm development, business analytics); and,
      • Date of Application (e.g. December 20th, 2019.)

Note: We will likely iterate on your application package. Do not add me to a reference until I explicitly say the materials are in order.

Next Steps


  • Let me know if a deadline is approaching and my letter was not submitted yet. I try to ensure a two week turnaround time, but many requests come in a condensed period of the semester. In additon, I may unintentionally overlook an e-mail requesting a letter of recommendation.
  • Once the process is done, please share the results with me! I appreciate knowing where former students continue their education or start their first Data Science job.
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