LORs--who to ask?

I’m just wondering how well I should know professors before I ask them for letters of recommendation. I’ve taken 3 science classes recently at a big university with classes ranging from 80 to 300 students. I did well
enough in the classes, and I also asked questions and went to office hours fairly often–but I wouldn’t say I got to know any of my profs. I’ve also never had the same prof there for more than one class. Would it seem rude or wierd for me to ask one of these profs for a letter of recommendation when there is a good chance they won’t even remember me?
I’m applying for a summer research program this summer, and I’ll need two letters for that later this spring. In the summer I’ll be applying to med school. I’ve got other profs I will be asking for the med school letters, and those people I do know a little better. But I want to ask my chem prof from last fall for a letter for the summer program. Is it ok if I ask him to write the letter, and at the same time offer to come in and talk about my background and reasons for applying? I don’t see how else I can get letters for this program…
Thanks for any thoughts on this!

This is exactly what we all do! You just have to ask the profs, even if you don’t feel you know them well enough. If you did well in the class, asked questions, and went to office hours, chances are they will be happy to write the letters.
Good luck!

This is a tough question to answer after the fact. You most certainly can ask folks who don’t know you well for a recommendation. You just need to know that the recommendation may be kind of “vanilla” as a result. Your plan to offer to come in and talk to the prof so that s/he will know you better prior to writing the letter is excellent. Don’t feel apologetic for asking, and you are definitely NOT being rude. Go into this thinking that your professor will WANT to write a good letter and will welcome the chance to know you better so that’s possible. (Okay, so I can be Pollyanna at times!)
For those reading who are earlier in the process - it is never too soon to cultivate relationships with professors who may end up writing your LORs. If you don’t anticipate spending more than one semester with a prof, as has been Andrea’s experience, then you’ll want to TELL that professor of your career plans and express the hope that s/he might be available for writing an LOR at some future date. Promise to keep in touch, and do it. Use office hours or lab or something to help the prof know you a little better.
Then when it’s time to actually request the LOR, provide the prof with your resume and, if you can, at least a fairly polished draft of the personal statement you intend to use on your medical school application so that the prof knows your aspirations in a very personal way.
Of course don’t forget that the way to ask for a LOR is: “Would you be able to give me a strong, positive letter of recommendation?” If the person hesitates for a second, back off and do NOT use that person. You only want people who respond enthusiastically, “Yes, of course!” to that question.
I think all my advice is pretty good here but I know it’s kinda jumpy; I’m feeling very disorganized tonight. My apologies, and I hope it’s helpful nonetheless.

Thank you for the advice, Theresa and Mary! I’m glad to know how both of you look at the recommendation situation. I do try to get to know my profs as well as possible during the term–but in big classes I’ve been afraid of coming across as too pushy. I could tell that my chem profs this fall had seen all manner of grade grubbing indecency from their previous students, and I didn’t want to inadvertently annoy them by acting unusually chummy. I did go in with plenty of questions though. Anyway, the term is long over with and I really need that letter, so I emailed one of my profs today. We’ll see what he says!
Well, thanks again!

How long have you been out of undrgrad? If it hasn’t been that long consider a reccomendation request of your former undergrad advisor. This may be especially helpful if you had several classes with the same professor.(developed a relationship over years rather than a quick one semester)Obviously, recommendations need to be current. Yet, this may still be a viable option.
Unfortunately,I have been out of undergrad for more then a few years. However, when I began seriously considering going the med school route I contacted my former biology and zoology professor from my small private undergrad because he is the current professional advisor. Even after all of these years 1) he remembered me and more importantly 2) he offerred to do anything he could to help.
Just my 2cents. It is worth considering.

It is my understanding that med schools prefer LORs from physicians (because that is what you are going to their school to become, a doctor). But I also think that LORs from academic committees and research scientists would also work, but I believe that letters from physicians are preferred.

Actually the first preference is for academic committees - and many schools “require” them or demand that you give a really good explanation for why you can’t produce a committee letter.
LORs from physicians can be helpful if they back up your qualifications as demonstrated in your application - academic skills, people skills, interest in medicine. But Admissions Committees are MOST interested in knowing if you can hack it in school, and for that they’re looking for folks who can really back up your academic credentials.

On a slightly different tack, I’ll (probably) be applying in about two years. I’m currently a physics professor and I haven’t been in school at all for 10 years. Do you think that letters from my colleagues will be sufficient or should I get letters from the instructors of my prereq classes?
As for prereqs, I’ll need to retake the Bio, Chem and OChem because I haven’t used this material in about 20 years. I wonder about the physics prereq though. I took my intro physics classes in 1981 so, playing by the rules, I should retake them. But I think I can make a pretty strong case that my physics skills are sufficient - I’ve got a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics, I’m a tenured physics professor and I’ve been teaching the intro physics courses for about 12 years.
What do you think?
If it turns out that I do need to take physics again, that will be very inconvenient since, most semesters, I’m the only one teaching it at my university. I’m pretty sure that they won’t let me take my own class, which means that I have to go somewhere else. Bummer.

Can you just take your own course? And give yourself a grade? Sounds like a no-lose situation to me
More seriously, maybe you should take a look at the physics section of the MCAT and if it seems pretty straightforward you can just ace that section and not worry about the nominal prereq.

I can see it now…the interview room at B.F.M.S. (That’s “Big Med School”, the F being silent)…
Interviewer: So, can you tell me why you got a C in your physics prerequisites?
Applicant: Well, you see, I couldn’t understand the professor and the exams didn’t make any sense and they didn’t have anything to do with the problems in the chapters.
Interviewer: I see. Who was the instructor?
Applicant: Uhh…me.
Interviewer: Oh. Thank you for your time. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Heh… at least that will take care of the conflict of interest accusations!
Maybe they’ll let you audit your own course, or use yourself as a tutor. Then you can write your own letter of recommendation, being careful of course to avoid use of first person.
There are all sorts of ramifications here for self-referential premed study. "I inflicted a serious wound on myself and proceeded to staunch the bleeding and stitch it up. This gave me valuable experience in emergency procedures, especially in dealing with hysterical patients…"
Sorry… I know this is supposed to be a serious topic but I’m in a jovial mood today. When I start summer school I’ll planning to go slightly crazy so might as well practice now.