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Research PI Recommendation Letter

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npkaratekid11

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Hey guys just wanted to ask your opinion on a recommendation letter difficulty I am having. So, I graduated this past May and had been working in my lab at Penn for almost 2.5 years. I am the co-author on a publication that has yet to be accepted by a journal from a project I worked on my first full academic year. In short, due to results that didn't really come out well this past year, my PI said he would write me a "brief and neutral" letter and has written it already. I am trying to decide whether I want to use it or not. What do you guys think? I am applying to many of the top medical schools that emphasize research so I am thinking I should submit it just so they don't question why I don't have one. It definitely will be my weakest letter considering I know my other letters will be very good.
 

kyamh

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No! "Brief and neutral" would be really bad.

Also, I sincerely doubt that the fact that your results didn't come out like you hoped is the reason your letter isn't great. No offence, but that's just science, there must be something else going on there.

Does your PI not like your work ethic? Are you careless? Are you not a strong candidate for medical school? My PI once talked to a past lab member who wanted to apply to medical school and frankly said that his letter would not be very good. She had a meeting with him and asked why he couldn't write a strong letter and he said that he would not feel comfortable writing a strong letter given her academic record. My PI suggested that the student successfully complete a post-bac program, which she did, and he later wrote her a great letter. She is now an MS2. You should have a conversation with your advisor about why he cannot fully support your application to medical school.
 
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npkaratekid11

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My candidacy is certainly not the issue given my GPA and rest of my application for the matter, and even my premed advisor wondered why this happened. I think he was just disappointed that I was not able to bring out the results given the time that I had (so basically my productivity in the lab was the issue).
 

npkaratekid11

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He literally mentioned to me the instances where I wasn't able to pull the project through when he mentioned the brief and neutral thing.
 

kyamh

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He literally mentioned to me the instances where I wasn't able to pull the project through when he mentioned the brief and neutral thing.

There are reasons for "not bringing the project through" that are out of your control and there are reasons that are within your control. It's impossible for us to understand exactly what's going on in this situation because we only have your side of the story. I'm not saying you aren't being truthful, I'm saying that it's hard for you to judge what happened objectively.

Bottom line, you shouldn't get this LOR unless you fix whatever the problem is.
 

npkaratekid11

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Basically he just has very high expectations, higher than most PIs. I just know that schools will wonder why I do not have it, and my advisor said a factual account of what I did in the lab won't hurt me relative to not having one from him at all. I mean I clearly have contributed considerably as I have a publication.
 

kyamh

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Basically he just has very high expectations, higher than most PIs. I just know that schools will wonder why I do not have it, and my advisor said a factual account of what I did in the lab won't hurt me relative to not having one from him at all. I mean I clearly have contributed considerably as I have a publication.

Then you have your answer already, the rest of the future posts on this thread will just be opinions ;)
 

npkaratekid11

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because after all, letters just help an applicant so this one just won't contribute much. that's how I see it at least
 

Amba

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Basically he just has very high expectations, higher than most PIs. I just know that schools will wonder why I do not have it, and my advisor said a factual account of what I did in the lab won't hurt me relative to not having one from him at all. I mean I clearly have contributed considerably as I have a publication submitted manuscript.

Fixed. If you haven't experienced the submission process for papers yet, you're in for a treat. I've even had a (co-authored) paper accepted pending revisions and then retracted due to unrepeatable science from one of our post-docs. Not that this will happen to you - I sincerely hope it doesn't. But calling a submitted manuscript a "publication" shows naïvety, which isn't how you want to come off.

because after all, letters just help an applicant so this one just won't contribute much. that's how I see it at least

Not true. I had two "average to good" letters, primarily because I went to a large state school, so the requirement of letters from "professors who have taught you" was very difficult to fulfill. I do think that these hurt me in the application process, especially since my other two letters were glowing.

IMO don't submit the letter, OP. A future publication is great. But middle-authorship + a lukewarm letter doesn't exactly scream "future academic stud. accept me!". Just my two cents.
 

npkaratekid11

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So what I'm trying instead is to get a postdoc I worked with to write it for me (he's actually a pretty accomplished senior research investigator) and then seeing if the PI will sign off on it. If I cannot get the signature, should I just go forward with the positive letter from the postdoc?
 

npkaratekid11

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Any other opinions on this? I should make a decision by this Friday whether to send the letter or not.
 

mehc012

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So what I'm trying instead is to get a postdoc I worked with to write it for me (he's actually a pretty accomplished senior research investigator) and then seeing if the PI will sign off on it. If I cannot get the signature, should I just go forward with the positive letter from the postdoc?
I would go with this.
Brief and neutral is a bombshell...and anyone who told you that letters 'only help' is a fool.

Letters are usually a wash...unless they are REALLY good (most people's aren't) or not good at all.
Neutral = not good.
Do not submit that letter.
 

mimelim

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Hey guys just wanted to ask your opinion on a recommendation letter difficulty I am having. So, I graduated this past May and had been working in my lab at Penn for almost 2.5 years. I am the co-author on a publication that has yet to be accepted by a journal from a project I worked on my first full academic year. In short, due to results that didn't really come out well this past year, my PI said he would write me a "brief and neutral" letter and has written it already. I am trying to decide whether I want to use it or not. What do you guys think? I am applying to many of the top medical schools that emphasize research so I am thinking I should submit it just so they don't question why I don't have one. It definitely will be my weakest letter considering I know my other letters will be very good.

Basically he just has very high expectations, higher than most PIs. I just know that schools will wonder why I do not have it, and my advisor said a factual account of what I did in the lab won't hurt me relative to not having one from him at all. I mean I clearly have contributed considerably as I have a publication.

#1 As previously pointed out by @Amba you do not have a publication. To be in a single lab for 2.5 years and not have anything tangible to show for it, is a red-flag, especially in the absence of a good explanation from a PI via LOR. Did you at least have a poster or abstract for the work that you did?
#2 You need to realize that nobody says bad things about people in a letter of recommendation. Something that is brief and neutral is a red-flag. It begs the question, why couldn't you find someone better to write a letter, as well as, why can't a PI that has worked with this applicant for 2.5 years brag about him, that is a long time to be in a lab.
#3 What makes you think that this PI has "very high expectations", what did you produce/do that would warrant meeting any PI's expectations?
 

npkaratekid11

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for your first question, I presented a poster at a student symposium for biology majors at my school. I also could bring a copy of the manuscript to an interview, and it is a prospective publication (at least shows that the PI was happy enough with my work to give me co-authorship on something).

second question: right, I realize that

I really don't have anything to say with regard to your third question. I am not sure why he cannot provide me with a supportive letter given my contribution to the lab.
 

npkaratekid11

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For my independent research course this past year, I also wrote a thesis so I could show that as well.
 
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