John Pearson






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Dear Undergrads: How to win at research (or at least get a good rec letter) Pt. 1

04 November 2014

Yes, it’s rec letter season again. Grad school, internships, fellowships, and the great Hunger Games that is medical school admissions. As a senior member of a large lab with a higher-than-average contingent of undergraduate volunteers, I count somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen students I’ve personally mentored over the last several years, and that means even have to write a letter now and then in the service of former students.

Which is great. Honestly. Duke students are an incredible bunch. Smart, hardworking, and ambitious in a way that’s almost sweet, they hide it so poorly.

Only problem is, the more students I work with, and the longer ago it was, the harder time I have remembering who did what and when. Not that I forget the people, but sometimes I have a hard time remembering even my own projects, and this is no exception. So believe me, I want to write you a compelling letter, filled with telling anecdote and high praise. But we are fighting a battle here against the slipperiness of memory.

To which end, dear undergraduate, research aspirant, I am encouraging you to make it easy on me. And to make it easy on you, I am going to give you the keys to the kingdom,

The Guide to Being Remembered

Follow these simple precepts, keep out of trouble, and you are well on your way to that glowing recommendation:

Precept 1: Don’t be a flake

Sounds simple, right? It is. But just to be clear, this is what I mean:

Next time: What key quality separates good undergraduate researchers from great undergraduate researchers?