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References are key to helping you advance after you have finished your degree, whether you are aiming for postgraduate study or heading straight into employment. This section lets you know how to obtain the best references, and from whom.

It is important that students get their choice of referees right so as to help maximise their chance of success.

Who to ask

Often a really good choice for a number of reasons, personal tutors are usually the first place to go for a reference.

  • They have an obligation (as set down by the University) to write a reference on request for their personal tutees.
  • The expectation is that they will consult any notes in your student files - including copies of the formative and summative feedback across the years of your university degree. They also have access to all of the marks you have gained. They may even speak to your seminar tutors (see below) and incorporate their comments into the reference. Even if they may not know you personally very well, they can obtain a rounded picture of you and your abilities through feedback (that said, the more you can get to know them during your studies the better!).
  • You are asked to complete a personal development form before personal tutor meetings - these are a valuable resource for writing references!
  • They can also comment on your predicted degree classification if you have not yet graduated.

Students may sometimes ask former or current seminar tutors (or their dissertation supervisor), as they feel they have got to know their academic work personally. However:

  • In contrast to a personal tutor, a seminar tutor is more likely to restrict their reference comments to your performance on their particular module or what they know about you personally. Therefore, they may not always be able to give such a comprehensive picture.
  • Unlike personal tutors, seminar tutors do not have a University obligation to provide references (although will ,of course, always try and assist students when they can). Therefore, in some rare circumstances a seminar tutor may be so overwhelmed with reference requests or other workload pressures that they cannot meet a request for a reference, or not with the requisite timeframe. This is not very common but is something to bear in mind, and is also a reminder that you need to give referees as much notice as possible that you will require a reference.

Tips and advice

  • Generally speaking, prospective employers and universities are likely to ask for at least two referees so often a student will acquire one reference from their personal tutor and one from a seminar tutor. Perhaps the best of both worlds!
  • If it is the latter, there may be advantages in the referee being someone who has taught you recently and/or for a sustained period of time.
  • Another option (if you are applying for employment) is a reference from someone associated with any work experience you have undertaken (in addition to a reference from your personal tutor).
  • In terms of references for postgraduate study, it may also be beneficial to have a referee who teaches or researches in the area for which you are applying.
  • Students may also like the idea of a big name 'professor' as one of their referees, but this should be balanced against the other (probably more important) factors mentioned above.
  • Out of courtesy please do let your personal tutor/seminar tutor know in advance if you are going to put them down as a referee.
  • It is also recommended that you provide them with a CV and/or an outline as to why you are applying for a particular job/programme and how it fits into your overall plans. That will allow them to write the most helpful reference possible.

More information is available in the University Personal Tutor Guidelines as well as from Student Careers and Skills.