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Dave's Reference Writing Policy

With being responsible for well over a thousand current undergraduate students, Supervisors and Teaching Assistants as well as students who have left it is impossible for me to have an open policy of writing personal references for everyone who asks. This page sets out the general policy I follow in writing academic references. The chances are that you are on this page because you emailed me asking for me to write a reference: because of the number of such emails I get this page sets out my policy rather than having to reply individually. Please read the categories outlined below very carefully and note that if I get a reference request from a potential employer or University for a non-tutee who has not agreed with me in advance BY EMAIL to write a reference for them I will either ignore it, or if they keep pestering me reply informing them that I have not agreed to write a reference.

Unless you are someone I know personally I will not be able to write a non-academic reference of any description (job applications/internships) because these references often ask questions I am unable to respond to (characteristics I simply don't know about you).

If you keep getting sent a link to this page in reply to emails then you have not read it carefully enough.

Personal Tutees and students who have done a 3rd Year Essay/4th Year Project/MSc. Dissertation/PhD with me

Anyone who is, or has been, one of my Personal Tutees, or I have (or am doing) a substantial piece of research with I will always agree to write references for (both academic and/or character). Please still ask me however, and give me some information about what you are applying for, why, and preferably send/give a copy of a recent CV to Karen McKinley in the office next to mine.

Supervisors/Teaching Assistants

I will usually agree to write an employment reference for supervisors or teaching assistants who I can confidently comment on teaching ability for, applying for positions in Secondary/Further or Higher Education which require a reference outlining teaching experience more than just confirmation that you have taught for us, but you must ask me in advance. If I don't know you personally or all you require is a reference from a potential employer wanting confirmation that you worked for the Mathematics Department (e.g. a standard letter outlining attendence, sick days, pay etc.) these can be obtained from our finance office (STP contact).

Students I have had significant involvement with through being DUGS

Students who I have become involved with due to significant extenuating circumstances affecting studies I will often be happy to write references for but please do ask beforehand: even if there have been extenuating circumstances, if I don't feel I can write a positive reference I may still decline (not withstanding the "everyone else" section below). In these cases can you also be explicit in your request to me about how much information about your circumstances you would be happy for me to include in the reference. This does not include students who have only been interviewed or seen by me for underperformance in exams or assignments (and especially not for plagiarism).

High flyers

I occasionally write references for students applying for further study at prestigious overseas institutions where they only accept the highest calibre students and competition is fierce (e.g. Ivy League universities in the US). These often require formal references from people such as Head of Department or Director of Studies. Please only request a reference from me in such an instance if you scored an overall in excess of 95% in your last completed year. You should also consider asking for a reference from someone in the department who is particularly eminent in the field you wish to pursue.

Everyone else

Sorry, but unless you fit into one of the above catergories or I have offered myself to write a reference at some point (but you should remind me of this by email) I will not be able to write a personal reference for you. You should ask your current tutor, previous tutors (even if they have moved to another University or are on sabatical they may still be willing to write one for you) or other members of staff you have interacted with, perhaps through an essay, 4th year project or URSS.

Failing this you can request a general reference that has been written based purely on the information in your file such as marks and tutor's comments, these will be written by someone else and merely signed off by me. They will not really contain any information personal to you and you are better off finding someone who knows you and can write something that can make you stand out from other candidates applying for the same thing. You still need to request such a reference from me before applying to anything and get my agreement. Please note, these will be in the form of a PDF that I will upload or email to whoever requests it, this may have to be in place of a specific reference form in a word document or an online form with several categories to be filled in. Many such forms nowadays also require referees to comment on various qualities on a scale of 1-5, or as a percentage comparison to your peers, such as "potential for postgraduate study" or "ability to work independently". These I cannot comment on, and it is better to have someone who knows you and can do so if at all possible. For such a refence you must confirm by email that you want this done (i.e. if I have directed you towards this page after you have requested a reference I need further confirmation that this is what you want).

If I cannot in all honesty recommend someone for a particular application I may still have to refuse to write a reference, this is why you must get my agreement before putting my name on any application please.


Finally

Even with the above restrictions I still end up writing a lot of references. I try to get them done in a timely fashion, but at busy times of the year I cannot guarantee this, and if given very short notice it is also unlikely I will meet deadlines so please give me plenty of warning. If you ask for a reference with an impending deadline I will not drop everything to do it for you, and the chances are it will not be done in time.