Recommendation for the future
July 26, 2005 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I am going to graduate school in the fall (for what should be about a five year stint) and am wondering what / if I should do about getting a recommendation from my current boss.

I've only been at my current job since last October and as a permanent, salaried employee since March but I know that my boss has been pretty happy with my work and I've had a pretty good working relationship with him so, ideally, I would like to use him as a reference in the future. There will be, however, at least half a decade before I go looking for a job and then there will be a shift in the area I am looking (catalytic chemistry to molecular biology) as well as position (bachlors level to Ph. D.). Is it worth it asking if I can use him? If so, what exactly should I ask for (ex. a letter)?
posted by The Bishop of Turkey to Work & Money (6 answers total)
I don't know how much use a letter would be. I'm finishing up grad school and just finished my job interviews. Not sure exactly how your field works, but when I started interviewing the companies just wanted contact information for my references, not letters or anything.

I kept in occasional touch with my last manager -- dropped an email here and there to let him know what I was up to and see how things were going with him, just to stay on his radar.

And you might just want to flat-out ask before you leave if he'd be a reference in the future. I don't imagine you're so forgettable that he wouldn't remember who you are in five years. And things are a lot less sensitive when you're leaving a job for grad school than, say, a competing company.
posted by awegz at 5:15 PM on July 26, 2005

You need to talk to your professors, and ignore any advice from people who don't do molecular biology.

Only people who do molecular biology can tell you accurately whether a letter from an old employer would be helpful, useless, or actively harmful.

Somebody like me who's a poli-sci phd, or someone who's an engineer, knows positively fuck-all about what works in molecular biology.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 PM on July 26, 2005

(not a slam on awegz. I just don't think askme can be helpful with this as you need specialized knowledge.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:56 PM on July 26, 2005

Not sure about a letter for five years later, but a reference for possible fellowships you might apply for in the next year would help. You could stay in touch and ask him when the time comes, so that he can write a customized letter for the specific fellowship.

Well, unless you already have a free ride... ah...
posted by copperbleu at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2005

No worries ROU, that's why I qualified it with "not sure how your field works." I never claimed to be an expert in the molecular biology field -- just giving my perspective as someone who also needed old references following a couple years away at school.

But keeping in touch with previous employers is really never a bad idea, regardless of career path.
posted by awegz at 7:53 PM on July 26, 2005

You should be able to make more than enough contacts in grad school - you shouldn't need your old boss's referrence unless you think he might be able to offer a *stellar* one.

You're going into molbiol (I started out biochem/molbiol[cellmolec] in undergrad, finishing an immunology MSc, going into neurology for the PhD in January - I've worked in industry for a couple of years) - the 5 year thing, I assume is for a PhD - you'll have your supervisor, professors, collaborators, &c who'll be able to provide references for you (and if you want to get a molbiol job, they'll probably want to hear about you from molbiol people).

Your invited conferences and, more importantly, publishing, record will be more important than a letter from an employer from before you started grad school.

Besides, you're probably going to have to spend a few years as a postdoc before landing a "real" job - so much the more people to give you (relevant) references.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:26 PM on July 26, 2005

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