Asking an Academic for a Professional Reference

A positive professional reference from someone in authority who knows what you are capable is a very good thing to have. Asking for a professional reference can be one of the most important things you do in your professional life, as you are asking someone to be part of your professional network. But as with all things, you need to work towards a good reference long before you ask for it, and the trust and 'natural' sense of connection that goes with a good reference should be built long in advance.

1. General.
Students are not automatically entitled to a reference from an academic, and if an academic declines it may be for a range of reasons. Your contact should reflect prior positive experience with that academic, usually beyond one unit of study. The seeds of this professional relationship should have been planted years or months ago.
If you have been quiet in tutorials an academic may not be able to provide a reference. If you have only had brief contact with a lecturer they may decline as the reader of the reference expects substance. An academic may not provide a reference or comment on an issue if they don't feel they have anything to offer.

2. Professional approach.
A request for reference is a serious matter and should be treated as as a formal thing and not raised casually. The academic is in a sense lending their name hopefully in support of your application. A request for reference reflects on your professionalism and as it is the most recent contact you might have with a lecturer it will be remembered.

3. At least two weeks notice.
A reference takes time to prepare, and it is a courtesy to give adequate time. Requesting a reference on short notice is unprofessional and can reflect poorly on your organisational ability.

4. Up to date student information.
This should be provided. Don't overwhelm the academic with information and suggest salient points if agreement to provide a reference is reached. Perhaps explain to the academic why you think you are suited for the role.

5. Information on the position being applied for.
A referee should not be expected to chase this up.

6. Specify the form the reference needs to take
Is it a phone or written reference. Does it need to be provided in advance. Try to determine the preferred form of the academic (some like phone references, others don't).

7. Due date.
Be clear about when the reference is required by, or the dates around which the academic might be contacted.

Keeping in Touch!

Keep in touch with the Department and other alumni of the program with the Facebook group Sydney Uni MECO Alumni!