Letters of Recommendation from John M. Essigmann

Writing letters of recommendation is an important task that I take seriously.  I come into contact with so many students each year that I am asked to write disproportionately large number of letters as compared to other MIT faculty members.  Many of these letters are replicates but, in total, about 400 letters go out from my office each year.  My Administrative Assistant, Kim Bond Schaefer, and I have a set of firm guidelines that let us get the letters out and still preserve the time I need for research, teaching, Simmons Hall, and my family and friends.  Here are the rules:

1.  Give us at least four weeks, and preferably six, to prepare the letter.  At the exceptionally hectic time around the holidays and final exams, I need two months.  That is, if you give me your information on December 1, I probably cannot guarantee that I can get the letter out before the first of February.  I travel for professional reasons and have a very busy schedule at MIT, especially at that time of year.  Kim has grant proposals to get out and needs to process all of the financial and personnel data for my large research group.  We need lots of advance notice.  

Please do not beg me to write on short notice.  I hate saying "no" to a person.  Most of the time you know what you are going to apply for well in advance.  If people approach me on a Monday with the need for a letter by Friday, your request is, most likely, going to disrupt my professional and personal life.  

2.  Make sure I know you well enough to write a detailed letter.  I contact 200 students per year in the courses that I teach and I have 350 co-housemates in Simmons Hall.  It is hard to get to know all of you as well as I would like.  If you need a detailed letter (e.g., for medical or graduate school), make sure that I really know you well enough.

3.  Once I have agreed to write a letter, deliver the following materials to Kim in 56-669 (3-6224 or kbond [at] mit.edu):

  • a. Your c.v.
  • b.  a transcript with your GPA
  • c.  a Personal Statement (if you are applying to a postgraduate program)
  • d.  All of the forms that need to be filled out - with the following information typed in:

           Name:  John M. Essigmann
           Occupation:  Professor of Chemistry and Toxicology
           Department:  Department of Biological Engineering and Department of Chemistry
           Institution:  MIT
           Mailing Address:  Bldg. 56-669, MIT, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139
           Phone:  (617) 253-6224
           Fax:  (617) 253-5445
           E-mail:  jessig [at] mit.edu

  • d. A page e-mailed to Kim (kbond [at] mit.edu) in Word or Excel which lists:
    • The schools/foundations to which you are applying
    • The due date for receipt of the letter
    • If it is submitted on-line or through the U.S. Mail. 

4.  If you are applying to multiple places, please give me all requests at once.  It is inefficient for Kim and me if a student asks for three letters for December 1, two letters for December 15, nine letters for January 15, and then asks for letters for fellowships at various times thereafter.  We like to process each student to completion and then move on to the next.

5.  Sometimes a student wants to pick up the letters from my office and send them in themselves.  This process slows us down -- it is much more efficient for us to send the letters out ourselves on our own time scale.  Unless the granting agency, employer or academic program specifically demands that the student send in the letter, we do it ourselves. 

Your cooperation in following the rules above will be greatly appreciated!

John Essigmann