References (letters of recommendation)

Current University of Liverpool students must use official University email accounts for all correspondence with staff.

References for PhDs and jobs

If you need a reference (letter of recommendation) to support an application for a PhD or for a job, I will usually provide one if I am/was your academic advisor, or your supervisor for a project or dissertation. There are other circumstances under which I may agree to provide a reference, for example if you are applying for a PhD in an area closely related to a module that I teach. The first thing you should do (after reading this page) is email me to ask if I am prepared to act as a referee. Please make sure you state exactly what you are applying for (PhD scholarship at Harvard, chief scientist’s position at NASA, etc.). It is not usually necessary to meet and discuss references, but if I am your academic advisor then it may be advisable to discuss your application before you submit it.

References for Master's degrees

There is now a departmental policy on references for Master's degrees. In short, the Department of Mathematical Sciences supports each student with references for a total of five applications, and these are provided by academic advisors and the references team. There is some advice on preparing your application here.

Standard reference requests

If I am your academic advisor, please email me with a list of the universities and programmes that you are applying to, before submitting your applications.

Non standard requests

If you apply to a programme that requires three references, then I may agree to provide one if I have taught you in at least one module, but only if this is requested by your academic advisor. Ask your academic advisor to email me, providing details of the universities and programmes for which you require a third reference. Example text for the message is below. You can save time for your academic advisor by completing this yourself and passing it on to him/her.

Request for additional reference(s)

Mr A Student (ID number 123456789) is applying to the following MSc programmes, all of which require three references.

  • Insert programme and university
  • up to a maximum of five programmes.
Since you have taught this student MATH266: Numerical Methods (or insert other module) (s)he has requested that you provide the third reference for the above programmes. The other references will be provided by the departmental references team and by me.

A. N. Academic Advisor

Sending such a request does not guarantee that I will be able to provide references; I will reply to your academic advisor and copy you in to my response.

Please note that making more than five MSc applications (so that you can't use the departmental reference service for all of them) is not a good reason to ask me for a reference; in this case you need to think carefully about the programmes to which you are applying, and perhaps discuss your choices with your academic advisor.

Content of reference letters

In each reference letter, I will mention your marks and your attendance rate at lectures. Depending on how I know you and what the application is for, I may also mention the number of assignments you submitted on time, whether you were on time for supervision meetings, and how much help you needed with project work. I will also give a brief assessment of your communication skills, so make sure any emails you send to me are composed in proper English!

Contact details

After I have agreed to act as a referee, you just need to include my contact details in your applications to most universities and prospective employers. They will usually email me to ask for the letter. If you are asked to enter my details in an online form, please fill in as much as possible. This will speed up the process of providing references, since it is often necessary to complete the entire form before the system will accept it.

Title Dr
First name Ian
Surname (family name)   Thompson
Position Senior Lecturer
Address Department of Mathematics,
University of Liverpool,
United Kingdom
Postcode L69 7ZL
Telephone number +44 (0) 151 794 4012
Email address

Make sure you use my email address in the exact form shown. If you use another form (e.g. with capital letters, or with ‘liv’ in place of ‘liverpool’) I may end up with multiple accounts on online application systems, which is annoying, and slows down the process of providing references. Some universities (notably Manchester and Durham) will provide you with an email address which you need to pass on to me so that I can send the letter. Make sure you include all relevant details (application ID number, programme name, etc.) when you send this information to me. It is quite rare for you to be asked to provide the letter directly, though it does sometimes happen (particularly with overseas universities).

Delays and confirmation

Due to the number of references I write, I will not be able to send emails confirming that I have received a request or that I have sent a letter. Also, there may be some delay, so if your request is urgent (e.g. if you are applying at the last minute) then please send a single email to me, explaining the situation and telling me exactly what you have applied for and when the deadline is. Otherwise, if you receive a reminder email from a university or prospective employer then forward it to me, but do not send other reminders unless you have good reason to think something is wrong. A slight delay in submitting a reference is very unlikely to affect your chances. Moreover, filling up my inbox with unnecessary reminders will slow down the process of providing references, and may cause me to overlook emails that really are urgent. Since some students have ignored this request in the past, I have decided to impose the following rule:

Submission of reference letters for a particular student will be delayed by 2n - 1 days, where n is the number of unnecessary reminders I receive from said student.

Finally, please note that you do not need to provide gifts or other remuneration in return for my work in providing references. This is part of my job.

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