Letters of Recommendation and Graduate School Advice
If you need a letter of recommendation from me, please follow these seven steps:
First, contact me by email, phone, or in person as soon as possible. Tell me exactly about the purpose of your letter. You can find my contact information on my official Bowdoin College web page.
Second, give me least two (2) weeks (preferably a month) in advance of any deadline so I can write a strong letter. Please note that I write letters ONLY for graduate or professional school applications, academic awards and fellowships, study away programs, pre-professional or academic internships, and post-graduate jobs. In general, I do NOT write letters for general summer jobs, camp counselor positions, etc. although I am happy to serve as a reference provided that you check with me first.
Third, tell me the purpose of your letter (internship, scholarship, graduate school, job application, study away, etc.), your goals or motivations, and what you want from me as a recommender.
Fourth, include a short résumé or curriculum vitæ detailing your academic and extra-curricular activities, work experience, study abroad courses, etc. so I can add these details, if relevant, to my letter.
Fifth, include any forms (filled out in advance, please) and other material that you think might be helpful (personal statement, unofficial transcript, statement of purpose) to me before I write your letter. Also, please give me a self-addressed stamped envelope if I need to send the recommendation for you. One important suggestion: if you have the option to waive access to your letter, you should do so. Confidential letters carry more weight, and I will not agree to write a letter for any student that I cannot support.
Sixth, you should consider if you also need a general letter of recommendation. If you need to establish a credential file, contact the Bowdoin Career Planning Center for help. Realize that general letters come with certain advantages (you can use them indefinitely, or if I'm unavailable to write you another letter) and disadvantages (personalized letters can be more convincing), so plan accordingly.
Finally, if you need future letters, give me enough advance warning so I can tailor the copy I already have on hand for your needs.
Best of luck and keep in touch!
Advice for prospective graduate school applicants
Attending graduate school in any field is an exciting yet daunting decision, regardless of what degree you pursue. It is not a choice to be made lightly. Unlike college, graduate school is a full-time job; you are training to enter a competitive, specialized profession. It is no different in this sense than attending law, business, or medical school.
If you are considering graduate school, especially in an academic field for a terminal degree, such as a Ph.D., I urge you to read any one of the guidebooks listed below. I've found the Peters book to be especially useful, even if it is dated. For life after your terminal academic degree, the Kelsky book is invaluable as is her website, The Professor is In. You should also visit various websites for professional societies and academic organizations related to your intended field of study.
Robert L. Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D (New York: Noonday Press, 1997).
Karen Kelsky, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2015).
Melanie S. Gustafson, Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual--2003 Edition (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2003).
Environmental Careers Organization, The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998).
Julie Degalan, Great Jobs for Environmental Studies Majors (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
Richard and Margot Jerrard, The Grad School Handbook: An Insider's Guide to Getting in and Succeeding (New York: Penguin, 1998).
Dale F. Bloom, Jonathan D. Karp, and Nicholas Cohen, The Ph.D. Process: A Student's Guide to Graduate School in the Sciences (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Scott M. Deitsch, Green-Collar Jobs: Environmental Careers for the 21st Century (New York: Praeger, 2010).
Jim Cassio and Alice Rush, Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future (Vancouver, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2009).
Honors Theses Directed
An honors thesis is an opportunity for Bowdoin students to undertake advanced independent research on a topic of their choosing during their senior year while working closely with a faculty advisor. My colleagues in History and Environmental Studies advise honors theses in a variety of fields. Below is a list of the honors projects that I've supervised, along with the names of my colleagues who served on each reading committee.
If you are interested in undertaking an honors project in either History or Environmental Studies, be sure to contact your prospective faculty advisor well in advance of the fall semester of your senior year. Look on the departmental webpages for specific honors requirements and deadlines.
Castro, Eduardo Enrique. "'En La Unión Está Fuerza': Social Activism and Latino Identity in Postwar Milwaukee" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2014). ** Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History **
Committee members: David Hecht (History), Nishtha Singh (History/Asian Studies, now at Pokhrama Foundation) and Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies)
Bernstein, Jennifer I-Ling. "Outpost of Idealism: The Amalgamated Housing Cooperative and the Pursuit of a Just Society" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2006). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Jill Pearlman (Co-advisor, Environmental Studies), Daniel Levine (History), and David Hecht (History)
Branch, John Milo Mahaffey. "The Beat Cop is Back: Community Policing and the Politics of Crime in Post-1960s New York City" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2016). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Brian Purnell (Africana Studies/History), Patrick Rael (History), and Jill Pearlman (Environmental Studies)
Clark, Gordon Clement. "Against the Current: The Yakima Struggle for Native Fishing Rights in Washington State, 1850-1950" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2003). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Daniel Levine (History), Allen Wells (History/Latin American Studies), and Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies)
Davis, Ryan Ann Moloney. "No Common Ground: Management, Politics, and Compromise in the Gulf of Maine — A Documentary Video" (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2004).
Committee members: DeWitt John (Government/Environmental Studies) and Anne Hayden (Environmental Studies)
Hon, Jimei Louise. "Becoming Cosmopolitan: Women, Alcohol, and Class Politics in New York City, 1880-1930 (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2009).
Committee members: Jennifer Scanlon (Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies), David Hecht (History), and Karen Teoh (History/Asian Studies, now at Stonehill College)
Katzen, Jeremy Binder. "'Political Smog': Edmund Muskie and the Emergence of Modern Environmental Politics" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2004). **Co-recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: DeWitt John (Government/Environmental Studies), Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies), and Daniel Levine (History)
Lipinoga, Sarah Beth. "Managing Oil and Nature in Eden: Transculturation and Resistance among the Huaorani of Eastern Ecuador" (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2003).
Committee members: Allen Wells (History/Latin American Studies) and Enrique Yepes (Romance Languages/Latin American Studies)
McFarlane, Wallace Scot. "The Limits of Progress: Walter Lawrance and the Shifting Terrain of Science, Pollution, and Environmental Politics on Maine's Androscoggin River, 1941-1977" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2009). **Co-recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: William Taylor (Muriel McKevitt Sonne Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UC Berkeley and Bowdoin Research Associate, History), Sarah McMahon (History), and Aaron Windel (History, now at Simon Fraser University)
** Published as Wallace Scot McFarlane, “Defining a Nuisance: Pollution, Science, and Environmental Politics on Maine’s Androscoggin River,” Environmental History 17, no. 2 (April 2012): 307-335.
For more about Scot's journey from honors project to peer-reviewed publication, read this article from the Bowdoin Daily Sun, "Honors Thesis by Scot McFarlane '09 Published in Top Academic Journal," posted March 30, 2012; and this blog post by Scott on the Oxford University Press website in honor of 2012 Earth Day, "Cool, Clear Waters? On Cleaning Up US Rivers," posted April 20, 2012.
McKay, Luke Joseph. “‘No Man’s Garden’: The Changing Nature of the Wilderness Idea in Maine” (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2007).
Committee members: David Vail (Economics) and John Lichter (Biology/Environmental Studies)
Thomson, Matthew William. "'A Personal Share in This Great Contest': The Civil War and Maine’s Fessenden Family" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2006).
Committee members: Daniel Levine (History), Racbel Sturman (History/Asian Studies), and Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies)