References for research degree applications

An academic reference is an overview of an applicant, provided by someone known to them, in support of their application for research degree study.

What is a reference?

The academic reference should highlight their academic history, standard of work, potential for research degree study and any other information in support of their application, including communication skills, their ability to work as part of a team or independently, originality of work and analytical skills. 

When should I complete the reference?

We require two references when considering both the research degree study application and the scholarship application, alongside academic qualifications and supporting statement. Therefore it is important to complete a reference as quickly as possible (normally within two working weeks), and with a sufficient level of detail regarding the applicant. Scholarship competitions often have strict deadlines, and applicants may have a scholarship application automatically rejected if either reference has not been received. It may therefore sometimes be necessary to request that a reference is returned in less than two weeks. 

How do I complete the reference?

Using the template provided for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics please provide as much information as possible against the criteria provided. Provide examples where possible, this could include examples of marks and ranking (where known) and / or quality of written work.

What makes a good reference?

The competitive nature of scholarship funding means that applicants normally have a similar level of academic achievement, therefore it is important to demonstrate additional skills attained during study. Where known it is also an opportunity to note any additional activities in support of their application, such as conference attendance, papers/journals/articles, academic prizes won, mentoring/teaching, involvement in student government / university community, organisation of conferences and meetings, community involvement or civic engagement.

How should I send the reference?

References should be sent as an email attachment from an institutional or professional email account. Please do not send a reference from a personal email address. 

Hard copy (paper) references can be accepted but must be printed on official letterhead paper, be stamped by the institution / organization of the referee and have a signature in black ink. Paper references can be sent to the School where the applicant wishes to study. As references are an essential part of the scholarship application process please do send paper references well in advance of any provided deadline. 

What is the difference between an academic reference and a professional reference?

An academic reference is written by a former/current mentor/supervisor/lecturer addressing the academic potential of an applicant.

A professional reference is the same, but relates to a period of employment rather than education. It may be necessary for an applicant to request professional references if they have completed study more than 6 years before their application for research degree study. 

A professional reference should address the same academic potential criteria, and therefore should be completed by a manager or supervisor. Professional references will not be accepted from colleagues of the applicant.