Monday, November 18, 2013

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a required part to the UMSI application process therefore there is a lot to consider regarding who to ask and what the contents should include. Deadlines are also imperative, so it’s important to make sure you ask your recommenders (once you choose them) as early as possible, to give them ample time to produce and send a thoughtful letter.  This process can feel daunting, especially when it’s out of your hands, so keep reading to find out how to make this process as manageable and painless as possible to ultimately make your application complete and ready for the admissions committee.

Who makes a good recommender?
This is a very important factor to consider since you are asking people to write positively on your behalf and highlight your strengths. Think about what you are trying to convey in your application. For example, are you a leader, actively involved in volunteer programs, or someone who has been successful in overcoming challenges? Once you answer this question, you can decide who the best people are in your academic or professional life who can express your attributes and strengths. Remember, it is essential to make sure these people come from your academic and professional paths: a recent professor or faculty advisor, a work supervisor, or someone who managed a project you worked on. Ultimately, you want to choose people who can speak substantially of your talents, qualities, and potential to succeed.

How to ask
Your recommenders are people that know you, so it should feel relatively comfortable asking for a letter.

In my opinion, there are three ways to ask for a letter of recommendation (and there may be more!). If you have a strictly professional relationship with the individual, the best way to ask is in person if possible. This could be during the professor’s office hours or a quick meeting with your supervisor or over coffee. The next best option would be a telephone call, especially if there is distance between the two of you. The third option would be email, especially if you have a more relaxed or comfortable relationship with this person (or if this person is extremely busy and prefers email contact). In the end, you will know what method is best for you and your recommender. Regardless of the type of communication, your conversation should include why you are asking for this letter of recommendation – why you are applying to graduate school and UMSI in particular.

It would be best to provide your recommenders with information on the field of information, what you intend to study, and what qualities you possess to succeed as a graduate student.  The more prompting you do, the easier it may be for the recommender to accept your request to write the letter.

Once they agree, provide your recommender with information that allows them to tailor the letter of recommendation to you. Here are some suggestions on what to include:
  • Why you chose them: previous experiences, class projects / papers, interactions and the qualities you know they can highlight best
  • A copy of your résumé 
  • A copy of your personal statement and statement of purpose
  • Information and links to UMSI
  • The directions for submission which are in the CollegeNet application for UMSI

Ask early!

This is essentially the most important thing to remember, since requesting the letter is an on-going and sometimes lengthy process. From requesting a meeting or asking for the first time, to writing and submitting the letter, the many steps can easily span over several weeks. Start your conversation early, and remain thoughtful of your academic calendar and deadlines. Since you want your recommender to have time to write a thoughtful letter, and more than likely they have busy schedules, you’ll want to aim for a six-week notice. You can always ask your recommender for a timeline on the completion of the letter, and then check-in at a later date; however, don’t wait until the deadline of your application!

For your application to be complete at UMSI, all materials must be submitted – including your three (3) letters of recommendation. Assume your recommenders are busy and will need time to write your letter. Once the recommender has agreed to write the letter, you can check your CollegeNet account to see if the letters have been submitted.

Extra advice:

Use Recent Letters:  The Letters of Recommendation should come from someone who has recently overseen your work or studies.

"Name Dropping" vs. Using Your Direct Supervisor or Professor:  You want a recommender who knows you!  We know that UMSI students come from many backgrounds and experiences, and not everyone has had an opportunity to work with someone who understands or works in the information field.  Your letter and recommender should showcase how your qualities demonstrate leadership potential, a team-approach to problem solving, capable of dealing with ambiguity and change, and have a strong commitment to service.  These are all qualities that can take place anywhere and you don't need to "name drop" (mentioning important or influential people to make you look better) for the admissions committee to see this side of you.

Waiving your right to review the letter? This is an option where you allow your recommender to know that you will not be reviewing the letter.  Waiving your reviewing right may allow the recommender to be more honest with the admissions committee, and it may affect what your recommender decides to write.  While you can discuss this with your recommender for his/her preference, the norm is to waive this right, as many reviewers have concerns if you don’t. Almost 100% of the letters have waived rights.

While asking for letters of recommendation can be intimidating, it is well worth the time to invest in finding the right recommender. These people are speaking on your behalf and will be additional opportunities for the admissions committee to understand who you are and why you would be successful as a graduate student at UMSI. In this regard, the recommendations provide the perfect compliment to your application and your essays.

Regardless of program, you can visit the UMSI application website more requirement information or contact with questions.

written by:
Alexis Peregoy
Information Mentor

Friday, November 15, 2013

Data Dive 2013

This past weekend was our third annual Data Dive event.  A2 DataDive is a 48-hour event held in service of several nonprofits that seek to explore their datasets and discover creative answers to their research questions.  Non-profits primarily collect data but do not have the capabilities to analyze or manipulate it to provide any useful information.  Data Dive is an opportunity for connect non-profits with people who can transform the data into something meaningful. This year’s non-profits included the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), the AnnArbor YMCA, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF).

Volunteers including graduate students of all levels of experience and backgrounds, programmers, developers, data scientists, and statisticians worked throughout the weekend to manipulate data and develop programs to answer research questions.  Together we were able to uncover trends relating to library hold data, visualize grant allocation and impact for the AAACF, and how trends affect YMCA membership.  Please check out the Ann Arbor Data Dive website for more information.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Top 5 Best Things About Being A MHI Student

When I was a medical intern and working at Shanghai Tenth People Hospital from 2010 to 2011, the hospital was implementing a large and integrated electronic medical record (EHR) across all physician offices, departments, and labs. It was easy to see the benefits of an electronic medical records: EHR can make healthcare more efficient and less expensive, and improve the quality of care by making patients’ medical history easily and remotely accessible to all who treat them. However, the information-technology system was also bringing daunting challenges like clunky and time-consuming interface, the workflow change, difficulties of care standardization and so on. This experience drove me to pursue a Master of Health Informatics at the University of Michigan when I finished my first-year clinical residency. I strongly hold a belief that change is coming to the business of healthcare and technology and can play a critical role as physicians seek to adapt their practices to the new landscape in America and China. Here are the top 5 best things about being a MHI student and becoming an innovative future leader in technology and healthcare.

·          Being part of both Top schools is the coolest thing. School of Information and School of Public Health are top school in this nation and provide the best education in human-computer interaction, information analysis and retrieval, and health management and policy. These foundations are giving MHI students incomparable opportunity to lead the development, analysis, and implementation of human centered health solutions in clinical, consumer, and population sides.
·          Learning informatics is beyond coding behind a computer. As Steve Jobs put, “I think everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think”. The ability to code is important for health informatics professionals but it does not mean health informatics students will develop their computers. What is more important is to gain understanding of systems, algorithms and representation and to develop abilities having more efficient and effective interaction with scientific programmers and application developers. Technology courses at the School of Information are real-world applicable and enable these possibilities by leading development team and rapid prototyping of novel ideas.
·          Becoming a new class of healthcare professionals. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare” is bringing a lot of changes to insurance coverage, physician reimbursement model, relationship between physicians and patients, and more. Health Informatics students are trained to lead the technology transformation and innovation in healthcare. Technology Skills, domain knowledge and policy mindsets gained in health informatics will significantly contribute to healthcare organizations in adopting new delivery and payment models and expanding their capacity to match growing demand.
·          Having ability to create new technology-focused ventures in healthcare. Entrepreneurship is innovating, dreaming, and solving problems and improving lives. In the health informatics program, entrepreneurial mindsets and skills are highly emphasized and students are offered entrepreneurship courses, Google-sponsored speaker series, startup treks in New York City and Boston, innovation and business plan competitions, and active engagement with the full entrepreneurship ecosystem across campus and in tech-friendly Ann Arbor. 
·          Bracing infinite possibilities in health informatics. “Where will I be in 10 years?” or “Where will my job be?” These are questions to ask with anxiety as a graduate student. However, the predicted transformation of healthcare is underway. Health Informatics is realizing its promise as the connective tissue between medicine and information science. Policy and payment method reforms are fueling the growth of health informatics positions in public health agencies, hospitals, payer organizations, healthcare and technology consulting firms, and information technology companies including start-ups. The world is at your finger tips!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Areas of Academic Interest

As an information school, UMSI offers students a variety of learning options, while still allowing students to learn deeply about areas of interest about which they're most excited. Some UMSI students study human computer interaction, archives, big data, digital humanities, user experience/user design libraries, preservation, data mining, social media, and much more.

UMSI helps students balance coursework by providing clusters of courses which students might take to go in depth about their areas of interest.  UMSI also provides students an option to tailor their degree to fit exactly what they're hoping to study and discover at UMSI.  There are additional opportunities such as A2DataDive (happening this weekend, A2 DataDive is a 48-hour event held in service of several nonprofits who seek to explore their datasets and discover creative answers to their research questions) and many other ways to improve your skills and network through project-based work.

You can also checkout our Pathways to Success and see what classes would most beneficial to your career goals. UMSI graduates have obtained jobs including Business Analyst, Information Architect, Librarian, Digital Archivist, User Experience Researcher and Designer. Most graduates take 3-4 months to land a job. You can find more information on career placement in our employment report.