The mission of the Goldwater Foundation is to identify and support the Nation’s next generation of scientific, mathematics and engineering research leaders. Letters of Recommendation play a critical role in helping the Goldwater Foundation identify this country’s most promising talent. We know that letters that convey meaningful insights into the student and the student’s abilities take time to write. The Foundation thanks all those who will take the time that is required to write meaningful letters of recommendation for this year’s Goldwater nominees.


Letters of Recommendation should be no more than two pages, have one-inch margins on all sides, be single spaced, use 12 point font and be printed on letterhead. Please save your signed letter as a PDF file and send your completed Letter of Recommendation to your institution’s Goldwater Campus Representative. Goldwater Campus Representatives are responsible for uploading all nomination materials to the Goldwater online application site.


From Research Mentors

As the Foundation is attempting to identify the next generation of research leaders, the insights research mentors have gained working with a student in a research environment are particularly critical. Your letter should help us:

    1) understand the context in which you know the student,

    2) gain an insight into what the student already knows and can do,

    3) gain an insight into what drives or motivates the student in research,

    4) understand how the student contributed to the work and how important the contribution was,

    5) assess such things as the student’s originality, intellectual daring, insight, creativity, perseverance and integrity by describing a specific instance where this was observed, and

    6) gain an insight into the likelihood that the student will become a successful research scientist, mathematician or engineer. Comparison with previous Goldwater Scholars or other students who have gone on to pursue successful research careers can provide valuable insights.

    Research mentors should keep remarks about their research program brief, but provide enough detail for the reader to develop a general understanding of the research. Mentors should spend most of their time discussing the student’s involvement in and, most importantly, contributions to the research endeavor.

From Others Who Know the Student

A research active faculty member (or post-doc) who has observed a student conducting his/her research but who is not one of the student’s mentors should:

    1) focus his/her remarks on characteristics that he/she has observed that will make the student a successful research scientist, mathematician or engineer,
    2) provide examples of such observations which might include presentations given by the student that you have attended or discussions you have had with the student about his/her work and career goals, and
    3) compare the student to other students he/she has known who have gone on to successfully pursue a PhD and a professional research career.

A student’s course instructor should, when possible:

    1) Discuss aspects of the course that are pertinent to the student’s career aspirations,
    2) Describe how the student stands out from his/her peers,
    3) Compare the student to others the instructor has taught that have gone on to successful research careers,
    4) When possible, comment on presentations given by the student that the instructor might have observed, and
    5) Provide insights regarding the student’s career plans from informal discussions with the student.


    1) Under ALL of the above circumstances, it would be beneficial to engage in an in-depth discussion with the student about the student’s career aspiration and to ask the student for copies of materials he/she will be submitting as part of the Goldwater application.

    2) Examples that support statements are particularly valuable. Be as specific as possible and provide as many examples as possible.

    3) Don’t hold back! A one or two paragraph generic reference letter could doom a nominee. If you do not know the student well enough to write a, strong letter, suggest to the student or the Goldwater Campus Representative that it would be best for the student to ask another person for a reference letter.

    4) Comments on student demeanor (e.g., gentle, kind, sweet, etc.) are less helpful in evaluating a student’s likelihood of success in a research career than are attributes usually needed to become a successful scientist, engineer or mathematician (e.g., analytical, brilliant, careful, deliberate, persistent, etc.). As a guiding principle, use terms to describe the applicant that you would like to have used to describe you and your work. “Sweet”, for example, probably is not one of them. Avoid gender biased terms and descriptions.


    1) Letters that are written for another purpose.

    2) Letters that do not provide insights into both the likelihood the student will pursue a research career in the natural sciences, mathematics or engineering and has the potential to become a leader in these research endeavors.

    3) Letters that say little more, for example, than “the student studied hard and received an A”, “the student is in the top X % of the course,” or “the student gets along well with others and has a sense of humor”.