I received my bachelors in 2014 and started a Ph.D. program in 2017 after taking some time off to work in an unrelated field. I am currently applying to a graduate fellowship (similar in vein to NSF/NDSEG, etc.), and am not sure how to appropriately choose my references given that most of them are 3-4 years old at this point.

I have one from my research supervisor in undergrad whom I published a paper with, so this one is a no-brainer. The professor I’m working with to write my proposal is also writing me a letter. As for the third one, I have a couple of options:

  1. A professor at my current institution who I worked on my NSF GRFP proposal with last semester. I did well in his class, and his research is related to my interests, but I have no research experience with him (or anyone at my current institution since first years do not typically do research)
  2. Research advisors from short-term (5 months) projects I did in 2014 and 2015, respectively. They can obviously speak to my research ability, but are quite dated. I used these letters in my grad school apps and presumably, they helped get me into a top 5 program in my field

If my other research references were more recent, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them. But the professor I’m working with on my proposal suggested that I should try to get a second letter from my current institution if possible. Does it look bad for me as a first-year graduate student applicant to only have one reference from my current institution? And would it be a poor decision to use letters from people whom I last worked with 4 years ago?

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