A few thoughts on letters of recommendation:
I remember the feeling I had as an undergrad going in to talk to my professors knowing that I would eventually want to ask them for a letter of recommendation. I felt kind of dirty, like I was buttering them up, or leading them on in some way. I felt like they would be angry with me if they knew that I was hoping to get something from them. BUT, now being on the other side, I can tell you that this feeling is almost completely in your head.
The reality is that writing letters is a part of our job, we EXPECT to write letters and often times we really enjoy it! When you come into our office hours we don’t feel like you are there to take advantage of us, if anything we’re impressed that you have it together enough to plan ahead and come talk to us! What you don’t know is that as former graduate students and as professors we have had to get COUNTLESS letters of recommendation over the years. We’ve had to ask SEVERAL different professors at multiple different institutions to do the same thing for us that you are asking us to do for you.
If we have a job as a professor it is in part because someone took the time to write us a really good letter, and more than that, someone took the time to be our mentor, to walk us through the confusing, overwhelming and stressful experience of graduate school. Now that we are on the other side the expectation is that we will do the same things for you that were done for us. So don’t be embarrassed, don’t be afraid and don’t wait! In a lot of ways you asking for help is giving us a chance to give back the help that was given to us.