A rant on letters of recommendation that include passwords and check boxes

photoThis is the time of year we write letters of recommendation. If you have a lot of students, you may be writing a lot of letters. Each student will need several letters. We generally use the same letter for different places. Some of the letters will be for students applying for jobs. Others will be for students taking the next step, to graduate school, medical school, or a postdoc.

The kind of submission process I like best simply has me click on a link in an email that takes me to a page where I can see my name and the student’s name, and then lets me upload the reference letter as a PDF. I do it and move on. After all, I have a lot to do.

Why, oh why, do some of these universities think I need a password for this process? Why do they want me to enter a bunch of stuff as to who I am and where I work, or street addresses? I hate this and it wastes my time. I recommend you find a version of this password and use it for all these fools: Stupid1!, eight characters, a cap, a number, a symbol. Yours might be more off color.

The other thing I really hate is the boxes where I have to say if this person is in the top 1% or the top 5% on a bunch of things. Any social scientist would laugh at this. It tells more about me than about the student. Really? You think I can rank at this level of detail on all these different things. One is shown in the photo. Hmm, I wonder if that school will feel I’m violating their copyright by including it.

Read my letter. I try to make the letters pithy. I try to make the student come alive. I describe their project and their approach. I link to their writing if they wrote for Wikipedia. Respect my time. Respect that some things cannot be ranked, let alone by a caste of thousands. Understand when we do and do not need passwords. Admit my students! Hire my students! They are wonderful!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Graduate school, Teaching, Undergraduates and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A rant on letters of recommendation that include passwords and check boxes

  1. Todd Oakley says:

    That’s funny. I actually do have a particularly off color password for these sorts of things. I guess I’m not the only one.

    I hate more being forced to rank someone ‘overall’, with a single metric. There are way too many dimensions for that.

  2. I think we should all just pick the top box for everyone. Maybe they would stop asking.

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