Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Steps for Turning What Would Have Been a Decent Recommendation Crappy

Before I begin, let me note for the record that I have a very clear and extensive explanation of what I need in order to write the best possible recommendation for a student available online. What follows is not a complaint that is about me being a meanie who doesn't hold her students by the hand with the academic socialization stuff or provide information that students need.

Step One:
You run into a faculty member sometime in October, announce that you're running off to the City to live with your One True Love and, Oh, yeah, will also be applying to grad schools. Your mentor says, well, you know, do people know that you'll be needing recommendations? Who are you asking? You want to be sure to give people enough time to write you a strong letter, and all of the information that they'll need to do so.....

Step Two:
Disappear into the ether for 2 and a half months.

Step Three:
Pop up during the last week of classes, from out of the blue, with a bizarre email in which you say, "Oh, I totally am almost finished with my SoP, and you're still writing on my behalf, right?" to which your professor responds, "um... ok, but you need to understand that this is a very busy time. Please give me all the stuff listed on my webpage, and tell me where you're applying and what the deadlines are...."

Step Four:

Step Five:
"Happy New Year! Are you writing letters that you don't have any relevant info about? Right at the start of your semester?"

Step Six:
"Here's my SoP and a couple of papers I wrote for you...."

Step Seven:
"Oh, and here's a list of schools I'm applying to, but with no information about why I'm applying to them, what the deadlines are, or forms for you to fill out." I received this yesterday.

I know. I should have reneged on my agreement to write for this student at Step Three. I foolishly believed that this student would get it together when I explicitly told the student how to get it together. And now it's basically too late for me to bail on the student. But let's just say that this letter is not going to be the most glowing I've ever written. Mainly because it's very difficult to be glowing when you think a person is an irresponsible, disorganized ninny who can't even follow basic directions or show basic common courtesy.


BarbS said...

I think this is one of the cases in which you have to ask yourself whether you really *should* write a strong recommendation. Sounds like student is not ready for grad school, so isn't the responsible thing to make that clear in your recommendation?

gwinne said...

Ugh. I abhor situations like this. I think it's great that you have explicit instructions available for students....that's something I really should do.

PhysioProf said...

It appears to me that you are enabling and rewarding this student's self-centered disorganization. The student's failure to plan ahead is *not* your emergency, yet you are allowing yourself to be manipulated into treating it as if it were. Sack up and tell the student that in light of his/her total abject failure to plan ahead and follow your published procedures, you will not be able to write letters. Or, you could partially sack up and tell the student that, again due to their own failure to plan ahead and follow your published procedures, you cannot commit to having the letters provided by the deadline, that you will not even begin to write the letters until you are provided with the required materials that you have listed on your Web site, and that if this does not fit in with the student's plans, he/she should find someone else to write the letters.

Dr. Crazy said...

I'll write an honest recommendation based on all I know about the student and be done with it. But I'm not stressing about the deadlines (which I've finally received) or about making it some masterwork of recommendation prose, nor will I labor over spinning the students' weaknesses into strengths. And let the chips fall where they may. Ultimately, this is not really something worth worrying about.

Ann said...

I think that's the right call, Dr. C. It would take effort and concern to inform the student you're not writing for them, and why. More care and concern than the student has shown in assembling hir applications and recommendations, I'm sure!

BTW, I just heard from our GSC that we already have 40 applications to our lowly M.A. program, and it's still 2 weeks until the final deadline. It seems like recessions always send more people to grad school--no matter how grim the forecast for academic employment! (But at least we don't have to worry about placing Ph.D. students.)