bad "recommendation letters"

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Wed Nov 20 16:52:04 EST 1996


  She was certainly joking
> in part but that was the second time I had an advisor in grad. school make
> blunt reference to the negative nature of the whole advising game.  I
> certainly hope not to get weepy on everyone but the fact is that I really
> don't hate my boss.  We have openly expressed extreme frustration and
> perhaps even hate with each other but that openness usually makes me
> happier about the relatively honest relationship we have.  I also like to
> think I know where she stands on giving me recommendations or not.
> Whether or not she was honest with Jenn is something I will never be able
> to answer having not been the fly on the wall but I like to think that
> Jenn, as her first student, broke her in to a large extent.  She is a
> certainly a different person as each of us have passed the gauntlet.
>         
>         Sarah
> 
> 
Wow!  I am stunned that Jenn's adviser is also Sarah's adviser!  I had no idea!
(o.k., so i'm a little slow!.....)

It sounds like two very different experiences, and I hope that on the whole
this adviser is more predictable than these two points of view might suggest.

I did just want to add one thing.  I once had a student who was terrible and 
lazy and just spoiled.  She used to come to lab two hours late, toss her
fur coat on a bench and say she was sorry she was late, she had had to
meet with her 
attorney, she fell asleep at the masseur's, she was driving and lost track
of time.  I mean truly, the woman's grasp of reality was clearly shaky. 
And at the end of that year, she came to me and asked me to write her a
letter of recommendation to get into medical school.   I suggested she go
to the professor (I was TAing) as i didn't feel qualified.  She said the
professor told her to ask me.  Nice.  So finally after alot of waffling, I
simply told her, "Look you want to get into medical school right?  If I
write this letter, you aren't going to get in."   It was really tough for
me to say, but that is the only thing to do in that situation.  I refuse
to sandbag someone by writing a bad letter without warning.  

Lastly, I have been told by a huge numbrr of people that the written
recommendation is only a preliminary recommendation and that NO ONE ever
hires anyone anymore for anything without also calling the recommender to
speak to them on the phone.  Mainly because people realize that the bad
stuff isn't going to get put down on paper where it can presumably be
traced back, should the person ever decide to do it.  On the phone, the
person might be more forthcoming and even if they aren't you can gauge the
level of enthusiasm better by hearing them gush than by reading them
gush.  

I do think, though, that it's wrong to write a non-committal or even
moderately good letter if the person was bad.



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