This is another rant about something I don't like in reference letters, this time in letters for applicants to grad school: I don't like it when faculty letter-writers mention that a student was their child(ren)'s babysitter. Both male and female faculty do this, though the babysitters are dominantly female. I can maybe see mentioning it in a letter of reference for a job, as it signals reliability, but in a reference for graduate school?
I can probably be talked out of this opinion, but when I read in a letter that the student is an excellent babysitter for the letter-writer's child(ren), as I have read in a number of recent letters, I think it is weird. It doesn't affect my opinion of the student of course, but I think the letter-writer is being unprofessional. One letter I read today devoted a paragraph to how and why the letter-writer's kids "adored" the applicant. OK, that's nice.
If I make an effort to think of why someone would mention babysitting in a letter about a student's capacity for graduate studies, I come up with:
- the writer doesn't have a lot else to say about the student?
- the writer is trying to say in an indirect way that the student is nice and therefore not a hostile and strange nutcase?
- the student is reliable and trustworthy.
I guess it bothered me in particular today because of the juxtaposition of several applications I read: e.g., one for a male student whose letter writers emphasized his research experience and his leadership skills, then one for a female student who also has research experience and is a wonderful babysitter.
6 months ago