You would think that summer would be a time when I did not have to pore over anyone's CV or read letters of reference and such, but no; not this summer (or last summer or, apparently, next summer).
So, I read 58 letters of reference this summer. For the most part, these were the usual "X is great, blah blah blah" letters, so when there was something a bit different, that something really stood out. For example, after reading one particular letter, I wondered
WHO WRITES THIS KIND OF THING IN A PROFESSIONAL LETTER OF REFERENCE THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT THE RESEARCH ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF A PROFESSOR OF SCIENCE?:
Bob and his wife have spent many vacations over the years in Bavaria, organizing their walking routes to coincide with the locations of breweries.
Apparently someone does write this kind of thing; I saw it with my own eyes.
Why would I care that Bob likes beery Bavarian rambles, or even that he has a wife? Was the letter writer grasping for things to mention about Bob? Was the letter writer drunk on Bavarian beer when writing the letter? Are we supposed to think that Bob is a cool guy? Oh how we wish we could go hiking in Bavaria with a wife and drink beer, just like Bob?
The Bob-Bavaria-beer statement was completely irrelevant to the purpose of the reference letter. The letters were for moderately senior to very senior professors being nominated for an award related only to research accomplishments. The nominees need not have any hobbies or interests outside of research, and need not have any particular interest in Bavaria or beer. We, the committee reading the letters, need to be convinced that the nominee's research accomplishments are enduring, extensive, and awesome; that's all.
11 months ago