Friday, December 18, 2009

Letters of Reference: The Contest

At about this time last year, we here at FSP had a contest to see who could write the best (= worst) Statement of Purpose to accompany an application to graduate school. The winning entry was spectacular in many ways, and other entries were also entertaining and/or scary.

This year, I would like to have a contest to see who can write the best (= worst) Letter of Reference for a student applying to graduate school. Letters of reference in general have a certain.. sameness to them, but letters of reference for students applying to graduate school have some special aspects to them, especially when written by a professor who doesn't really know the students particularly well.

The challenge is to capture that certain something about letters of reference, but feel free to let your creativity run wild in unexpected and horrifying ways.

There are no rules.

But there are a few instructions:

- Send your entry to me by email ( with the subject heading clearly labeled as an entry to the LoR (Letter of Reference) contest.

- Deadline: 24 December 2009

Entries will be examined by the highly caffeinated FSP Editorial Board and results will be announced before the expiration of 2009.


Anonymous said...

"Entries will be examined by the highly caffeinated FSP Editorial Board".

I would like to formally apply for a position on the FSP Editorial Board. I could always use something more to put on my CV.

Amy said...

Ah, if I only had time to compose an entry! I've seen all kinds of "best" comments in my years on admissions committees. One of my favorites came from a student whose personal statement informed us of the student's "ultimate desire to achieve perfection in every aspect of my life". One of the letters informed us that this student had donated blood not once, but twice! If that doesn't qualify you for graduate school, what does?

Anonymous said...

But, I have to write ACTUAL letters of recommendation for students next week... :-(

Anonymous said...

please deliver the 16 pepperoni sausage mudhroom bell pepper onion to cell 8 block g wing 3 hery co detention ceter charge to my debit care

Hope said...

Oh, I don’t think I can bring myself to joke about this – too soon! Perhaps when I’m on the other side….

Kevin said...

To Anonymous at 12/18/2009 09:15:00 PM, writing letters of recommendation is not so bad if you require that anyone who asks you to write a letter must provide you with a draft, describing how you know them, what they did in your class/lab, and so on.

The draft is often awful, but editing it is still easier than starting with a blank screen. It also helps the student later on when they have to write letters of reference, as they have some idea what goes into such a letter.

Requiring a draft also reduces the number of random requests from people you barely know---the students who are so clueless as to pick a recommender who doesn't know them usually can't get it together enough to write a draft.

I have to read about 60 letters of recommendation this week. If I find any nuggets I send them here, but we generally get pretty good letters.

Anonymous said...

My PhD advisor made me write my own letter of recommendation for postdoc fellowships I was applying to because he was too lazy to write one for me.

So, I went ahead and sang my own praises to the moon. I wrote about how awesome and brilliant I was. I made my letter really over the top because I wanted to see if my PhD advisor would at least take the time to edit it, as evidenced by "taming it down", or if he really was too lazy to do even that. Turns out he didn't change a single damn thing. He simply signed it without even reading it.

I still got a prestigious postdoc fellowship anyway. Now when I have been asked by my students to write letters of recommendation, I actually take the time to write it myself, I'm not as lazy as my PhD advisor was.

Marymount College Admissions Staff said...

I'm a little late to the party, but here's a doozy that we received. It's real...