Thursday, December 31, 2009

More LoR

Thanks to all who sent submissions to the Letter of Reference contest. Here are some more interesting examples, some of them clearly intentionally obnoxious and offensive:


Dear Admissions Committee:

I am heartily pleased to recommend to your graduate program Ms. Rebecca Hartley.

Ms. Hartley first came to my attention during my course, "The Music of the Spheres," during which time she tried to emulate some of the music we were analyzing, using her iPhone for texting. In 12-tone. I thought at the time that was an indication of a high degree of independence and creativity. Alas, although her enthusiasm was unbounded, her earned grade, which you can see in her transcript, was a C+.

I next interacted with Ms. Hartley when she asked to join my research group. Always willing to work with new people, I happily agreed. Ms. Hartley soon proved herself adept at such tasks as keeping the laboratory's Facebook page (which she instituted) up to date (however, not the lab's webpage). Whenever a volunteer was needed, Ms. Hartley was often ready to do the task, particularly if it involved a trip to Starbuck's. Ms. Hartley's research has made great strides since she's learned to use the laboratory instruments properly. Indeed, she is working on a poster to present her results at the next Sphere Musicology Workshop in 2010. I can't help but feel that Ms. Hartley's manuscript would be ready for submission by now had she only decided not to join her family on Lake Como for the 5 weeks of winter break (after having gone home for 2 weeks of Thanksgiving break), but then when one's mother calls, what can one do?

As for the rest of her undergraduate achievements, I know they are spelled out in her application and listed on her transcript: president of Delta Delta Phi sorority, head of the cheerleading squad (for football, basketball, and fencing), president of the Resident Life Food Committee (coffee division), food writer for the school newspaper (coffee bar reviews are her specialty), president of the iPhone Apps Club, and person-in-charge of the undergraduates' collective Facebook page, "Dickeyville College Experiences." Last year she had the lead role in the annual show, a salute to Dickeyville. It was quite the memorable performance.

In summary, I enthusiastically endorse Ms. Hartley for admission to your graduate program. She will make an outstanding student, in more ways than one. Yours is the program she is most interested in; she is not applying anywhere else. If she is denied admission, she has asked to stay on here, with me, for her Master's degree.

Professor Wimberly Wade
Dickeyville College


Dear Acceptance People,

I am writing to you to extol the virtues of one Mr. Joe Stone. Jim has been an undergraduate researcher in my laboratory since 1996 (?). Since graduating near to the top of his class in 2006, he has worked in my laboratory intermittently (during?) that time.

Jack is a hardworking and very bright individual, who has made numerous positive contributions to our team. As well as being extremely studious, she is a social individual and always manages to lighten the intense atmosphere that permeates a prestigious laboratory such as my own. A butterfly, one might say. This is a refreshing aspect to his personality. One flaw that could be a potential problem for John (especially in a world‐class laboratory with dangerous chemicals at his disposal) is his difficulty in resolving internal conflicts. His sociopathic tendencies could potentially negate his future interactions with colleagues, but since he has overcome his pornography addiction – I believe that this should not be a major issue. However, I feel you should ask him this directly. Joe is a fantastic brain. However, he does need to find the testicular fortitude within himself to succeed. His luck with the inferior sex has also improved exponentially, as has his general taste in aesthetics. I have noticed this personally. He is like a hybrid and good with the animals, however he should be monitored.

His particular research interests have meandered considerably throughout the time I have mentored him. However, I find a lack of ideological consistency within his train of thought. I have placed much responsibility on Joe. He has not broken yet. I admire a man with convictions, especially a man with a thetan level such as Joe’s. He has worked hard to improve this (by successfully calibrating an old e‐meter) and invests a significant amount of time in his faith. Indeed, he is president (?) of our university’s dance troop (? further clarification needed). He has a penchant for cycling and is quite good with the PCR machine.

I am convinced that with Joe’s natural vigour and eternal robustness, she will reach the pinnacle of whatever goal she decides to make. I will support this wholeheartedly. She is the creme de la mer of our crop. In conclusion, x is an ideal candidate for your programme for the reasons I have outlined above. I believe x will be an asset to your department and will thrive at an institution such as yours. I hope you will see x in the same light as I have, by granting him/her a position on your course.

With kind regards and kindred spirits,

Professor Sir H. Charles A. Ruddimutterigenered IX
BA MA PhD DSc MB BS ChB FRS FMedSci FRSL KD CBiol PhD (h’c) (Oxon)
Established Chair and Distinguished Professor of Freudian Zoology
University of Michael Jackson, Neverland, USA
Board Member, BAAADAAAAAAAAASS, Nobel Institute


To the Admissions Committee:

I am so excited to write this letter supporting Tommy Terrific’s application to your most prestigious graduate program. Although I am not an expert in your field of Science, I am an accomplished and world-renowned Harry Potter scholar and know a thing or two about magic. My work has earned me an endowed Professorship at a university even more prestigious than yours. Importantly, I also know a thing or two about Tommy, whom I have known since he was 2 years old. From this time, it was clear to all of us on the block that Tommy was not only the happiest toddler on the block, but also the smartest. His true gift is an unparalleled SCIENTIFIC INSIGHT. This gift exceeds even that of his parents, both of whom are world-renowned physicians at my university.

In closing, I urge you to admit Tommy to your graduate program in Science. Based on all that I know of him and his family, he has no choice but to solve the most important problem in Science during his research training. This will bring fame and fortune not only to Tommy, his friends and family, but also to your university.

The Scholar Next Door



Morrissey is applying to your graduate program and has asked me to write a letter of recommendation. I am quite happy to do so.

My interaction with Morrissey is limited to one course during the Spring term last year, Intermediate Hot Science, which he took as part of the requirements for his Science major, and which I taught. Although I cannot say I know him well, I can say with confidence that, unlike others who are just a hatful of hollow, he is an extraordinarily serious person.

I will be frank and say that my course is a difficult, quantitative, and rigorous class. Nevertheless, although not the top student in this or, likely, any class, Morrissey never seemed to lose the thread of my lectures, which are all very rigorous, despite his propensity to stare blankly at his shoes during class. Furthermore, he persevered in the course despite enduring an unusual personal tragedy; his girlfriend was in a coma for much of the term.

Based on my limited interaction with Morrissey, I would say that his main shortcoming, which might be overcome in a highly structured graduate program, is that he tends to be rather pessimistic. For example, when he asked me if I remembered him from the course last year and if so, would I be willing to write this letter, he said (and I quote): “I don't mind if you forget me. Having learned my lesson, I never left an impression on anyone.” In Morrissey’s case, this apparent pessimism might actually be an unusual form of modesty, as he has also been known to state “I’ll never be anybody’s hero”. I believe he also sings well.

In writing this letter, I find, much to my surprise, that Morrissey has become a central part of my mind’s landscape, at least for the moment. I take that as a positive sign of the strong impression that this young man makes on people who encounter him. Whether that is an indicator of success in graduate school is anyone’s guess at this point, but I strongly encourage you to admit him to your graduate program anyway. Even if you come to regret the enormous investment in time and money involved in trying to foster the graduate career of a dysfunctional person, I have no doubt that you will find the experience an interesting one.

I apologize for the possible lateness of this letter relative to your deadline. When Morrissey gave me the information for submitting the letter, he was vague about when it is due, saying only "How soon is now?", which I prefer to interpret as a profound rhetorical question rather than sarcasm.


Theo Smiths
Bob R. and Sheila C. McTruffle Professor of Rigorous Science


To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is a strong endorsement of Student X, who is applying to your graduate program. Student X has enormous potential for creative graduate study, and in fact has already amply demonstrated many important skills required for success in graduate research in Science.

My first indication that Student X was special came when I was supervising him in a research project to test the hypothesis that cats are more likely to sleep on top of a warm radiator than on a tray of ice cubes. Student X not only did the assigned tasks in a competent and cheerful way, but also moved the research in new and exciting directions by proposing that we include a variety of felines in our study; in our original plan, we proposed to confine our research subjects to orange tabbies.

Student X continued to exceed my expectations in every way. On numerous occasions I expected Student X to quit, whine, stare at me with an incredulous and/or sullen expression, or start writing a hostile post to his blog when I proposed what many would consider an unreasonable task or deadline, but his response instead was to get right to work, in some cases whistling a tune that surely was of his own invention. And if that wasn’t proof enough that Student X has got what it takes to do mindless tasks for years on end without complaining, consider this: Student X does not have an iPhone and does not even want one.

Student X presented the results of her research at the recent Thermofelinics conference, is intensely focused and motivated, and has outstanding communication skills (including writing!). In sum, Student X is the kind of person you want in your graduate program.

Morris Boltzmann

(note from FSP: I tried to slip this one past the FSP Editorial Board, without success, so I might as well confess that I wrote it. And the Morrissey one. But that's all, just those two.)


Comrade PhysioProf said...

(1) The switching back and forth between the male and female pronouns is fucking classic!! Obviously, all faculty write letters of reference starting from a variety of templates, and I always make my last editing step before finalizing a check for (a) pronoun gender and (b) correct name throughout.

(2) The Girlfriend in a Coma reference is motherfucking awesome!!

Anonymous said...

I trust you changed the names of the applicants, referees and universities to protect their identities, right? Absolutely hilarious to read but any legal action will have a high chance of success, especially disclosing a damning reference letter in public domain such as the Web.

Anonymous said...

Is the last recommendation good or bad? Meant to be flattering or sacastic? It sounds like me, who is autistic? Is it meant to be read as a negative rather than a positive?

Anonymous said...

that Morrissey has become a central part of my mind’s landscape, at least for the moment. I take that as a positive sign of the strong impression that this young man makes on people who encounter him."

i love this bit!

i hope none of my letters sound remotely like these...

Anonymous said...

LOVE the girlfriend in a coma reference!

Anonymous said...

One way I avoided having to address the matter with each student is by using an example at the first day of class so that EVERYBODY gets the message. The announcement is:

I've just been asked to write a letter of reference for a student which gives me a reminder to tell you how I decide whether or not to do the letter.

If you get an A or B in this class and any others you take with me while you're a student here, I will usually write a letter for you.

If you get a C, I will consider it if you do better in other classes you take with me while you are a student here.

If I tell you, "I'd suggest asking another professor for a letter," this means that, should you absolutely insist that I write a letter for you, the letter will not be complementary. It also means that you really would be better off asking a professor from whom you've received better grade(s) or in whose laboratory you've worked for at least an academic year.