Monday, December 7, 2009

Recommending with Diminishing Enthusiasm

Grading will always be the less fun part of being a professor, but writing recommendations is clearly #2.  That McGill students are ambitious is cool.  But writing letters, even now that I have ripped off an Oberlin prof to develop rules that make it a bit easier, is just not much fun. 

Now that many admissions processes use web-based systems, I don't have to worry as much about losing envelopes or stuffing the wrong ones.  But there are still a variety of web-sites and they require the same info (my address, like they will ever mail me anything) again and again. 

The harder problem is writing letters for students I barely know.  Because the upper division classes here are still pretty big, I rarely get to know most of my students.  I find it easy to write letters for former research assistants (and writing letters for my phd students is another challenging task, but mostly because they keep needing new ones for different kinds of things), but for a student who took just one of my classes or two big ones, well, hard to say much. 

I have my teaching assistants draft the first version if I don't know the student well, so that is a fun exercise--seeing how different folks write these letters and then revising them. 

I have only refused one student--and not because he was not bright.  I just found him too obnoxious and would never want anyone to blame me for having to put up with him.

Any thoughts by fellow letter-writers?


Jacob T. Levy said...

There was this one time... and then there was... nah. These are thoughts and stories to share over drinks, not in a public forum.

Steve Greene said...

Even better than mine: Though I like to think I accomplish much the same message in a friendlier way-- like life in general :-).