Sunday, September 30, 2012

Letters of Pain and Suffering

I just finished writing a letter of recommendation for an undergrad, and then had to deal with the website of the institution receiving the award.  It required me to create an account with a more annoying than usual set of requirements for the password.  Then, instead of allowing me to upload my letter, I had to cut and paste and hope I didn't write too many words.

Why am I whining about this?  Because this is just the beginning of recommendation letter season.  Each year, it should be getting better, but it tends to get worse.  Last year, a student would apply and I would get a link, which would take me to a form where I could upload a recommendation and the annoying part would be entering my address info (as if anyone would write or call me).  This year, one of them required me to set up an account--why?  Just annoying.

I guess it is worse for the Phd students of today as they have to apply to heaps of schools. each with a different entry form and style and all the rest.  I am actually almost ok with that, as it might limit the number of applications that students file.  For recommenders who are doing a service, lower barriers, lower transaction costs are really important.

One of my twitter followers suggested that the APSA come up with a single form and have job applicants deposit all materials there once.  The problem, of course, is that each university has its own human resources departments, so even if the APSA wanted to do this, I doubt that it can happen.

I don't mind doing more work for the Phd students--there are far fewer of them and the stakes are much higher.  Lots of undergrads are applying for lots of programs, and they do not often know what they are really going to do with lives.  Many will not go to places they get into, so I feel less urgency and obligation.  I do limit each undergrad to ten letters per year.  I would never limit how many  letters I would write for Phd students--the odds are not very much in their favor.

I just hope that someday folks who fill out the forms can actually give some input to the people who make the forms.  Yes, a pipedream....


JWells said...

"I am actually almost ok with that, as it might limit the number of applications that students file."

Easy for you to say. In this market? Hah, yeah, no. If there is a position open, the department is hearing from me. And if Bob's College for Aspiring Auto Mechanics wants a blood sample with an application copied in triplicate carried in a coconut gripped by the husk by an African swallow, they'll get it.

Of course, my views may shift when I'm on your side of the process, but, well, I really hope not.

Steve Saideman said...

Notice the "almost". I think I still have enough sympathy for your side of things. making it completely costless to apply to jobs one does not fit does not amp up the work too much since triage can get rid of those folks. So, apply away. Good luck!