I know you think I'm awesome, just ask me.

Nov 15 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

When did it become okay to ask people to write an opinion about them for you? This practice is socially acceptable, how? Seriously, is there anything worse than asking someone to write you a reference letter and then having them foist the responsibility right back at you? The message is, "Yes, I'll support you, just as long as it doesn't require an ounce of my own effort". I can see situations where this is alright to do, but in most cases it just kinda sucks. Sure, I'm putting together a whole proposal, but I would love to write your opinion of me as well. Thank you for your support.

Dude, fuck. Sigh.

18 responses so far

  • Isn't it a gift to have a letter say exactly what you wanted it to say? That way they don't go rambling on about minor details or stuff that's entirely irrelevant to whatever you're applying for.

  • Jen says:

    When I taught high school science, my department chair nominated me for a teaching award, which required a recommendation letter from our principal. When I went to ask for the letter, the principal told me he'd be happy to recommend me, as long as I wrote the letter. I was flummoxed (because it had never occurred to my young, naive brain that people actually did this). I ended up writing the letter (at the coaxing of my dept. chair), and hated the whole process (it just felt smarmy). I don't even think the principal read it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Writing these letters for yourself sucks way worse than not knowing what someone else wrote. It just feels conceited to go on about yourself, and as a likely and ironic consequence, I would bet letters written by people about themselves are less effusive than those written by the actually recommender.

  • Hermitage says:

    Ugh, as a professional self-deprecator, I totally hate having to do that shit. It's like trying to write a scientific article in a foreign language and I'm sure it sounds horrible to those who adept at self-promotion. I just cross my monktress fingers and hope they 'recommenders' at least edit the shit before putting their stamp on it.

    Haven't had to do it in a long time though, thank FSM.

  • Hermitage says:

    I would just like to say this system is extraordinarily punishing to those who suck at reading things more than once. I clearly need to communicate only using symbols, because words are too hard.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    This is why your third year of professorship bites. Have the person write the letter and then take 10 minutes to alter it in a way that fits your style and is accurate. This is time-efficient and fair.

  • In grad school, I was applying for a travel award and needed a letter of recommendation from the dept chair. She told me to write my own and then had the audacity to say that I had balls to talk myself up like I did. She still signed it though. And I got the award. Do what you gotta do.

  • Namnezia says:

    This happens to me all the time. Just get over the awkwardness and do it.

  • Hope says:

    When did it become okay to ask people to write an opinion about them for you?

    Probably around the same time it became acceptable for profs to ask grad students to write their own reference letters. I’ve heard some people try to frame this practice as a learning experience for students. But really, if profs screw themselves over this way and think nothing of it, what hope do the students have?

  • Han Aiwen says:

    My husband got asked to write his own reference letter for grad school. I wrote it for him and then he took it to the guy at work and got it signed. He didn't get in though... so what does that say about my letter writing skills?

  • confounded says:

    I recently had to write my own reference letter for a postdoc fellowship grant. Sucks. My letter writer instructed me not to be modest, but I feel like I managed to sound only lukewarm about myself.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Somehow I doubt that the 0.0001% of my time spent writing reference letters is the deal breaker here. It's not the time, it is the idea of writing a letter in support of oneself for someone else. It's a shitty thing to ask someone to do, IMO.

  • Reyna says:

    This is a timely topic. I have hated writing such letters for myself in the past. But I have a trainee in the lab who needs letters of reference from me soon. This individual has been less than satisfactory in the lab, and I am stumped on what to write on their behalf. After many conversations on what needs improvement, nothing has changed, so I was considering having them write their own reference letter to force a little introspection. But perhaps it's better if I just refuse to write a letter...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Reyna, I think that is a case where you'll have to tell them that you won't be able to write them a good letter. If that doesn't force introspection, writing their own letter surely won't solve the problem.

  • I'm with you - I think this practice is ridiculous. I was just talking to someone about this today in fact. The conversation was, "Well, if you ask Famous Dude for a letter, you should expect to write it yourself." I think if Famous Dude can't be bothered to write the letter themselves, they should just decline. (But who knows, maybe that's how they got to be famous in the first place?)

  • gc says:

    i'd put in "he is a bold, fresh piece of humanity" somewhere in there :]

    oh, wait... I think that's papa bear's book's title.

  • CoR says:

    Want me to write it? That would be fun.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I've considered before writing a letter so over the top and full of hyperbole that it would make people wonder about the sanity of the letter writer, but obviously there is selective pressure to avoid doing that. It would be an interesting experiment, though, to see if the writer actually reads it.

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