Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Letters of Recommendation

Whew.... letters of recommendation take time! But there is no point in writing a letter unless you are willing to write one that is likely to make a difference. Such letters must be long, carefully crafted and specific. They most demonstrate that you care about the person for whom you are writing.

I started writing at 3:30 and just finished now - 9:30 with only two meetings to interrupt. Tw letters; nearly three hours each. I almost always underestimate how long things like this will take. But both letters were important and worth taking the itme.

One is for a friend and senior colleague seeking a new position. Here is a brief excerpt (I have redacted some key information)

(She) combines the full range of qualities one seeks in a senior faculty member .... to an unusual degree. She is an incisive scholar with broad-ranging interests, high standards and strong methodological skills. Her writing is clear and accessible, examining topical cutting-edge concerns in ... and grounding her work in solid theoretical underpinnings. She is an engaging, gifted teacher and lecturer, who is able to work equally well with undergraduates and advanced graduate students. She is an energetic, effective academic manager, entrepreneur and fund raiser. If she has a shortcoming, it is only that her days, like all of our days, comprise only twenty-four hours. There hardly seems enough time for her to make all of the contributions he would like to make and is able to make with exceptional creativity and competence.

The the second is for a recent Ph.D. graduate. I was writing a personal letter to a friend in the department to which he was applying, rather than a more formal recommendation. Again, a brief excerpt follows.

....Candidly, I have not read any of ...’s work since he was a student in my doctoral seminar – one of the best, incidentally. But we have had numerous informal discussions on various topics over the years. What particularly strikes me about these conversations is his skillful bridge building between the sometimes arcane subject-matter of international relations theory and the “real world” of public policy. His level of ability to do this is relatively rare in recently minted doctoral students, but is one of the essential qualities of excellent undergraduate teachers.

... also has a temperament that makes him an ideal colleague. He is a consummate professional, deeply committed to a career as a scholar and caring engaged teacher. And, while he is serious about his professional commitments – his resume amply demonstrates this – he is not pretentious, as some scholars can be... .

In sum, .... would seem to be an excellent fit for the position you are seeking to fill, combining an excellent scholarly track record, a very strong teaching record and a congenial, equable personality. He compares favorably with other doctoral students whom we have recently placed in tenure track positions and with those who we have recently hired. In fact, was it our practice to hire our own graduates, we would seriously consider him for an open position in international relations theory here.

As I said in my previous letter of recommendation blog, it is always useful to be thinking about what sort of letter of recommendation you will evoke, for a competitive academic and job market, where the competition is typically 'zero sum.'

Time to go home to Anderson and have dinner.


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