Reading Recs, Reading Wrecks
|I am reading a million recommendations these days, since I'm on our grad admissions committee and it's that time of year, as some of you no doubt know as well as I do. All of this rec-reading has led me to make some new vows for my own grad-admission recs:|
1) I will be more honest. Rampant rec inflation is not doing anyone any good, and driving us all insane. I'm tired of decoding language like "hard-working" and "committed" (i.e., "not so smart"). I will especially try to be honest about checking those little boxes that say "Excellent," "Very Good," "Good," etc.
2) I will write shorter recs. Typically I spend a paragraph or two in the middle giving my little summary, with a few quotes, of a paper the student wrote for me. I thought I was being really helpful in doing that. I was wrong. I find myself just skipping over those paragraphs and searching for the evaluative part. No time for that sort of detail.
3) I will be more quantitative in my recs. It's so helpful when people (seem to) honestly tell you that a student is in the top X number of students they've taught. Or when they say a student is the equal of, or better than, or almost as good as, a student they've taught who did grad work at Peer Institution.
4) I will turn down some people who ask me to write for them. (Necessary to implement #1-3.)
What do you think? I think there's a way to write a rec that is less than one page and that still gets across the range of recommendation from "absolutely superb, admit immediately," to "very good indeed," to "pretty good, think about it," to "probably not yet ready for a PhD but maybe you have an MA." It's different with job letters for finishing PhDs, but I see no reason why we need to go beyond 2 paragraphs for our undergrads applying to PhD programs.