Friday, March 27, 2009

Recommendations Bitch

Here follows a transcript of an e-mail exchange between myself and a student I'll call Junior Birdman:

On 3/27/2009 6:44 PM, junior birdman wrote:

Professor Pamphilia-

I apologize to email you both so late and on a Friday, but I was inquiring this week about Professor Constanza's Honors program next year and was hoping you'd be able to write me a recommendation. They are due Monday, and I completely understand if you cannot find the time. I'm sure with grading our papers along with all of your other classes you're swamped. Please let me know if you are unable to write one so I can know to ask someone else. No matter what, I look forward to class and presenting next week. Thanks and have a great weekend!

-Junior Birdman

My response:

Hi Birdman,

I'm sorry. It is too late for me to write for you.

If I had known about this earlier, I would have been very happy to do so, but I require at least one face-to-face discussion, some materials (transcript, cv), and preferably at least 2 weeks notice before I can write a letter. Also, given that I have not taught you in any classes before English 000, and have not yet graded your first full length paper, I don't feel I know you well enough to write a proper recommendation.

In the future, I will be happy to write letters for you, please just ask me at least 2 weeks in advance, and come see me first.


Here's the deal: our students must have a 3.5 gpa in the major and be nominated by at least two faculty members in order to get in to honors. There's no recommendation involved, normally. But students can get professors to write letters for them if their major gpa is below 3.5 and/or they weren't nominated and they're dying to be in the honors seminar and write a thesis. So JB's chances of getting in to honors were very slim to begin with, since he didn't have a 3.5 or higher.

What's your policy on recommendations? Are you strict or a pushover? How often do you say no?

My policy has changed over the years but generally I tell students asking for serious recommendations (scholarships, grad school etc) that if they didn't receive an A- or higher in my class, it might be a good idea for them to ask someone in whose course they did better, instead. I will, however, write any and all recommendations for study abroad. Other than that, I have a few nitpicky requirements designed to weed out the serious students from the less serious ones:

  1. Students must come meet with me in person to discuss the recommendation
  2. I need at least TWO WEEKS notice.
  3. I need stamped, addressed envelopes, filled-out forms, and a list of deadlines
  4. I need copies of transcript and cv.

At the meeting, I usually ask the student about the thing she's applying for, and- a little tip from my dad, a former professor himself - ask her what she would like me to say about her in my letter.

I figure at this point if the student isn't totally freaked out, if she's come this far and done all I've asked, I owe her a recommendation.

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