Blogger Damn Good Technician, in referencing a recent episode of Mad Men in which a departing secretary is instructed by her boss to write her own recommendation letter, discusses the implications of a PI asking trainees to write their own letters of rec. Sure, Mad Men is set in the 1960s, but Damn Good Technician says that the practice is alive and well. "While the boss thinks they're doing you a massive favor by letting you write your own recommendation letter (and obviously cutting their to-do list by one item), what they're really doing is making it clear" that they're not interested in the trainee's future placement. The blogger shoots down the practice in any discipline, but says "especially in science, [since] it is part of the job of the boss to help their trainees move on to the next stages in their careers ... a critical part of that process is the recommendation." Beyond that, Damn Good Technician writes, when drafting their own recommendation, a trainee is forced to decide how "positive" of a letter to write. "How will my PI react if I say I'm one of the top 10 percent of grad students they've ever had?" the blogger asks, adding some examples of egregious exaggerations that trainees could include, such as "best postdoc in the history of the institute" or "accomplished more work than the rest of my lab put together," for emphasis.
Dissecting DIY Letters of Rec
Aug 17, 2010