Our books

Become a Fan

« Why I chose an NTT job over the tenure track | Main | Good idea or bad idea? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


"what our early-career readers think of the letter of recommendation system in applying for jobs."

I dislike the idea and, on balance, I'm not convinced that the practice has more merits than demerits. So Huemer, I think, has done a fine job in moving our thinking in the right direction.


I have come to believe that each aspect of the standard philosophy application has comparable problematic aspects. So LOR's are no different. Yes, there are a lot of problems. But there is a lot of problems with almost any form of assessment. Someone who tells me publications are more fair or something, in my opinion, has a very naive view about blind review and the power to publish via networking.

So I think we either need to (1) keep all parts of the current job application package, or (2) Entirely revamp the entire thing from the ground up. (2) Is the better option, but also impractical.

im angry because #metoo

I'm staying vague to protect my identity but this needs to be said.

It happened to me too: I also endured a range of shockingly abusive behavior, including sexual harassment, because of a letter of recommendation situation. Off the top of my head, I can think of several other people I personally know of, who found themselves in a similar situation. I do not think that professor-on-student abuse and exploitation, including around LoRs, is talked about nearly enough. In part, I think, this is because in certain circles, it is depressingly common, even routine.

Anonymous for this one

I had a senior professor at my graduate program upload a fresh version of his recommendation letter to Interfolio immediately following a very tense conversation about the fact that I was supporting victims of sexual misconduct perpetrated by a member of my graduate department (he... didn't like this). I did not share that letter in future job searches... didn't trust that it wasn't punitive.

slac chair

To folks in situations like Anonymous for this one - I don't think there is anything wrong with sending a letter you're worried about to a trusted advisor or mentor. Interfolio claims to send letters ony to "validated" addresses but in my experience, it will send a letter to any .edu address without a problem.

I don't believe it's right for candidates to ask about the content of the suspicious letter, as this would violate confidentiality, but it seems perfectly fine to ask if it's a poison pill. If it is, then you don't send it.


To follow up on SLAC chair -- I sent _all_ of my letters to a trusted advisor (a non-chair member of my committee), suspicions or no. I often had to pick a proper subset to send, and I needed advice for that, and I wanted to make sure there wasn't an unanticipated issue somewhere. I didn't ask the advisor to tell me anything about the content of the letters, but when I did have to pick three, I'd ask them, "Would Adam, Berta, and Charles be a good set for Job X?".


I personally dislike recommendation letters.
First, each time I contact someone to ask for a favor, I feel very uncomfortable because I believe I am wasting other people's time. So this is how I feel when I have to contact someone for a recommendation letter.
Second, rejection, unanswered demands of letters or shameful letters* really hurt me, especially when I feel it has to do with personal issues between the addressee and me, and not with my "performance" as an academic.
Third, I have been away from the academic environment after my PhD for a while (no academic job), so I really do not feel I want to ask for a letter to people I was in contact years ago. What are they going to write in the letter? What I did in my PhD dissertation 4 years ago? Or try to justify with nice words why I have a hole after it in my CV? I do not think this kind of letters are useful.
Fourth, in my case no letter helped me to get neither an interview nor a job. The only interview for a postdoc I had was done without any letter of recommendation, as well as the postdoc fellowship I got (it is a grant, so fortunately they do not ask for letters).
Fifth, I feel the letters are only the reflection of the key role that contacts play in hiring people. If you did the PhD with a star, the letter will not really help you to be shortlisted, but the fact of having done the PhD with a star, or in a top university. If you did the PhD in an unknown university with an unknown supervisor, her letter will not make any difference: it will only count what your CV says of you.
That is why for now I try not to apply to a position that demands letters of recommendation.
* For example, one of my supervisors wrote me once a letter with wrong information about the topic of my research...


Marina: I completely agree with you about asking for letters. I *hate* it. I especially hate having to ask for things like grants or fellowships (which, at least in the US, do typically ask for letters). I have skipped applying to various grants, fellowships, and workshops because I felt that I couldn't ask my letter writers, who have already gone out of their way for me, to do even more. It drives me crazy that so many fellowships do not let you upload a generic letter, but demand that you give one specific to the fellowship. I also was lucky enough to get my current job without updating my letters, as again I just was so disinclined to ask my letter writers to do more work.

I recently for the first time had a person "deny" writing me a letter. Well, he simply ignored multiple emails. This does suck, as I had every reason to believe he liked my work, and he also was an obvious person to ask for a letter. I will never know if he is just lazy, somehow missed a string of emails, or for some reason didn't feel he could offer his recommendation. I tend to assume the last (because the other two seem implausible), but I can't know for certain.

I disagree letters are always useless, although I think often they are.

im angry because #metoo

Vetting your letters through a third party is a good idea, just in general, but it doesn't totally solve the problem. In the cases I'm thinking of, people were worried that they would be missing a letter that they felt they really needed. And the reason that they would be missing the letter is because, through a third party, they would have learned that it was a "poison pill."


Any advices on what makes a good letter of recommendation? How long should it be?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Philosophers in Industry Directory

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Cocoon Job-Market Mentoring Program