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Pendaran Roberts

I was asked on a few occasions to write my own letter back in 2014-2015. I think I ended up doing so once and one time I refused.

Pendaran Roberts

The justification, besides laziness, is that the recommender believes you can write a better letter than they can--that you know your research better etc. However, I agree that it's a problematic practice for the reasons Marcus mentions. But then again, recommendation letters are silly to begin with.


The fact that this is a practice at all (we all know that it is) fully delegitimates letters of recommendation. Just get rid of them. List contact details for 3 references who the hiring people can call at a late stage in the process to ask "off the record: is this person a bad colleague?" That's all that "recommendations" should be for.


A couple of years ago, two close friends were asked to write their own letters (by two different people in different departments). They then asked me to ghost-write the letters for them, which I did. It was much easier for me to do than it was for them (but still quite hard, because unlike the references, I had no existing templates to work from).

I later heard that their nogoodnick references were very pleased with the letters they plagiarized.

anon trainwreck

My advisors have not once written me letters of recommendation -- I have always been required to write them for myself. They have many advisees, and I'm under the impression that they do the same with everyone.

I once tried to get my advisor to cowrite, writing letters like, "As a scholar, X is unique in that he ________" hoping that he'd fill in the blanks with something insightful. What transpired is that I then accidentally saw the letter he had sent. He had filled in the blanks with entirely lackluster phrasings ("...is good"). But the worst thing was that he had edited some of my pronouns into those of the opposite gender. (I am a trans person, and have gone by my current pronouns for 7 years.) I was sick to my stomach and it made me wonder about whether he's done that in other letters, as well.

After that, I've written the letters entirely myself again, and made them into uneditable PDF:s. One needs to make do with the hand one has been dealt.


A slightly unrelated, cautionary tale: I had an external letter of recommendation from a very senior philosopher. It was actually my strongest letter.

Several people recommended that I not use the letter, including a member of a search committee who received it. Why? Because this very senior philosopher has political views that are unfashionable in the profession these days. (I don't share these views, although apparently that didn't help my case.) And so I ended up dropping the letter from many of my applications.

One mistake junior scholars make is to underestimate how political the profession is, both in terms of networking and literal political views. Not saying it's right or wrong. Something to be aware of.


Fool: I highly doubt most people would put down three references of people who they didn’t get along with. It’s not their self-interest to do so. Most people aren’t that honest. Besides there are people who still use their 2008 pictures on dating apps, let alone put down an impartial reference. We’re all salespeople in many realms.


Evan: I know a few philosophers who would have some trouble finding three...

surprised person

This is a bad idea for additional reasons totally unrelated to those discussed so far: a lot of people use letters to get a different sense/take on a candidate's research than the candidate's own (which can be gotten from the research statement, etc.). The most useful letters present a candidate's research in a different light. (And some advisors and committee members are *Very* good at e.g. seeing different (but not inconsistent) value & interest in their students' projects than their student do.) When I write letters I talk about what I have learned from the student, for example. But my students aren't in a position to do this!


Anna: Yes exactly. These third party verifications or recommendations try to incentivize people to be cooperative or well-behaved workers towards their colleagues or students. I had co-workers in the past who bailed on us when they promised and when we needed them on the job and I highly doubt that I’d ever get a phone call from a supervisor asking me about them.

Anonymouse Postdoc

I started getting such request from referees a year ago and now it has become quite standard. The explanation is that "They're busy in the next few months." It's useful insofar as it enables me to include information that is not in the cover letter and to give an impression that I am not awful to be around, but it is definitely unethical - the problem is that the alternative of not getting a reference is no more fair.


The 'I'm busy' excuse is really risible, especially if it stretches over months. People really are busy, of course, but they exaggerate how much, and what they really mean is that you aren't on their priority list, even if you properly should be. (That said, do time your requests so that they can be fulfilled during less busy times of the year!)

It's in especially poor taste to say that to someone on the job market, particularly if they've got some kind of (tenuous) employment, because then they're pretty much guaranteed to be just as busy as you are (more so, once you factor in the job search).

I think it reflects poorly on them.

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