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Another afternoon and evening of writing recommendations

One of the advantages of being at a small college like Grinnell is that you get to know your students well. There are many benefits to knowing your students well, particularly that you get to learn about awesome people, help them grow, and rejoice in their successes. Of course, since you know your students well, they expect you to write letters of recommendation. I’ve written an earlier essay about some issues pertaining to recommendation letters. This essay serves as a followup.

It’s the time of year in which students are applying to internships, to summer research experiences, to jobs, and more. That means that it’s the time of year in which I get to write recommendations. A lot of recommendations. This afternoon and evening were devoted to that task. What’s on my list? A few externships, which are short shadowing programs that Grinnell sponsors. Those are usually short, with a few rating choices and two open-ended text-entry boxes [1]. I have a fellowship recommendation to write [2]. I have a lot of students applying for a lot of externships. Amazingly, almost every externship has a separate application process. Some want you to visit a Web site and upload PDFs (my preference). Some want you to visit a Web site and enter text in a text entry box. Some also want you to rank on various scales. Some want you to email them the recommendation. Some want you to download forms, fill them out, and then email the form and the letter to them. Some want you to email the form to Box [3]. I often wonder whether the faculty at these places would put up with all of these stupid alternatives and various instructions if they had to write a reasonable number of letters.

But what really ticked me off tonight was the University of Southern California. Their email system rejected my recommendation letter as spam. The rejection said to contact the postmaster. Mail to the postmaster bounced. My student tells me that they’ve extended the deadline for letters of recommendation. Perhaps it’s because their spam filter is broken.

Other than that PITA [4] I was lucky this time. I didn’t have any forms to fill out that unreasonably limited the amount I could write [5]. The next time that happens, I’m going to dig out Dear Committee Members and fax the appropriate section to whoever is responsible for the form.

The worst part? I still have a letter in support of a fellowship application and two more sets of internship recommendations that need to be done by the end of the day tomorrow. Plus, I have to follow up with USC [6].

Given the amount I have already written tonight, and the amount of stupid hoops I’ve jumped through [7], I think I’ve written enough. If only there were a way to use recommendation letters as my daily essay [8]. Sometime soon, I’ll get back to the regular essays.

[1] Why two? I’m not sure. I tend to use the first for explanations of particular characteristics, and the second for why the student would benefit from the externship. But the instructions are vague.

[2] I didn’t get to that one today. It’s at the top of my list for tomorrow.

[3] I don’t think that’s a FERPA violation on my side, since the student has explicitly given me permission, but I wonder whether it’s a FERPA violation on their side, if they accept the student.

[4] Pain in the neck.

[5] No, that’s not quite right. One of the forms asked how and how long I’d known the student, and there wasn’t room for me to write all the ways I know the student. I ended up using a lot of abbrevs.

[6] Is that pronounced You suck?

[7] Or, in many cases, crashed into.

[8] At some point, these students will graduate. I suppose I can adapt their recommendation letters into profiles at that point. However, they do seem to be very different genres.

Version 1.0 of 2017-01-30.