Ah, winter break! 'Tis the season for requests for letters of recommendation, as all the little snowflakes dreading the economy devise ill-formed plans to attend graduate school. I dread the way those requests pile up; see illustration, right. It seems like there are more every year.
My latest request came from an undergrad I like well enough to recommend, though not with an overabundance of enthusiasm. I let her know that I'd need her c.v., a copy of her personal statement, and the form(s) from whichever graduate program(s) she's applying to.
I don't think you need to fill out a form, she says. You can just write a letter and send it to me.
Um, no. That's not how it usually works, I reply. Which graduate program(s) are you applying to?
She responds by sending me a link from a university web site. "Here," she says, "these are the guidelines for writing a letter of recommendation."
No way, McFlakey--that is a list of general instructions from a career development office, advising undergraduates how to approach professors for letters of recommendation. That's for YOU to read, not me--and you really should read it, actually. Now, you still haven't told me: Which graduate program are you applying to?
"The one at the University of Foobar. I know it's busy with the holidays and all, but if you can write something this week that would be great."
Oh, for chrissake. "The one"? WHICH one? And where's your resume and personal statement, missy? Am I supposed to imagine things to praise about you? "Student McFlaky is noteworthy for the way she rolls her eyes when thick-as-brick students dominate the class discussions. I always appreciated her well-timed eye rolls in class. I also like her ability to levitate."
I know a lot of undergrads lack the cultural capital to understand how the graduate admissions process works, and I was willing to help her sort out the process. But based on her inability to answer simple questions or even read web content correctly before forwarding it on to me in an email, I doubt her application will be very successful. So maybe I'll send this letter of recommendation along and be done with it:
To the University of Foobar:
With this letter, I am recommending Student McFlakey's graduate admission application as bedtime reading for members of the appropriate graduate committee. She is applying to a graduate program she calls "the one." Do you know which one she means? I don't.
I am relieved that you are not MIT, because Ms. McFlakey would likely be a menace to society if she ever found herself enrolled in civil engineering. I would prefer not to drive over a bridge or through a tunnel she had designed, that's for sure!
If she is referring to graduate basketweaving or perhaps even graduate play-doh design, I brim with confidence that she would be the most mediocre student in her cohort. She has potential, but not much.
In fact, Ms. McFlakey is a highly deserving applicant for a scholarship. I hear your funding has been cut so much that the average graduate student receives a scholarship consisting in its entirety of a swift kick in the rear. I like that idea a lot.
Thank you for reading Ms. McFlakey's application for graduate admission to your math / religion / arts and crafts / clown school program for me. I would have read it for her, but she ignored my request to send it my way. I hope her personal statement was informative and attention-grabbing and didn't call me any bad names.