Monday, October 14, 2013

Dr. Amelia Requests Less Makework.

Dear colleagues, overlords and students,

Please think before you ask for professor recommendations for things. I understand that capability to do academic work without being a needy baby is important for students studying abroad. Maybe for students we send out on internships.

For being a campus tour guide? Joining a club or greek organization? Enrolling in a minor?

Not so much.

Your desire to make your processes feel "official," in fact, instead results in my having to haul out the records from Intro to Hamsters from last year and try to remember specific details for Minoring Marty and figure out why you need me to say something beyond the "He got a B+" that you can see on his records that will tell you that he would be good at a) talking to high school students and their families or b) holding something in a solo cup for 3 hours before the football game and still managing to not embarrass Kappa Oozma in the first half.

Students: A special message for you. I know those deadlines are sneaky little bastards. But if you really want to go study at the uni center in Singapore next Spring, don't be handing me papers on the day before the one day off we get in the Fall so I can "work on it over the break." And don't ask me to come in on that one day off to meet with you about your application. I don't yet have tenure, and my getting it hugely depends on your evaluations of me. So I'll do it, but you may find that the results are somewhat less positive than you think they should.


  1. A recommendation for a Greek organization?!? I'm afraid I'd end up telling the student just what I think: that such activities would be a waste of hir (not to mention my) time and money.

  2. "Admitting B+ Barry would maintain the standards and rigour that your Greek club demands of its members. In fact, I believe adding Barry would probably greatly improve the average GPA of your membership. Best regards and good luck at doing the, uh, things that you do, over there at your Greek club."

  3. I had a grad school professor who would only meet with students at 5:30 a.m. (before he went for his morning run) to talk about recommendations.

  4. I have no problem with recommendations that students bring me, even if it's for silly things such as fraternities. Anything to get them to pay more attention to their schoolwork, I say.

    It's the make-work inflicted by administrators that I do my best to dodge. Not all university committees are the same, though. Some do genuinely valuable work, such as the research committee or the rank, tenure, and promotion committee. These also have the virtue of having only a finite amount of work: once one gets to the bottom of the stack of proposals, we're done.

    Other committees could go on seemingly forever. Many are this way because of university faculty thrilling to the sound of their own voices. With some of these, at least I can catch up on my sleep. The worst are the ones in which I need to pay attention to university faculty thrilling to the sound of their own voices.

    The very worst are ones in which I need to spend large amounts of time producing internal documents that apparently no one reads. Sometimes I wonder whether I should just make up what I put in these.

  5. Oh, come on. I can understand not wanting to recommend students for stupid on-campus clubs or activities, but if a student comes to you for a job reference down the line, are you going to turn him/her down, even if it's irrelevant to your class? Most of the time, recent grads have little to no work experience. Their professors are the most professional references they have. If you don't have to write anything, and it's just a question of taking a phone call, why is this such a huge imposition on you? Then again, maybe I'm just lucky that I went to a SLAC where my professors actually knew more about me than that I got a B+ in their classes.

    1. If it's a student who has been upright, conscious, and functional in class--who has actually bothered to make a connection with me, no problem at all. If it's one who has slouched in the back and made little effort to engage with the material--those are the ones who baffle me.