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When Your Record Never Speaks for Itself

In academia, a researcher’s record almost never speaks for itself. Recommendation letters must accompany all academic applications.  To obtain an academic position, an applicant must have enthusiastic recommendation letters, whether applying for admission to graduate school or interviewing to become a university president. It is no secret that recommendation letter writers are busy people and may ask an applicant for a rough draft. Thus, writing effective recommendation letters is an important skill for every academic researcher. As a professor, I write dozens of recommendation letters every year.

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class on Research Methods in CS, and I have structured the first assignment around recommendation letters. I asked students to write their own recommendation letter for their dream job after graduation. This assignment will not only introduce students to one of the cornerstones of academia, but will also help them determine their goals, so that they can better plan their graduate school careers. I specified the assignment as follows:

In this assignment, you’ll write your own recommendation letter for a dream job you hope to get after graduation. Address the letter as coming from your advisor who would write it a couple of months before you graduate. If you have not chosen an advisor yet, use a faculty member who could potentially become your advisor. Your audience should be the hiring committee of your dream university, research lab, company, etc.

Your letter should help persuade your potential employer to interview you for the job. To write a persuasive letter, make sure to list all the accomplishments you hope to achieve by the time you graduate. Be creative–do not be afraid to use your imagination.

The letter can be of any length. However, if it is too short, you may not have a chance to convince the reader why you should be hired. If it is too long, the reader is likely to get bored and not finish reading your letter. Thus, you have to strike the right balance between descriptiveness and conciseness.

You will be evaluated on two main criteria: (1) persuasiveness (i.e., how likely is this letter to convince the reader to interview you?), (2) quality of writing (i.e., how suitable is your text for this manuscript?).

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  1. August 24, 2011 at 9:02 am

    That is an extremely useful assignment. I wish I had taken a course like that.

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