Letters of Reference

November 14, 2016

November is the time of year when students apply for academic jobs. Which means we as faculty are asked to write reference letters. Despite the time it takes to write a good letter the effort can be enjoyable especially when the student has excelled. Not all letters are the same nor should they be. Unfortunately there can be gender bias. According the the Commission on the Status of Women from the University of Arizona, letters of reference for men are four times more likely to mention publications and twice as likely to have multiple references to research. Be aware of this potential bias, and be aware it’s not only a male problem. Make sure you put critical accomplishments in every letter. Emphasize accomplishments, not effort. Use adjectives emphasizing skills rather than those describing effort. Keep it professional and steer away from stereotypes. Adjectives to avoid: caring, compassionate, hard-working, dependable, diligent, dedicated, warm, helpful. Instead include: successful, excellent, accomplished, outstanding, skilled, knowledgeable, insightful, resourceful, confident, ambitious, independent, intellectual.