Writing your own letters of recommendation

The unimaginable has happened: there is an add for a TT job* in the home country. So obviously I (and probably another 16 million people) am applying. So I have to write a research statement and a teaching statement (AARRGH I thought I didn’t need teaching experience if I was going to be a career post-doc). And on top of that I need 3 letters of recommendation. The first one is going to be from my current PI, which will be easy, I just ask him. The second is going to be from my grad school professor, which is going to be a bit harder, because he makes me write my own letters of recommendation (yes this sucks). The third one is going to be a bit harder. I have a collaborator in the home country who has written letters for fellowships and such, but I’m already writing grants with this person and even though ze says I should totally apply for this job, ze also told me ze would prefer if I would work with hir. So it feels weird to ask this person for a letter. I don’t want to ask any of the people in my committee because they will also let me write my own letter and it’s even harder (and somewhat schizophrenic) to write two different letters on behalf of different people for yourself. My PI told me to ask someone in the field who I haven’t worked with but knows my work. I have such a person who I met at a meeting and who has written a letter for me in the past, so I think I’ll ask hir again.
But first, on to the hardest part: writing that letter for myself on behalf of my grad professor…
*So I can finally make use of all the super useful advice on Dr. Becca’s TT job aggregator


Filed under cultural differences, finding a job, recommendation letters, science

12 responses to “Writing your own letters of recommendation

  1. I've never had to write my own reference letter, but I can see how that would be both awkward and a huge pain. Good luck with the application!

  2. The only advice I've ever been given for this that helped is to imagine you are writing about a colleague, who just happens to have all the same experience and skills you do: what would you write about them? Starting there can help you organize your thoughts and phrasing.

  3. Thanks for the tip! When husband and I were in the same lab we would usually write each other's letters 😉

  4. What if you asked your husband to write it on behalf of your grad professor? Is that legit?

  5. That is probably what will happen. My husband will write (some of) it, and then I will send it to my grad professor and he will edit and sign.

  6. Good thing my husband reads my blog, cause he doesn't know this yet.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I've had someone ask me to write an “outline” of a letter. Thought that was an ok compromise.

  9. Anonymous

    The *BEST* letter of recommendation that I ever read was one that was obviously ghost written by this postdoc in my old lab and supposedly written by our mentor on her behalf. I happened to see the letter at the printer one day, while retrieving a paper I'd just printed out. To quote the recommendation letter: “[So-and-so] is the best postdoc in my lab.” Now, *who says that*?

  10. Anonymous

    Outrageous. I have sometimes asked undergrads to write a first draft, but never a former grad student. And I never leave the first draft as is.

  11. I've seen a lot of recommendation letter templates online that people can use as guide. They can be edited as necessary.

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