Teach me to be mean
As you know, I’m the sweetest, kindest person on earth, with never an unkind word for anyone. But one of the things I have to do today is write a tepid letter of recommendation for a student’s grad school applications.
The student got Bs in both the classes it took with me, and produced a course project indicating no understanding of experimental design or data analysis. It also appeared to spend every class on Facebook. So when it approached me to write a letter for it, I explained that the letter would not be a good one. I reviewed the facts above. I urged it to find someone else, and even went through various possibilities with it. Turns out it truly didn’t have any better options, so in the end I agreed to write the letter, with the understanding that a tepid letter is better than no letter at all. That is, the student genuinely wants me to write a tepid letter.
Okay. When I sit down to write it, though, I kinda have NO IDEA how to approach the whole thing. Worse yet, it’s applying to my former PhD program, and for whatever reason, this makes me feel extra self-conscious about the whole thing. I fear the easy way out will be to emphasize its good qualities and say nothing about the important lacunae in its skill set. I know there are a couple of experienced academics who visit me here, and I could sure use your advice. And those of you in other areas, perhaps you’ve encountered the same quandary in your fields? (And yes, I’ll ask my senior colleagues, too, but what do they know that THE INTERNET does not?)