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Worst criticism ever


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Background: I had two letter writers who were extremely supportive of my work and my abilities from advising me throughout my MA program. I just needed one more letter writer for my PhD apps. I received very good grade in Person 3's class, and she had even commented on my work to other professors, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask her - AND she is senior faculty (the others are not). It was a complete disaster and really hurt my feelings (will describe below). In the end I did find a third letter writer (not person 3) who is very excited to help me out and very confident in my abilities. All 3 of my new letter writers have been very supportive, but I can't shake all the criticism I got from P3.

The story: I wanted to talk to p3 about PhD programs, and in the process ask her about writing me a letter. I was well prepared - I made little packets for all my writers with my CV, the names of all the programs to which I'm applying and why I thought they'd be a good fit (10 schools - I'm applying widely as everyone has advised from day 1). It also had a bit about my research interests and my thesis work as well as the name of the class I took w/ the prof and the final grade i received in the class. P3 and I were taking the same bus to a conference, so she suggested that we just talk on the bus ride. It started out with small talk since it was a 3 hour trip. I mentioned that I'd be going snowboarding during Winter break in Austria because she mentioned that she loved skiing. She wanted to know why Austria and I explained that my boyfriend is German and I'm going with him. She wanted to know more about my bf. I told her a bit - that he's a jr. professor in another state nearby in another field. Later: When we started talking about schools she noticed that they were all on the same coast. She immediately said, "I hope this isn't because of Austria boy." I felt awful having to defend such a personal decision, but I said that it was in part and that I have a personal life as well that I value a lot - especially this relationship. She asked if he would move for me if I wanted him to, and I said that we had had that conversation and that he would. She wanted to know how long I had been dating him. I emphasized that I wasn't only applying to schools in his city (in fact none of my schools were in the same city) but I didn't think it was so crazy to try to stay on the same coast. We went on with the process and I began telling her about the schools I was applying to - some of which are very competitive. She barked at me right away asking what my GRE scores were. My GRE scores aren't stellar, but they aren't horrible either. I have plenty of other experience and skills and all my other advisers seemed confident that I didn't need to worry. I told her my scores and she said "Well I don't know why you're applying to those you aren't going to get into any of them." She spent the rest of the bus ride criticizing me (3 hours) and making me feel awful about myself. At the end, she said she would write me a letter, but that she only writes one and that I was asking very late (this was early October - everyone else said I was asking really early!). She said she also doesn't do online applications and it will be up to me to get copies of the letter from a consortium (I asked about this in my department and it doesn't exist). Some of my schools don't even accept online recommendations but she said she wont be told how to submit them at that if I push the school they would change the rules.

There was a lot more, but I have forgotten a lot of it now. Since that day, I have not been back in contact with her to tell her she is no longer one of my letter writers and I have not given her any info. Basically, I've just avoided her at this point. I know I should be happy that I have 3 awesome and supportive letter writers now, but whenever I go to work on my personal statement or applications, I can't shake all the criticism I got from her - especially about my personal choices and making it sound like I don't value my PhD because I also value my relationship. Any advice or similar experiences?

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Oh, pleeeeease, she is just a crazy hag! :angry: Don't pay attention to such people. You will meet them from time to time in your life, I met them and I know how extremely unpleasant it is.

You write that other professors have been supportive of your work and praised you. That means that you ARE good. I do not know all the details about your skills and abilities and things that you have accomplished. But just think about them now. Make a list. I am sure there are a lot things that you can put on it. And now there are all these wonderful things about you that you KNOW are true. And there is some cheap criticism by an old witch! May be she is just jealous of you because you are young and have so many things ahead of you - and a German boyfriend! ;)

And there is nothing wrong in choosing universities in a certain place because their location is convenient for you for some personal reason, because it is good for your relationship, for example. Many, MANY people do that. It's just plain stupid to criticise someone for that!

Don't let such people spoil your life! I am sure you will get in one of the universities you are applying to! Good luck!

Edited by Strangefox
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I was horrified when I've read your experience.

Do not worry. She does sound like an awful, absolutely awful person.

It sounds like you are organised and you know what you are doing. You also have a great attitude about your relationship!! All the best with your applications and do not get distracted/upset because of crazy people.

Edited by Bukharan
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Thanks a lot for your reply :). It turned out that she also took my organization as an insult. With regard to the packets I made with all the info about myself and my programs, her response was, "You can't expect me to read all of this. Re-do it and give me a copy of your CV and a paragraph explaining the final paper you wrote for my class." Of course I didn't expect her to spend all day reading over it all - I wanted to give her more information than she needed because she also kept telling me to give her information about myself so she "wouldn't be writing fiction." Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but it really really hurt to be torn to shreds like that when I least expected it. My relationship w/ all letter writers has been a calm, healthy one. I expect to stand up to criticism if I go to a conference and present my work, for example, but I just wasn't expecting all of that at that time. It was so discouraging and really not what I needed to hear right now. :(

Oh, pleeeeease, she is just a crazy hag! :angry: Don't pay attention to such people. You will meet them from time to time in your life, I met them and I know how extremely unpleasant it is.

You write that other professors have been supportive of your work and praised you. That means that you ARE good. I do not know all the details about your skills and abilities and things that you have accomplished. But just think about them now. Make a list. I am sure there are a lot things that you can put on it. And now there are all these wonderful things about you that you KNOW are true. And there is some cheap criticism by an old witch! May be she is just jealous of you because you are young and have so many things ahead of you - and a German boyfriend! ;)

And there is nothing wrong in choosing universities in a certain place because their location is convenient for you for some personal reason, because it is good for your relationship, for example. Many, MANY people do that. It's just plain stupid to criticise someone for that!

Don't let such people spoil your life! I am sure you will get in one of the universities you are applying to! Good luck!

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Dont let the criticism bother you. You never know what motives are behind peoples feedback ... also maybe she followed a guy in a relationship once that bit her in the ass so she is letting her past reflect on her attitude towards you. Sounds like she has a bad attitude in general and I wouldn't want her writing my letters. Who does she think she is to decide how a letter should be sent. I would stay away from this lady.

Also, early October is the perfect time to ask. With apps due in many places as early as 12/1, this is 60 days notice which is perfect timing for them to gather info, write and submit without being rushed. I know its hard to let it roll off your back, but thats what you have to do.

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Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but it really really hurt to be torn to shreds like that when I least expected it.

No, you are not! Three hours of criticism would make anybody feel awful. Also it's exactly when you are not expecting it when it hurts the most.

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Almost exactly the same happened to me. My prof was right to warn me about the process though. I did not make the right decisions because I was to confident in my GRE points and the locations I picked. (I had fairly good points and gpa) I am still angry with this prof for questioning my abilities, but I have to give credit that the person tried to point out the arbiteriness of the application process. For some admission commitees GRE points matter a LOT, and as the prof served on a lot of these committees I guess the person knew this. All my other profs were enthusiastic about me and my results. I ended up in a place I picked for the location and I almost dropped out from grad school altogether.

My advice (take it or leave it):

do not ask this prof for recommendation, she may be biased now, and of course she thinks it is waay too late now. do look around on the other coast. Hopefully you will be in the lucky position to decide after the process, but why would you throw out good options before you know? the application process is very random, but only a small percentage of the applicants are stellar in every respect. if you do not have the perfect gre scores you can still get into great schools but you may get unlucky too depending on what the committee will weight that day.

and of course don't get upset because of your prof, you have plenty of time to prove her wrong, which I am sure you will.

good luck.

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