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Professor I asked for an LOR told me to....


gatorgrad
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So, I have this professor for two courses. I've brought up the topic of a LOR already, since applications are due before the semester is even over. He's complimented me multiple times already for my engagement and enthusiasm in class discussion, even though the class has almost 200 people. I raise my hand and pose questions or concerns at least once a class.

 

He told me what he normally does is have the student write their own glowing recommendation letters, then send it to him. He puts it on his letterhead and signs it and sends it in. 

 

Is this ethical? Obviously I could write a better LOR for myself than any professor ever could - but I don't know how common this is?

 

Also, a second question about LOR - is it normal/alright for me to get an LOR from a professor who teaches in a subject that is not my major? I'm a psych major, applying to psych programs, but I had a professor for Sociology of Mental Health, and she offered to write me an LOR at the end of the semester when I had her because she didn't understand why I wasn't already in grad school with my writing and ideas.

 

Thanks so much!

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Also, a second question about LOR - is it normal/alright for me to get an LOR from a professor who teaches in a subject that is not my major? I'm a 

 

Sure! If she can attest to your writing, ideas, and promise as a scholar - and has offered - this sounds like a no-brainer. I had spent time away from academia, and I actually only had one academic/professor LOR when I (successfully) applied to the school I wanted...the other two were from former supervisors, who could attest to my work as a teacher/educator, and in a government job.

As far as writing your own, I think I would avoid. I've proofread my own LOR from my MS advisor (he was quite dyslexic so I was used to his requests to serve as editor), and I now "ghost write" the LORs for undergrads that work in our lab that my advisor signs. But I haven't heard of someone, esp. an undergrad, writing their own letter outright. I would imagine the similarity in writing styles between that and SOP could be recognized. 

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1) Don't write your own letter. It's a bad practice and people really shouldn't even ask for it.

2) Yes, take her up on the offer. The course is related to your interests and she must think of highly of you if she offered to write you a letter.

Then what do I do? I really have no other options for an LOR - I know he's incredibly busy as he teaches, has a private practice, and does forensic psych work.

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I can't speak for academia, but in industry being asked to write your own LOR is relatively common.  Blindly signing one, OTOH... not so much (ie, never seen it done)

 

Usual reasons I've heard floated for having a person write their own are that 1) it gives the writer a view on how YOU think you did (if only to see what you say) and 2) it frequently brings up things that the writer may have forgotten - you remember your own accomplishments in better detail rather than have them try to (mis)remember events.  The other unstated reason - let's face it, it's easier to edit and perfect something that's already 80% done... :D

 

I'm not sure what I would do if I knew it was going to be blindly signed without being read/edited.  Maybe write what you think should go into it and send it to him saying "Here's my draft of the LOR.  This should give you a starting point; please edit as you see fit"?

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I can't speak for academia, but in industry being asked to write your own LOR is relatively common.  Blindly signing one, OTOH... not so much (ie, never seen it done)

 

Usual reasons I've heard floated for having a person write their own are that 1) it gives the writer a view on how YOU think you did (if only to see what you say) and 2) it frequently brings up things that the writer may have forgotten - you remember your own accomplishments in better detail rather than have them try to (mis)remember events.  The other unstated reason - let's face it, it's easier to edit and perfect something that's already 80% done... :D

 

I'm not sure what I would do if I knew it was going to be blindly signed without being read/edited.  Maybe write what you think should go into it and send it to him saying "Here's my draft of the LOR.  This should give you a starting point; please edit as you see fit"?

That's actually a really great idea. Thanks for the last tip! I think I'll do that - give him a rough draft of something and ask him to work from that. 

 

Thanks!

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I've heard of professors requesting drafts of letters before. Consider it something like giving him your CV or list of accomplishment, or mentioning to him things you would like him to talk about (such as particular research projects or skills that you have, etc), just in letter format. Most professors who do this will read it over and edit it--perhaps, even write their own letter, using yours as a model/reference. I don't know any professor that'd just sign it and send it off, but once you give him the draft, it's out of your hands.

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One prof in my undergrad was the main go-to for academics - that being because my degree is in theater, thus the profs are mostly art/design/etc.. focused - so he got the bulk of reccomendation requests.

 

He asked those he was willing to write a letter for to provide a summar of accomplishments, notable work he would have seen, and goals, etc.. to be worked into his letter. This seems totally reasonable.

 

Having you write it..? Pretty awful.. if you can find someone with a general interest in you for any other reason - go for that one instead. If anything, because it's a letter and that's just a hurdle and NOT a defining part of who you are - heck, he's willing to sign off on whatever you write - have a friend write it for you and then give it to him. That way you'll avoid your distinct "voice" from showing up in your on reccomendation.

 

Also, sometimes they have questions.. and will call. I was in my prof's office once when they called to ask something about me. Awkward to say the least. Luckily for me, I had been honest with my involvement in the project - long story short they called because they questioned if I had actually done what I said I did for a particular show in my portfolio because it was something out of the norm for a student at the undergrad level.

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Then what do I do? I really have no other options for an LOR - I know he's incredibly busy as he teaches, has a private practice, and does forensic psych work.

You find other options. There must be other professors you've taken classes with. Reach out to one of them.

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I believe, in these kinds of ethical dilemmas, even going straight to refuse his supposed-to-be letter can be very unethical. At times, we just have to endure with it - not accept it, but endure it.

 

Before you proceed registering your professor as your recommender, if you decide to, consider this: Some schools somehow know some notorious professors / schools, and will just dismiss any applications coming from that professor or that school right away, unless the application is so shiny with publications, for instance - assuming PhD admissions. I would suggest you find out where his alumni go and decide whether his letter is still trustworthy in the eyes of others or not.

 

 

it's quite surprising how well one's writing style is revealed, and it's not that hard for AdComm to find out when you write your own letters. Definitely go for the second professor though!

 

I couldn't agree more on this. Writing style is so easy to be revealed - it is not surprising that schools may use SOP only for the purpose of knowing your writing, i.e. not caring about what you care, to put it bluntly.

 

If you really have to ask for his LOR, then possibly you may want to draft out in the point form the outline of the letter. There are facts about your works in the class that perhaps both you and your professor know, then write them down. There are comments on comparison between you and the rest of the cohort, for instance, then possibly you can write the skeleton for those sentences and leave a few blanks, and tell him you're unsure of how to evaluate yourself and ask him to do a quick one. Of course, you should be giving him necessary facts to do so, by listing them out. Take it as a brag sheet or *cheat* sheet, which is the widely accepted version of this kind of unethical letter. Then you can try with NothingButTheRain's suggestion.

 

In all cases, I guess the letter would simply turn out to be a standard one, which does not weigh so much, howsoever you write it. So if that's the case, possibly you would rather want to gamble with other letter writers, who offer to write the letters by themselves, unless this professor is some big name in the field. This also means, unless you don't know any other professors to ask for letters, don't take his.

 

Just my 2/100 dollars.

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I've had professors that tell students to write their own letters of rec. They don't blindly sign it; they usually change it at least somewhat. It seems almost expected at my university. Think of how long it would take them to write you a letter from scratch. You are saving them time by giving them a draft.

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Think about a compromise. Write up a draft letter, then visit him during office hours with a copy of the letter. Go over the points that you covered in the letter, and why. You can also express your concern about the voice of the letter being your own. I'm sure he'd be happy to work with you, while being appreciative that you did the bulk of the work of letter writing.

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Don't write your own letters -- it's quite surprising how well one's writing style is revealed, and it's not that hard for AdComm to find out when you write your own letters. Definitely go for the second professor though!

 

This... you'll never fool anyone whose been doing this for years, reading hundreds of applications.  There are things your writers will talk about you had no idea they would. 

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I'm not for the writing of one's own letter and the professor blindly signing it, or even not blindly signing it but just reading it and signing it.  But I can see how a professor would ask a student to write a skeleton of the letter which the professor will later revise according to his/her actual assessment of the student, as well as the professors's writing style clearly dominating over the skeleton.  As a matter of fact, I think I may have one of my students do this next time she asks me for a letter.  (I'm not a university professor, but I teach at community college and often get students ask me for letters for scholarships, jobs, and internships.)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm having a similar issue that I'd like to get some advice on! I did an internship this summer. I asked my supervisor from the internship to write me a rec and she said that she would suggest I draft a letter for her and then she'd adjust it accordingly. For many reasons that have already been stated by you guys, I feel uncomfortable doing this. The only other person I can think of that I might be able to ask for a rec is a professor I had this past spring, but in a different department (I'm anthropology and the professor is history). She was impressed with my writing and encouraged me to apply to their history master's program. However, I haven't spoken to her since the last day of class in May and I don't want to just use her for this and never talk to her again. Also, I think it would look a lot better to have a rec from my internship. What do you guys think? Should I just suck it up and write the rec and or ask the other professor and risk it looking bad that I don't have a rec from my internship?

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