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January 29, 2010


David Michels

As noted above, the topic of application and reference writing has come up before. I do wonder if any of these poor references ever receive direct feedback over the quality of their letters of reference. I expect not, apart from general instructions in communiques such as this. The reason given is usually lack of time to provide any feedback. Remarkably a cornerstone of the educational process is timely and specific feedback. What happens in this context is that instructions are provided, reference letters are requested and written, submitted and perhaps rejected. With no specific feedback as to if/how the letter failed, the process is doomed to repeat. We wouldn't tolerate that in the classroom so why do we permit it at the administrative level? In the end it is the student applicants who lose out.

Dieter J. Pelzer

Dear David,

You can be assured that these "poor" references do indeed receive adequate feedback over the quality of their letters of reference. In the case of academically highly ranked student applications with "poor" reference letters attached, I usually asks the referees to re-confirm their assessment(s) or otherwise to re-write and re-submit the letters of reference. No student applicant has ever lost out simply on an "apparently" poorly written letter of reference. There is always follow up in one shape or another!

My blogs related to this topic are simply intended to raise general awareness on this issue, especially in the context of the recent high-profile Canada Graduate Scholarships such as the Vanier's. In principle, we collectively have to do much better than previously. Business as usual is an expression of the past.


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