LETTERS OF REFERENCE: Retired from letter writing in 2016

When I started as a new junior faculty at MSU in 1996 I wrote many letters for my students. It took a great amount of time but I was happy to do so. After a few years, a mentor in the Department of Physiology, Dr. Thomas Adams, took me aside and explained that I had to write letters of reference for each and every student in a very similar standardized manner. During his many years he had learned this was essential for efficiency and for fairness. In fact, on several occasions, Dr. Adams explained he had actually been sued by former students who had not gained admission to medical school and blamed his letter for the result. Dr. Adams worked with MSU attorneys to eventually develop a very simple 1-page form that at the top had a grid designed for checks to indicate level of accomplishment in each category and at the bottom an empty box for personal comments (followed by signature). He gave me a copy of this form to help me avoid troubles going forward.

While I never could bring myself to use his very simple form, following Adam's advice and that of faculty colleagues on how they wrote letters, as a compromise, I did develop a standardized way I authored each. The first paragraph indicated how I knew the person, the second contained information about how they had done as a student in my course(s), the third paragraph was inserted if relevant and contained addition information if they had taken on extra challenging options (like the verbal final exam, or honors option etc). A fourth paragraph focused on research they had done with me inside the classroom or in my own research laboratory. I also developed a paragraph that explained: What was Lyman Briggs College? I attempted to explain LBC and how they voluntarily selected a more challenging path that included a serious interest in both STEM and the humanties. This systematic approach to authoring letters resulted in a standardized writing strategy that I thought was a good compromise between the 1-page form from a wise senior colleague and my own desire to personalize and truly author a letter for each individual.

Over the last five years I have learned from the Dean Elizabeth Simmons, the faculty on the LBC Awards Committee and even through workshops provided to all faculty by professional advisors at Lyman Briggs College, how unique and complete each letter of reference must now be for each and every student. This is similar to those letters in previous years that were prepared for students applying for national awards like the Rhodes Scholarship. Now all letters must be of that same caliber. Quickly prepared, generic, more standardized letters are ineffective for today's students and even if they indicate they do not mind, they must be protected from those since it does harm. It now takes me about 5 hours to complete several drafts and author a single well-written formal novel letter of reference for a student. I receive a *new* request each week thus generally, if I spread it out evenly, I would spent one hour every day of the week writing *new* letters all year long (this of course does not include letters for faculty colleagues, graduate students and postdocs as well as all the repeat letters I must create when anyone needs a letter updated and sent elsewhere). On average I have written 50 new letters each year during my two decades in this position. In fact, recently, I noticed I had completed my 1000th letter. This means I have hundreds of former students who depend on me to update old letters and resubmit them when needed, as well as new students that request letters each week.

Now that it is August of 2016, after writing letters of reference for students for a full 20 years non-stop, even during two sabbaticals when I attempted to pause (but failed), my responsibilities to my existing clientele (former students), plus the changing requirements that each letter must have deep unique quality and many hours of authoring, has greatly limited what is possible (my bosses, understandably, beyond requiring deeply personal letters be written for students, also even more greatly value when I spend time writing research grants, talks, books, software code, and papers etc). Hence, I have decided that now I can only author new letters for students who have closely (in the same room) worked with me in research or closely worked alongside me as teaching assistant, for greater than one year. Thus for those who do not fit this association, I must officially retire from offering this particular favor (e.g. for students who did well in my courses). Of course, I will complete those letters I have already committed to write, and support my responsibilities to my existing clientele, but I am taking on no more new requests from those who I haven't had a longterm close association. My apologies.



ALERT: Luckie no longer authors letters of recommendation


KEY POINTS: Letters of recommendation are written only during the months of December, May, and August.

-Information from you to me should be provided at least 2 weeks prior to any deadline.
-Only confidential letters will be written and I need two weeks to work on them.
-(Recommended) Use an online service like Interfolio.com or an equivalent.
-You should have received a strong grade in one of my courses (3.5 or higher).
-I only write letters for students who passed the Verbal Final if you took LB145 with me.

The information requested below is basic materials required before a letter of recommendation will be written (all as hard copies except oversized items or movies/music etc evidence of achievement):

    1.  MCAT/GRE scores (if available) or SAT/ACT scores
    2.  Current (unofficial is fine, like from STU INFO) copy of your transcript
    3.  Personal statement (essay on applications)
    4.  Resume and any other information you consider pertinent to a letter of recommendation.
    5.  If you choose to NOT use Interfolio (or some other equivalent service), you must provide stamped, addressed envelopes with all the other forms.
    6.  List of other people recommending you.
    7.  List of schools to which you will be applying.
    8.  Deadline by which the letter must be mailed.
    9.  Evidence of achievement This can be just one thing, not a multiple-choice exam, but a scholarly "work" (paper, song, art, film, essay, website, software, opera etc) that you have done as a student here at MSU (in someone else's class, not mine) which demonstrates the caliber of work you can do. It should be something you are proud of and provides evidence of the skills and knowledge you have mastered.
Mailing address (for sending* all hard copies):
      Douglas Luckie
      Department of Physiology
      Michigan State University
      Biomedical Physical Sciences
      567 Wilson Road, Room 2100
      East Lansing Michigan 48824

*If you drop off hard copies by hand, place them in my mailbox in the Department of Physiology mailroom in room 2099 BPS (you may need to enter the PSL main office, 2201 BPS, to ask for access to the PSL mailroom).


Contact me at: Doug Picture luckie@msu.edu