While I never could bring myself to use his very simple form, following Dr. 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 recent years I learned from former Dean Elizabeth Simmons, the faculty and staff 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 or international 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 a student indicates that they do not mind, they must be protected from those since it does harm. It now takes me about 5 hours (over several days) to complete several drafts and author a single well-written formal novel letter of reference for a student. I receive a *new* request from a student for a letter 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 first two decades in this position. In fact, in 2016, 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.
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 in LBC and PSL, understandably, beyond expecting me to write letters for students, 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 those 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 students who do not fit this association, I must officially retire from offering superficial letters (e.g. for students who got a good grade in a course). 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.
KEY POINTS: Letters of recommendation are written only during the months of December, May, and August.
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):
*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: firstname.lastname@example.org