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How to write a good reference for someone

(8 Posts)
MrsDesperado Mon 11-Jul-16 09:32:38

I've been asked to write a reference letter for a PhD student. They're very good and I want to make sure I do a good job for them! I've not been asked to write a reference before so I'm struggling somewhat. Can any of you more experienced academics offer me some tips on what/not to include, what I shouldn't say etc? Thank you

Ifnotherethenwhere Mon 11-Jul-16 14:23:57

What are they applying for? Academic post? Postdoc?

FoggyBottom Mon 11-Jul-16 16:36:28

Make sure you frame the reference with respect to the required PhD qualities: originality, knowledge of field & so on. And be aware that we tend to use unconsciously gendered language. We tend (unconsciously) to refer to women as dedicated, diligent etc and men as original bold etc.

Think about your student's capacity for leadership, and how they're demonstrating potential to be a leading scholar.

MrsDesperado Mon 11-Jul-16 16:39:34

They're applying for a post doc

esornep Mon 11-Jul-16 18:21:29

I would have made the same point as FoggyBottom about gendered language.

From sitting on appointments and grant panels, I would comment that letters do vary in style between even neighbouring fields of research. Presumably you have seen a range of letters from your own field, to benchmark what you write?

MrsDesperado Mon 11-Jul-16 23:00:56

Yes I've seen a few, the minority of which were written very well, most seem to be a bit haphazard and not very person-specific.

Very good point about unconscious gender bias

Parietal Tue 12-Jul-16 00:47:23

I still find it v hard to write reference letters - there is no feedback or examples, and there aren't many I've seen either.

So I tend to have paragraphs by skills / qualities the job wants. typically one para on research outputs, emphasising papers & idea. then a para on teaching (if relevant) or supervision of junior researchers (undergrad or MSc students normally). then a para on admin / organising / extra stuff. That normally covers all the qualities that a job description might ask for. Then I finish with a general summary / recommendation etc. Here I will (for good candidates) point out that I'd love to keep this person in my lab if I had funding, but that it will be better for his/her career to move on / learn new skills etc.

MrsDesperado Tue 12-Jul-16 11:45:35

Thats really helpful Parietal, thank you. Looking at the one "good" reference I've seen they have also broken down the paragraphs in a similar way to you, I think I'm going to follow a similar format as it will really help structure it. Thank you - this is exactly the sort of answer I was looking for.

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