Saturday, December 20, 2003

References by request 

Henry Farrell wonders whether it is acceptable for a student to write a letter of reference for a professor to sign. He says "a surprising number of people ... believe that this is acceptable practice." I recall once consulting at a central bank in a developing country for about five weeks, and a researcher there asked if I could write him a letter of recommendation to a U.S. school. "I'd have to tell them you've only worked with me for five weeks, you realize? I don't know that it would have much weight," I answered. "Still, it would mean more than most letters I could get from here," he replied. Since it was someone I had worked closely with in that brief period, I agreed. Two days later, two other researchers came over to request similar letters (I did not know either nearly as well) -- and they had a copy of the letter I wrote for the first fellow! I threw them out on their ears (where does this term come from? I've never actually thrown someone out of my office, and if I did there's little chance of them landing on that particular body part.) Wish I could have that one back.

Be sure to scroll through the comments at Crooked Timber. Now I have to go read applications for positions in our department.