Friday, May 8, 2015
Give women an even chance
An important part of the mentoring role of academic advisors is writing letters of recommendation for worthy students who are applying for research grants, fellowships, and entrance to elite programs. Such letters often have more impact than grades or test scores at the graduate level, where factors such as initiative, hard work, creativity, independence, problem-solving ability, and teamwork are prized skills. Well-crafted, honest letters help in determining whether a candidate is a good fit. For that reason, I was surprised recently when asked to review 60 proposals from graduate students for small research grants. More than 10% of the applicants had a least one supporting letter containing inappropriate material for the decision at hand. All of the students so affected, unfortunately, were women, and those writing the problematic letters were nearly equally men and women. By describing how these instances appear from the standpoint of a selection committee member, my hope is that the professionalism in recommendation letters will improve.