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November (4)

New strategy for NFL Pick'em Pool
Friday, November 12, 2010

Mentoring - a technician's perspective
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NFL Pick'em - Week 9 Edition
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The four words a scientist hates to hear:
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
October (4)

In which I am petty and mean-spirited
Friday, October 29, 2010

XKCD is the awesomest.
Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just call me "Damn Good Administrative Assistant"
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
September (5)

Observations from the couch
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Observations from the ER
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oh hell yeah!
Friday, September 17, 2010

A scientific career milepost?
Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I wish I knew before...
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
August (14)

A small victory!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

DGT and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day
Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Everyone should check their renter/owner insurance
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Burglaring update
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Well that fucking sucks.
Friday, August 20, 2010

Early birds
Friday, August 20, 2010

Recommendation letters
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So many meetings
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Another talk?
Monday, August 9, 2010

Mmmm... meme....
Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ah, technology
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Up and running
Thursday, August 5, 2010
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Damn Good Technician

I'm a technician at a big ol' pharmaceutical company. A damn good technician, if I do say so myself.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Can't offer much beyond informing you it CAN be worse; the one time the lab I was in moved it was partially due to the fact said lab had been massively flooded over the holidays (we were going t. . .Read More
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well, I started out strong with 0.... Ravens didn't fly high and mighty. I guess I could go for the fights of the mascots again, since falcons should beat ravens? Anyhow, let's see what the. . .Read More
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Crap. Nobody told me there was a Thursday night game... DGT, your new strategy sounds about as good as mine, which seems to be working... . . .Read More
Nov 12, 2010, 8:34am
Comment by chall in NFL Pick'em - Week 9 Edition

DGT, I second that hope for a better Vikings week... at least they won ;) I guess I should abstain from my "I'll put them in winning the spread every week" but it feels much easier to face I dreame. . .Read More
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Is it just me or is that trophy getting grainier with each week?   Next week there should be a summary of the overall leader board. With only one point keeping me from the top . . .Read More
Nov 09, 2010, 12:44pm
Awesome Stuff
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So I watch Mad Men (like all other white people, apparently), and in this week's episode, Allison chucks some ugly-ass paperweight at Don. Without running through the whole sordid story, this event was precipitated by Allison (rightfully) explaining that she was going to move on to another place of employment, and asking Don for a recommendation letter.

Tell you what, he says (I paraphrase), Why don't you just type something up - whatever you want - and I'll sign it?

Cue the paperweight chucking.

I understood the reaction (minus the sleeping with the boss part of the story). While the boss thinks they're doing you a massive favor by letting you write your own recommendation letter (and obviously cutting their to-do list by one item), what they're really doing is making it clear that they really don't give a shit about you and your next job. They can come up with very little that is personal or meaningful to say, and would prefer to say nothing at all.

This is how I've always felt when asked to write my own recommendation letters. I think it's a bullshit practice in science (and probably everywhere else it happens too). Especially in science, it is part of the job of the boss to help their trainees move on to the next stages in their careers. A critical part of that process is the recommendation, and by deferring that responsibility to the trainee themselves, the boss is not only indicating their gross indifference to the future of their trainees' career beyond what that trainee is doing in the lab right now, but also their unwillingness to say anything substantive about the person who has put in years working for them.

Moreover, it puts the trainee in a very weird position - how positive of a letter do I write? How will my PI react if I say I'm one of the top 10% of grad students they've ever had? Will they even read the fucking thing before they sign it? It does nothing but reward those people arrogant enough to write ridiculously positive things about themselves that are totally out of touch with reality ("best postdoc in the history of the institute", "accomplished more work than the rest of my lab put together", "fights the forces of darkness with one hand behind her back", etc).

It's a dick move on the part of a boss, a shirking of their boss-ly responsibilities, and it is my sincerest wish that the practice stop.

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Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I had a professor do that to me in graduate school when I was applying for a training grant. It really pissed me off so I sent him a list of all the cool things I did in his lab. I think maybe he was pissed that I didn't join his lab and that was his way of slacking on the effort. I still got the training grant though, so he must have said nice things :)

Genomic Repairman
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I've seen my own LOR's where folks will just cut copy paste shit from my CV exactly worded and phrased into the letter. I hate the PI saying the trainee is in the top 10% of trainees. We have seen multiple of these letters for trainees from labs where it is statistically impossible that all you motherfuckers are in the top 10%.

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Totally with you on this one.

I remember a long comment thread on this topic (at Isis’ place?) not too long ago. A young woman had asked her lab supervisor for a LOR, and he told her to write it herself. What I found surprising was not that she was in this situation, but that a number of profs piped up to tell her: don’t sweat it, this happens all the time; I had to write my own letters; profs are really busy – basically, they made a whole bunch of excuses for the guy. It was really disappointing because some of these people had blogs that I used to follow and dispensed advice that, once upon a time, I took seriously.

It makes me wonder if it’s possible to “make it” in academia and still keep your head on straight….

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I had this happen to me. It was for a letter from someone that was not my PI that I needed for a training grant application. I wrote the letter (which I thought was awesome) but before I gave it back for submission I ran it by my PI. Apparently, I was only "lukewarm" about me! I got some help making it sound better. I was sort of pissed that I had to do it, but I feel like I learned a lot about writing letters.
S. Pelech - Kinexus

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I am one of those bosses that occasionally ask my employees and trainees to provide me with their own letters of recommendation to support their applications for awards or jobs. I don't do it, because I am too busy, nor because I have no interest in their future careers. If that were the case, I would not provide a recommendation letter at all. I request such a draft letter, because it often provides a useful self-assessment by the person for their own benefit, so they can appreciate the amount of time that it takes to produce a good letter, and to improve the prospects of including points that I might have over looked that could benefit the individual. I use this as a starting point to prepare a much expanded letter, which also includes the kind of embellishments as appropriate that a modest employee or trainee might feel uncomfortable including. Usually, recommendation letters are confidential and not provided to the employee or trainee

Damn Good Technician
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Yeah, I'm just not buying it. I can see asking your recommendee for their CV, to ensure you cover the salient points, or perhaps a description of the position they're applying for, to make sure you can adequately match their letter to their prospective position. But writing the whole letter themselves? I fail to see how that is valuable for the trainee - if it were me, I'd assume that my boss doesn't really understand what I've contributed to the lab, and probably needs someone to remind them what my name is again.

What do you need a draft of a LoR for, anyway? "I enthusiastically recommend X for position X. They have trained in my lab for x years, working on project X, where they published X. They would be an excellent candidate for this position because X. Please contact me if I can be of more support. Sincerely, Dr X."

Hope - I'm also surprised that I haven't been told why this is no big deal. I just don't see how it's appropriate for me to recommend myself - if I've applied for the job, I've submitted a cover letter that does just that. Why should I put words in my boss's mouth? What value does an LoR have, if the person signing it doesn't write it?

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@S. Pelech -presumably, tailoring your CV and writing your cover letter ALSO provides opportunity for useful self-assessment. Further, if you actually *are* modest, and not just what-passes-for-modest in academia (i.e. 80% conceited instead of 99%), this process itself is painfully awkward, let alone writing the LOR. I *DO* agree about having some exposure to how the letters are written. In fact, although confidential, in many cases the recommender WILL share all or part of the letter with the student once it is written. The reccomender can also ask a particularly great applicant if their LOR can be shared with trainees to give them an idea of how they are written.
Also, if the people that work for you really have not appreciation of how long it takes to write a good letter, maybe you are not training them properly in the first place.

I think the *most* appicants should be expected to provide is their CV, cover letter, and maybe a bulleted list or literally highlighting items in the CV/cover letter the recommender might want to take into account. Otherwise, part or all of the "tone" of the letter can still come across as identical to the applicants. It's not like people don't have distinctive writing styles, even in something as structured as a LOR. While IF the person who ends up READING the LOR thinks it's an acceptable practice, 'getting caught' might not hurt the applicants chances, I think an obviously sincere and genuine letter from the actual recommender is far more likely to help.
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