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.