A good academic job normally needs excellent recommendation. Due to the rapid growth of higher education, there are too many vacancies (in new or expanding universities) and too many applicants (growing number of graduates). As a result, each vacancy receives many applications, and each applicant need to apply for many positions.

This is how the matchmaking system works: keeps submitting applications.

Although, online systems are replacing hardcopy applications, still many universities prefer application by mail, and more often, they ask for recommendation letters to be submitted by mail. I have seen this very common in Europe.

Thus, each job-seeking scholar must ask his/her colleagues, professors, etc to submit tens of recommendation letters by mail. Owing to the fact that every famous scholar has/had many students/colleagues. Therefore, a part of this schedule must be devoted to writing recommendation letters for others.

Considering that people need recommendation for other purposes such as grant proposal, admission application, fellowship, etc; this matter must be more serious.

Even in online systems, a busy scholar may receive emails for completing recommendations on a regular basis.

My questions are:

  1. From the applicant part: isn't it bad/rude/harsh to ask a colleague/professor to write tens of recommendations for you to find an academic position. And keep asking for recommendations for prospective proposals?

  2. From the reference part: isn't it annoying to deal with repeatedly recommendation requests? Ignoring a recommendation request may have bad consequences for the applicant, but it is not easy to see recommendation request every day checking the emails, as an old student/colleague is strongly seeking a new position.

1 Answer 1

  1. No it is not rude but there is a matter of fatigue in the end. the professor might just say "enough" at some point. Usually the letters will also be fairly similar so that each is largely composed of the same text but with smaller alterations tailored to the specific job application. Another trick is to ask the applicant to write a basic text covering what the applicant wishes the letter to cover. It is then easier to use that text and make modifications as one pleases.

  2. Hopefully the applicant has more than one person to ask for references. Writing such letters is, at least in my sphere, something you are supposed to do, unless it inflicts severe effects on other activities. Yes, it is annoying at times,particularly if the request is such that one needs to complete the letter "yesterday". Hence providing some time will alleviate the discomfort.

  • if the request is such that one needs to complete the letter "yesterday" — What's so annoying about just saying no?
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 13:50

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