11

I am currently on the job market. One of the positions uses the online application system where I am able to open the letters of recommendation and read them. I found out that there are "errors" in my advisor's letter.

  • First, she put the name of University A in the letter that goes out to University B.

  • Second, she wrote that I have successfully defended this month when her letter was dated June, which I worry is going to give the search committees the impression that I defended my dissertation in June when in fact I had defended in May.

I conveyed this to her; she offered to fix the name of the university. But what if the same error is repeated in her second letter, or worse, she adds more errors in her second letter?

So my questions are:

  • Will these errors raise any red flags in the eyes of the search committees?

  • Will these errors give me enough reason to not to use my advisor's letter?

I am contemplating not to list my advisor as one of my references. I have read the responses to a question similar to mine in this forum, so I understand that I am taking a risk and I will have to explain it if I choose not to list my advisor as one of my references.

  • My university sent a confirmation of my PhD with the year off by 10 years... (this was 15 years after the defense). It was a genuine mistake, they sent back the right data with some nice comments about that excellent graduate of them :) I would not worry too much about small errors which can be rectified. – WoJ Oct 3 '15 at 12:21
17

If I were your advisor, I would fix these typos before sending out any more letters (i.e., to other schools). If there is an online system where I can instantly and unobtrusively replace a letter with a fresh copy, then I would do it. Otherwise I would let it go.

These are not serious enough for you to worry about. The impression that this will make on the reader is that your advisor is a human being, perhaps a human being who is rather busy. Ideally your advisor will be someone whose reputation is known to the readers, so cannot be spoiled by a few careless typos.

One of the positions uses the online application system where I am able to open the letters of recommendation and read them.

This concerns me...but you didn't ask about it.

Added: I missed at first this part of your question:

[W]ill these errors give me enough reason to not to use my advisor's letter? I am contemplating not to list my advisor as one of my references, and I have read the responses to a question similar to mine in this forum, so I understand I am taking a risk and I will have to explain it if I choose not to list my advisor as one of my references.

Heck no. Not getting a letter from your advisor upon graduation is a very bad idea in almost all cases.

  • Thank you, Pete. It's good to know that this is not something serious enough to raise any red flags. :) – Christine Meng Jul 2 '15 at 4:28
16

The wrong university might result in someone in the hiring committee smiling for a second. It is a copy and paste error, which would only become a problem if applying to University A would be an error in itself, e.g. if A is the school of astrology in Hoople, Southern North Dakota, and B is MIT.

The wrong date will not be noticed by anybody. If you have to look at 60 applications, you do not read every letter line by line, but just skim over it to see whether it contains some real information, like "was very engaged in teaching/student union/environmental issues/...".

A large part of the meaning of a letter of reference is independent of the content of the letter. If I believe that X is good and honest, and X writes a letter for Y, then I guess that Y cannot be too bad.

  • 1
    Thank you, Jan-Christoph. I will use my energy on something more productive. – Christine Meng Jul 2 '15 at 4:30
  • How should the advisor know (mine didn't) that I am engaged in some environmental NGO activities? – Vladimir F Jul 2 '15 at 8:21
  • @Vladimir: Well, he might know, and he might say so in the letter. And if I look at a letter I am looking for information which is not obvious from your CV or your grades. Everything else is just "Oh, got a letter by X". – Jan-Christoph Schlage-Puchta Jul 2 '15 at 12:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.