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I receive requests for recommendation many times, but I have received one from a student belonging at a previous affiliation of mine, asking for a favourable letter in view of their achievements.

I am aware of the fact that if I comment on the performance of the student, it could be used against me, since it is good practice to "erase" all the material, marks, personal information of the students and staff relationship at a previous job. So I am hesitant to go in that direction. On the other hand, I could comment only very generally on the skills of the student, which could backfire their application to a new job

Differently from this question I am not looking for a recommendation, but giving one...

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When you change job, you don’t erase your memory (well, not in all jobs), nor do you all your responsibilities related to this previous job vanish. It is true that leaving a position creates certain obligations in the data you can retain, and how you can use non-publicly available information pertaining to your older institution. However, in the particular case of a reference letter, I don't think it should cause trouble. Moreover, reference letters are confidential.

Actually, I'd go further than saying it should not be a problem. In fact, I think if you can honestly write him a good recommendation letter, it is part of your responsibility to do it. This responsibility is not to your former institution, but to the student and the academic system as a whole.

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    If you are an academic, your responsibility and commitments to your former students and advisees does not end if you change jobs. The same also holds true in reverse. – aeismail Oct 29 '12 at 11:52
  • of course. But I can comment on "this person is a good team-worker; has social skills; is motivated. Access to his/her academic profile is barred to me, though" – ElCid Oct 29 '12 at 12:23
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    The student's grades are visible from their transcript. A reference letter that just echoes the transcript is not very helpful. A student's potential_for_future may be what reference letters can discuss that is less clear from grades. – paul garrett Oct 29 '12 at 12:33
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    To be more direct: A reference letter that just echoes the transcript is worse than useless. – JeffE Oct 29 '12 at 17:30
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You may want to ask the student to send you any material that you need for writing your reference, for example grade sheets and a CV. Bringing in your personal experiences with the student in addition shouldn't be a problem at all. After writing the reference letter, you should erase all confidential material that the student sent you... :)

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    This is generally how I've seen it done. You can ask the student for backup information so there's accuracy in what you write. Personally, I've given basic information to everyone who has written a recommendation for me over the years, even those closest to me. Just to make everyone's life easier. Also, @silvado, it is within the right of the writer to keep any information (confidential or otherwise) unless the student explicitly asks you to delete it. Now, it's probably the right/nice thing to do but I'm just pointing out that it's not legally binding. :) – Rob Oct 29 '12 at 16:25
  • I've previously been asked to write my own recommendation letter, with the professor merely signing it... – gerrit Oct 29 '12 at 17:22
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    @gerrit: See the discussion under this question. Many people (including me) consider ghost-writing your own recommendation letters to be grossly unethical. – JeffE Oct 29 '12 at 17:35
  • Well, he did edit it a bit, but indeed I thought it odd and it happened to me only once. Interesting Q., thanks for the link. – gerrit Oct 29 '12 at 17:40

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