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I am in a unique situation. My supervisor and two other professors I approached for recommendation letter have asked me to write the my own recommendation letter and they will sign it.
Is it ethical and common practice?
How can I handle this situation? I already requested three of them multiple times, but always received same response that they are busy and will sign the letter which I sent them.

marked as duplicate by Pete L. Clark, scaaahu, Massimo Ortolano, gman, Ébe Isaac May 15 '17 at 14:46

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  • Did you ever mention to them, that everyone else also asked you to write the letter yourselves and that you would prefer not to hand in three letters by the same person? Maybe they are all choosing the "easy way out", but this can really go bad for you. One self-written letter might be okay (though not optimal), but all of them? – skymningen May 15 '17 at 12:28
  • I believe that the professor does it as a gift to you, a complement about the esteem in which you are held -- she or he allows you to focus on specific aspects of your character, skills, or expertise ... since two professors give you this opportunity you should exploit it to produce complementary letters for the committee. – Teusz May 15 '17 at 12:31
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    I see no ethical conflicts, this is not uncommon practice in my experience. – Teusz May 15 '17 at 12:32
  • This practice will vary widely by field. Perhaps you could state a broad field in your question. For instance, I have been told that in the medical fields, applicants are almost always asked to draft their letters. In my social sciences field, I was only asked to provide bullet points on several topics by my committee. – Dawn May 15 '17 at 13:05
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    I have had a referee ask me to provide a list of accomplishments, qualities and skills that I would like them to mention. (Note: I'm an engineering researcher). It can be a real help to the referee because even though they know you personally they aren't necessarily able to name a bunch of your accomplishments off the top of their head. Maybe you could provide your referees with such a summary instead of a completely written letter and ask them to write about your accomplishments, etc. in their own words. – CuriousFindings May 15 '17 at 14:02
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It's not common (in my experience). I have requested letters of recommendation from professors in a couple of different fields, and was never asked to write my own. Nor have I heard of anyone who was asked to. That said, it might be something that varies by field, institution, culture, etc. I wouldn't rule out it being common in some contexts--I just don't know of any.

It's not unethical. There is not an ethical requirement that a letter from a person was actually written by that person. Even though I've never heard of a student being asked to write their own letter, it is well known that, often, professors don't actually write the letters themselves. Secretarial staff often do much of the actual writing (hopefully with the professor giving input about the student's strong points, things to emphasize, etc). In a broader professional context, it's quite common for people to sign the name at the bottom of letters that were not written by them, for a variety of purposes.

Who wrote the letter, ultimately, doesn't matter. What does matter is that the person signing their name at the bottom agrees with all the content and is willing to stand behind it. As long as your adviser is happy to agree with what you said, there is no ethical problem here.

That said, it's not ideal, either. I would argue that a professor who asks you to write your own letter is not doing a great job discharging their academic responsibilities. Really the content of the letter ought to come from them, even if someone else is writing it up. This is an opportunity for them to assist you in your career, and they aren't really taking that opportunity seriously. In addition, it puts you in a rather awkward situation--many people would not be comfortable putting complimentary words about themselves in someone else's mouth.

So, I sympathize with your situation, it's not great. But you probably don't have a good alternative other than writing the letter as requested, at least from your supervisor. You want a recommendation from your supervisor, and substituting someone else wouldn't be equivalent. At least you get to make sure it says what you want! Just make sure you get someone (who is actually interested in helping you) to review it, both for content and to catch any errors.

  • I can write a letter of recommendation for someone else but writing my own is really tough especially three different letters about me by myself. moreover I am not experience to know what is the best way to write a recommendation letter. – MBK May 15 '17 at 8:45
  • @MBK, yes, I agree that you are being put in a difficult situation here. I think the first step would be looking for example letters. Also if there is anyone who has some experience who is willing to help you, that would be a good thing. – user24098 May 15 '17 at 8:49
  • I have been told this practice varies widely by field. You might specify your broad field in your answer. – Dawn May 15 '17 at 12:43
  • Oh, I now see that you have made a reference to this variation. – Dawn May 15 '17 at 13:07
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    @dan1111 I have to respectfully disagree. I'm not sure it IS ethical, and in my experience, it is fairly common, moreso for undergraduates. Ethically speaking, writing your own rec letter weakens its credibility in a way that helps no parties. The student is not critiqued properly, the recommender hasn't fulfilled his or her duty, and the receiving party receives a questionable review, not to mention the fact it can't be confidential. I'd say it is ethically questionable. – HEITZ May 16 '17 at 21:58
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When I asked an old professor for a letter of recommendation for grad school, she had me write the letter and send it to her to use. I don't know how much she changed, if any.

The reason given was that she wanted to know what I wanted her to write about me and what to focus on. I had a reasonably close relationship with her as I was a TA for her for a semester.

It can be difficult to write the letter about yourself, but as long as you're honest, talk yourself up! Take this as an opportunity to highlight what you do want this letter to highlight about you.

@Dawn mentioned in a comment that this may be field specific, this experience was for an MBA program.

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