Recommendation Letters Across the Atlantic

I’m back, after a visit to the U.S. (no, it wasn’t smallpox, that was Ed’s little joke. Thanks to the one (1) person who wrote me inquiring about my health!). I will be back with more posts in the coming days.

Many thanks to Ed Philp for the interesting posts while I was gone. We are all waiting for his new post on Zeugnissprache with bated breath. In the meantime, here’s a classic glossary of American letters of recommendation, courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

WHAT LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION SAY …
… AND WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN
Hard-working, workmanlike, industrious, diligent, persistent. This person is not very original, but he sure tries hard.
Shy, low-key, keeps his own counsel. This person is socially dysfunctional.
I recommend this person … without reservation, with enthusiasm, with my highest endorsement. Hire this person.
I recommend this person … warmly, strongly, to any department with a job in her area. Do not hire this person.
Well-grounded. This scholar is hopelessly mired in bourgeois notions of proof.
This student is always willing to engage in vigorous debate. This student is really obnoxious.
Solid, competent, scoured the archives, good study habits. This student is a plodding dullard who will never produce anything of interest.
This person is an outstanding scholar (without any mention of teaching). This person is lousy in the classroom.
This person is an outstanding teacher (without any mention of research). This person is a lousy scholar.
Path-breaking, brilliant, first-rate, making fundamental contributions to the field. This scholar is at the top of her discipline.
This is a person of great promise, who is working on important issues. As a scholar, this person has not yet arrived.
Eclectic or synthetic scholarship. This academic is a flake.
At first, this student wasn’t sure she wanted to be an English major, but in the last couple of months, her work has really flowered. This student has a lot of bad grades.
Independent thinker. This student is arrogant and wouldn’t follow his adviser’s recommendations. (Depending on the context, however, it can also mean imaginative.)
The acorn hasn’t fallen far from the tree. This student’s work is dreadfully derivative and adds nothing to what her dissertation adviser has already written.
Articulate. This person is a safe minority scholar who will not give you any trouble.
He will blossom with further mentoring. I have serious doubts that I will ever see this person publish an article, much less a book.
Smart. This person is clever but superficial. (Although, if said about someone in the humanities, it might mean that the person is well-dressed.)
When this student walks into class, the room lights up. We had long discussions after class. I am hopelessly in love with this student.

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