LoR Question

Hey all,
The AmcAS application for 2007 became available May 2 so I have begun the task of filling it out and trying to get things gathered together. One question comes to mind. . .
When medical schools ask for LoRs in the Secondary Application, what do these consist of? Is it a form with a bunch of questions for the recommender to answer or do they just ask for a generic letter? I want to solicit writers for my letters now so that they will be ready by July/August but want to make sure I don’t make my writers do too much work. What are the requirements of the LoRs and any detail on these is appreciated.
Thanks,
Kermit

Kermit -
I had one school send me a question/answer form for a recommender that was very basic. All the rest want letters of recommendation. I don’t know if I would say “generic”. Obviously, if possible, your LOR writers should be someone who knows you on a personal level beyond class. Professors should be familiar with writing LOR’s and know how to craft one geared toward medical school. Provide your writers with all the info they could possible want . . . a copy of your resume or CV and a copy of your personal statement are always a good start.
IMO, and hopefully Judy will elaborate or clarify, the letter should give some sense of how the writer feels about your academic capabilities (can you handle med school), your personality (i.e. - you might be a great student, but have the personality of a rock), your dedication and etc.

I remember in some situations in the past, I’ve had supervisors say that I could write a letter and that they would sign it. I generally avoided that; something about it made me feel uncomfortable. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable tooting my own horn; really, it’s probably a great opportunity to present myself.
If that comes up re: med school LoRs, how is that generally considered?

LoR’s for medical school are supposed to be confidential, at least for any that I have ever applied to. You can not even see them, read them. Most schools will request that the letter writer send them directly to the school (or if you have a letter bank, this is ok too) but the point is you should not know what they say about you, it is a test of sorts that you are a good enough judge of the people that you ask, and that you trust them to write good things about you.
I would suggest that if anything comes up and you knew anything about the content of the letter, don’t admit it.
When a former professor wrote a letter for me, he emailed a copy of it to me! I was so scared and did not read it, because I am a horrible liar and figured if it ever came up I would not be able to convince them that I had not read it!

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it is a test of sorts that you are a good enough judge of the people that you ask


I can see it as something like that, or about having an unbiased report. Knowing that you will never read the letter presumably allows the writer to be more honest, without any fear of you or I taking things personally, complaining, seeking reprisal, or whatever.
I felt the same way as you about my letters. A very supportive prof had given me a sealed copy of a letter she offered to write, and I kept it sealed for months. At one point I bumped into her, and she suggested I read it. shrug

The thing about these letters is that you WAIVE the right to see it. The letter writer does not have to show you a copy, and many, or most, don’t. On the other hand, the library school prof who wrote one of mine actuall asked my advice on editing it so med school faculty would understand it. I did have him take out a lot of detail on a project I worked on, a lot of bibliographic details that I think would have bored adcoms blind.
And a good supporter from here (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) sent me a copy of my letter after he sent it in. And it’s a good thing, because he wrote that I was involved in OPM one year longer than I was and held a third office, VP, in the imaginary year between the year I was secretary and the year I was president! I wasn’t asked about it all in the interview, but I was glad to be prepared just in case. And let that be a lesson to you all about asking residents to write your letter! Sleep deprivation makes them hallucinate!
The point is that if the letter writers, unsolicited, CHOOSE to send you a copy of the letter, you aren’t doing anything wrong by reading it. If you ASK them to give you a copy to edit or approve before it goes in, well, yeah, that’s very wrong.
Hmmm…I sound like Louisiana’s Edwin Edwards, though, don’t I? “It was not illegal for me to accept that bribe. It was illegal for him to offer it to me.”

haha, nah, samenewme. That makes perfect sense: while I undrestand that I give up my right to see the LoR, if the writer gives me that privilege, that’s his/her perogative. All I’m saying is that I understand I can’t expect to see it.
What are your thoughts on essentially writing one’s own LoR - if prompted by the recommending party?

I’d feel personally squicky about it. I’d suggest compromising by sending them your personal statement and a resume in electronic form, maybe an outline of your experience working with them, so they can cut and paste and not have to work too hard. A resume and personal statement are a nice thing to send to your letter writers anyway.

I’d also worry about being asked to write the LOR for myself because, frankly, that says to me that the referee doesn’t feel like spending much time working on it. If they like you enough and think highly enough of you, they should be willing to put a little time into the letter.
Mary

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Kermit -
…IMO, and hopefully Judy will elaborate or clarify, the letter should give some sense of how the writer feels about your academic capabilities (can you handle med school), your personality (i.e. - you might be a great student, but have the personality of a rock), your dedication and etc.


This is what is given to students (to give to their recommenders) by the pre-med advisors at Stanford.


A good letter of recommendation will discuss:
How long and in what capacity you (the recommender) have known the applicant.
His/her strengths and weaknesses.
Any unusual aspects of the applicant's background that might contribute to, or hinder, academic work.
Knowledge of any extracurricular activities the applicant has pursued (during college/after college).
Discuss the applicant's academic background in greater detail than just "the numbers." If you know that the applicant has taken the most rigorous academic series, or chosen to complete a very demanding individual project, or has "padded" his/her course schedule with buffer courses, related these matters to an admissions committee.
Compare the applicant to others you know.
Medical schools are particularly interested in the applicant's intellectual abilities, motivations for medicine, stamina, dedication, dependability, and ability to relate well and communicate with people of all backgrounds.


Cheers,
Judy

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I’d also worry about being asked to write the LOR for myself because, frankly, that says to me that the referee doesn’t feel like spending much time working on it. If they like you enough and think highly enough of you, they should be willing to put a little time into the letter.
Mary


With all due respect, I don’t agree with this. It’s an issue of supply and demand, and the commodity in short supply is the writer’s time. Your time as a LOR requester is not as “valuable” as the writer’s is; they are doing YOU the favor, not the other way around. I’ve written drafts of some of my own LORs, and I’ve also required every student who asked ME for a LOR to write me a draft. The way I see it is that the LOR means a heck of a lot more to the requester than it does to the writer, so it’s not unreasonable to expect the requester to do the bulk of the work to write it. (If you’re ever in a position where you have to write several of them at a time, you’ll definitely appreciate how nice it is to have people give you rough drafts!) Also, I always give students a copy of the final draft that I send, and I don’t see any problem with that either; it’s ultimately my letter, and I can certainly choose to show it to the student if I want.

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I’d also worry about being asked to write the LOR for myself because, frankly, that says to me that the referee doesn’t feel like spending much time working on it. If they like you enough and think highly enough of you, they should be willing to put a little time into the letter.





Mary




With all due respect, I don’t agree with this. It’s an issue of supply and demand, and the commodity in short supply is the writer’s time. Your time as a LOR requester is not as “valuable” as the writer’s is; they are doing YOU the favor, not the other way around. I’ve written drafts of some of my own LORs, and I’ve also required every student who asked ME for a LOR to write me a draft. The way I see it is that the LOR means a heck of a lot more to the requester than it does to the writer, so it’s not unreasonable to expect the requester to do the bulk of the work to write it. (If you’re ever in a position where you have to write several of them at a time, you’ll definitely appreciate how nice it is to have people give you rough drafts!) Also, I always give students a copy of the final draft that I send, and I don’t see any problem with that either; it’s ultimately my letter, and I can certainly choose to show it to the student if I want.







I agree with you here Q. Not only that, but what’s wrong with being asked to sell yourself? If you can’t sell yourself to a mentor/advisor who writes a LOR, then how effeciently can you do that with anyone else? I also think writing these “drafts” teaches you to communicate your strengths without sounding too overconfident and cocky.





As for seeing the letters that are written for you, I personally don’t see anything wrong with that either.

I had the problem of needing a ‘clinical letter’ but not having all that many options. I had volunteered in an ER for a number of months, and decided to ask one of the nurses, who had known me better than most, to write one. He said he would be happy to sign it.
I felt a bit slimy just having him sign a letter I wrote, so I did the following:
1. I wrote a good ‘rough draft’ (i.e. if it had to be sent in as is, with no editing, it would pass the grammar test)
2. I gave the rough draft to the volunteer coordinator. I told her I needed her to look it over, add/delete anything she thought appropriate, then she would send it to the nurse.
3. After he had ‘edited’ it and signed it, she sent it out.
Now, I would not be surprised if the letter that went out was pretty much exactly what I wrote. But I don’t know that, and didn’t ask. One way of handling it . . . .

Somewhere in the archives there is a posting (more of a soap box rant) from me about why it can be a really bad idea to write your own LOR. Although it doesn’t happen often, the consequences can be disastrous. AMCAS could begin an investigation. If that happens, all schools to which you apply are notified. And if a school accepts you anyway, schools are again notified (that there was an AMCAS investigation, and the details about it) when you apply for residency. The problem just doesn’t go away. Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would take that chance. It could be career ending.
Cheers,
Judy

Thanks for the heads up, Judy. That sounds pretty serious and certainly worth reflecting on. To be honest, I’m kind of surprised at the vehemence with which they seem to pursue this; it seems more in line with fraudulent LoR-writing (ie making stuff up and forging a signature) than something suggested by a supervisor. Scary stuff.

If this is true, it’s really going to put people in between a rock and a hard place, and it’s an absolutely ridiculous policy. If the only other option is to not get a LOR from that person at all, then what is the student supposed to do if they NEED a LOR from the person? I mean, it’s one thing if, say, the recommender is one of several science profs and the student can just go ask someone else, but what do you do if you absolutely HAVE to get a LOR from that particular person? For example, it would be a huge red flag for someone like me to not get a LOR from my PhD mentor. People in academia would definitely notice if a graduate student tried to apply for ANY academic position of any type with no LOR from his/her PI. And if my PhD mentor were to say that he wants me to write the letter, who am I to tell him no, I won’t do it? Frankly, I’d be more worried about the repercussions of pissing my mentor off and/or not getting the LOR from him than I would be that the AAMC might investigate me…how on earth could they even prove such a thing anyway, especially if my PI were to go on the record saying that he did indeed write, sign and submit the letter? I’m not saying that you’re wrong, because I’m sure you’ve seen or heard anecdotes to support what you said, but I do think it’s a crappy policy for the reasons I’ve given. And now I’ll stop with my own rant.
Note: For the record, I am absolutely opposed to anyone forging and signing recommendation letters in someone else’s name and without their knowledge. But I don’t think that doing this is equivalent to writing a draft for the recommender, which in my experience is a very common occurrence.

I think that rant is HERE.
I go with give 'em a resume and your personal statement and maybe an outline of what you’ve most enjoyed about working with/for them, and then let the letter writer do the rest. Most can do that much.