brooksphd is pondering a letter of recommendation
"X just applied and she listed you as a reference!"
But this feels nice! And scary - is there an added layer of responsibility on both sides of this equation now?
There is, and I observed that one should avoid overselling the candidate in making one's comments. To this brooksphd replied:
that's the issue I'm thinking about. Did I, could I, would I maybe oversell (or undersell) someone? Really, would it be bad to now 'oversell' someone? to really emphasize their fit because you can write a better letter. Is it common practice? Same as under selling someone is an easy, "I certainly consider this candidate above average. Hir fit in your lab is good. S/he reads the literature and makes solutions at the correct concentration accurately..."
Now, I recognize it is common practice to oversell and I seek ways to include a lot of confidence in the letters that I write for people. I put the best possible spin on my estimation of their talents and I may occasionally neglect to mention the odd deficit that I have observed.
But you have to keep it within reason.
I've had at least one experience in the past where I took someone into the lab at least partially on the strength of a recommendation letter...and this turned out to be an unreasonable oversell.
I will remind you that this is in full recognition of the type of excessive enthusiasm that we mentor types often think we need to include in the letter. Also with what I happen to think is a reasonable sympathy for the exigencies of life that can cause people's work to be somewhat below the stellar, even for extended intervals of time.
This particular trainee sucked.
And it wasn't just me, either. We're talking all around failure to perform in the context of multiple obligations of this particular training dealio. It happens, and this is not the main point.
The main point is the original letter writer who testified to the skills of this particular individual in a scientific/laboratory context. There is no way in hell the letter could have been an accurate reflection. No way this person performed well in the past...or even performed at average. No way.
So my opinion of this letter writer is now and forever somewhere less than dirt. For certain sure I would never trust any other recommendations that this person might make.
I learned a lesson, my friends, a very powerful one.
You need to keep your recommendations within bounds. Do NOT ever give a glowing recommendation for someone if you know that they are going to turn out to perform significantly below average.
Because if you get burned, that mud comes back on you.