23 March 2016

The craziest recommendation form I have ever completed

As a professor, you write recommendations for student regularly. One came in this morning, so I started filling it out. First questions were pretty standard, asking you to rate students compared to others you’ce interacted with.

One struck me as oddly worded: something like, “Student will do the right thing when no one is looking.” Um... if this student does these things when no one is looking, how can anyone know?!

But then I got to the question (click to enlarge):

"Which of the following achievements may be applicable to your student's future: Select all that apply." Options include "Astronaut," "Nobel prize," "US Supreme court justice."

Which of the following achievements may be applicable to your student's future: Select all that apply.

Options include “Astronaut,” “Nobel prize,” “US Supreme court justice.”

And you can pick “All that apply”! “I’ll be Secretary of State and run a pro sports team!” “I’ll be Fortune 500 CEO and an astronaut, becoming the first entrepreneur in space!” These are the kind of career ambitions you might have when you’re eight. But for evaluating university students? No. These achievements are so rare and capricious that it makes no sense to ask someone to say that a student is likely to achieve these.

I thought, “This is the craziest, least realistic question I have ever had to do on a scholarship recommendation.”

Then I saw the next question, and I had to throw out my previous record holder for craziest, least realistic question I’ve had to answer for a scholarship recommendation.

If you fast forward 10-20 years, who would these student most closely resemble?

Options on the first screen include Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and Charles Darwin.

Options on second screen include Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, and Oprah Winfrey.

Options on third screen include Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, and Rita Moreno.

There are some people in that list I would use if I wanted to diss a student. Some of the politicians come to mind.

The way this recommendation was going, I expected the next question to be, “What is this student’s mutant superpower?”

These questions are dumb. I get that a scholarship organization wants students to aim high and achieve and all, but geez. These are not realistic career expectations. And it’s not a helpful way for professors to try to characterize what they think the student’s good and bad qualities are.

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