Letters of Reference Check List

So, one of the duties that feature heavily this time of year is “letters of reference”: for Ph.D programs, for scholarships, for employment. (The other duties you know also: students need help planning Winter or Spring courses; students struggling with current course work are looking for life lines; and grading for the current term, so well managed up to this point, has just now spun out of control.)

Sometimes it’s hard to write a good letter. Scratch that: it’s always hard to write a good letter, in the same way that it’s always hard to get to any of the housekeeping that fills itself in around course work, administration, office hours, and (hear my hollow laughter) scholarship. What tends to really make the difference is the student herself, by performing at a high level in the first place, by getting the request in to me nice and early, and by giving me lots of information instead of requiring me to make of the letter a whole new research project. It’s arithmetical: time not spent housekeeping a letter is time spent writing the letter.

Over time, I have developed a “check list” that I return to students who ask me for a letter of reference:

The Check List

  1. Whenever possible, please plan to have given me 30 days to write. If not, give me as much time as possible.
  2. If I have written a letter for you in the past, please remind me of this, telling me when that was and who it was for.
  3. Please include the full name and appropriate title for recipient of letter.
  4. Please include the full address for recipient.
  5. Please include any information materials about the program/scholarship/job/etc, unless that information available clearly on a web page (see next). This can be in electronic form or hard copy.
  6. If the scholarship provider, program, employer, etc. has a web presence, please include an URL for that web site.
  7. Please remind me what classes you’ve had with me, and what term(s) they took place. Or, remind me of our other ties. (Sorry, I really can remember, but if you save me these minutes, I’ll put them to better use for you working on the letter itself.)
  8. Please give me clear instructions for delivery: mail directly, return sealed to you, &c.
  9. Please include a portfolio of work you have done for me in the past. (This may not be necessary, I usually still have anything that we have exchanged in electronic format, but at least check with me about this). Material can be electronic or hard copy.
  10. Please offer me a few sentences on how I can really help you with this. What talking points would be helpful? What are the details of the impression you hope to convey? How does my letter contribute to your overall package?
  11. Always remember that a letter writer’s “stock in trade” is honesty. The very best way to secure good letters of reference is to distinguish yourself from your peers early and often in course work. Thanks.

The whole point is to be able to quickly organize the resources that will inform an interesting, positive, distinctive letter.

What do you think? If you teach, have you composed a similar check list? If you are a student, do you have any thoughts about these kinds of requirements?

[Letters of Reference Check List was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/11/17. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

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Biblical Scholars: Care to be Interviewed?

I have assigned my “Introduction to Old Testament” students to interview a “real biblical scholar.” Students will collaboratively come up with questions for their interviews during October, and conduct their interviews by phone or Skype in early November. They will then write a report on their interview.

Here is how I describe the report to them:

The student will have already prepared and refined a list of questions, independently and in collaboration with colleagues. She will have contacted the subject, arranged the interview, and held the interview, in accordance with instructions.

The report should demonstrate that the student asked questions appropriate to academic biblical studies, while also appropriately inviting the subject to reflect on “essential questions” related to the practice of academic biblical studies. The report should contain an introduction, a list of questions, and a body that communicates the subject’s responses to each question, and a conclusion. The report should show evidence that the interview has prompted the student to “step back” and reflect on her practice of biblical studies both for our course work and longer term.

I would like volunteers to either have a completed PhD, or else be ABD with a full-time academic job in biblical studies.

If you are interested, you can respond here in comments, or else email me at my work address: brooke dot mylastname at garrett dot edu.

Thanks!

[Biblical Scholars: Care to be Interviewed? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/09/20. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

RBoC: Not-Yet-End-of-Term Edition

End of term? Not even Spring Break yet! (Next week, insh’allah and the creek don’t rise).

I have in mind some writing on pseudonymity and nymity in blogging, on a recent Chronicle op piece about keeping quiet in faculty meetings, on ancient language “reading examinations,” and on “feeling like a writer.” This is what I’m doing instead:

  • Facilitating faculty training on our new Moodle learning management system (so long, Blackboard);
  • Arranging to offer similar training to our platoon of TAs;
  • Preparing biblical Greek reading exams for 2nd-year Greek students and Ph.D. candidates;
  • Catching up on a self-paced UWM online certification program in online teaching and learning;
  • Working up a couple of videos for our seminary admissions page;
  • Keeping up on quizzes, exams, and papers for Elementary Hebrew, Elementary Greek, and Intro to OT;
  • Experimenting with a couple of new productivity helps to organize the above and more;
  • Eat, sleep, you know. Maybe try for a haircut.

What do you find this week  among your RBoC?

[RBoC: Not-Yet-End-of-Term Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/04/12. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011

Along with everything else in life that you’ve been missing, the Day in the Life of Digital Humanities (“Day of DH”) 2011 came and went a couple of weeks back. What are the “Digital Humanities,” you ask? You could settle for me telling you that it’s humanities accomplished digitally, or you could ask the Wikipedia about it; or best of all, you could simply hear the explanations offered by those who have self-identified over the last three years as working in “digital humanities.” Here are just a few:

Digital Humanities is the application of humanities methodologies and theories to modern technology research. -Andy Keenan, University of Alberta, Canada

Under the digital humanities rubric, I would include topics like open access to materials, intellectual property rights, tool development, digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization, GIS, digital reconstruction, study of the impact of technology on numerous fields, technology for teaching and learning, sustainability models, and many others. -Brett Bobley, NEH, United States

I think digital humanities, like social media, is an idea that will increasingly become invisible as new methods and platforms move from being widely used to being ubiquitous. For now, digital humanities defines the overlap between humanities research and digital tools. But the humanities are the study of cultural life, and our cultural life will soon be inextricably bound up with digital media. -Ed Finn, Stanford University, USA

On the Day of Digital Humanities, hundreds of folks who see their work in this way agreed to write a blog post about what they were doing that day, March 18, 2011. (This was the day that I became aware of the term, “digital humanities,” because the Day nosed its way onto my Twitter feed, whereupon I followed the tag #dayofdh for the rest of that day and the next.)

You will be excited to know that I’ve saved the best news: Because the fine folks at Day of DH have made the RSS feeds for the blog posts available as an OPML file (or, to translate, “Because blah blah the internet is cool”), I have been able to place the blog posts on my public NetVibes page! And you have a whole year to peruse them before Day of DH 2012!

[Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011 was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/04/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Teaching Carnival: Backstory (and New Carnival)

The newest Teaching Carnival (4.8), by Annie Vocature Bullock, is available!

Linking to this edition of the Carnival, ProfHacker Jason B. Jones also fills us in on where it began, and how one can host or contribute to a Teaching Carnival.

It is through the Teaching Carnival that I began to get to know most of the blogs in my Academic Blogroll. (See my right sidebar, underneath my regular Blogroll.) While I don’t love the other Carnival in my life less, it is the Teaching Carnival that most often makes an immediate difference to my daily practices of teaching and writing.

You can always find past Carnivals on the Teaching Carnival Home Page.

[Teaching Carnival: Backstory (and New Carnival) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/04/04. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The First Rule of Write Club is…

…you do not talk about Write Club. The second rule of Write Club is you DO NOT TALK about Write Club.

Okay, that isn’t how they’re numbered by Claire P. Curtis, and she doesn’t call it Write Club. But Writing Group has rules:

  1. [Y]ou must schedule a time every week
  2. There is no backing out.
  3. [All are] responsible for reading and commenting carefully.
  4. Three seems to be the  magic number

(School House Rock bonus link by Brooke).

    Do read the entire article: The rules are fleshed out with personal experience, and Curtis has excellent suggestions about choosing participants and making Writing Group work.

    I have occasionally discussed a Writing Group with colleagues, mostly back when we were in course work and already had plenty of external pressure to write. During the dissertation years…well, you’d have to be a sadist to bring up a Writing Group with an ABD (that’s “all but dissertation,” or “antisocial behavior disorders”). And anyway, putting three ABDs into a room for Writing Group would be like the legendary Roman death sentence for parricide.

    It is probably time for me to re-think Writing Group: my employment situation is settled for the next few years, and while my administration and teaching responsibilities are pretty consuming—especially for the next year—I should be able to carve out some manageable, defined space for research and writing. To offer an analogy: my wife, who handles the books in our household, has always been amazingly good at making sure we “pay ourselves first” even with our often-preposterously-modest incomes: something goes into savings before any bill payments go out. Writing, by analogy, is how an academic “pays herself first.”

    Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of Write Club?

    [The First Rule of Write Club is… was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/30. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today

    What do students in Higher Education see today? What do they “see” in the sense of, “What are their visions?” And, what do they literally see from the place in which they are expected to learn?

    This is the question posed by Michael Wesch, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch is well known for his work so far in gathering and analyzing the experiences and voices of higher-ed students in an internet age.

    Watch some of the YouTube videos tagged VOST2011. For an educator in Higher Ed, the videos are rather hypnotic, occasionally disturbing, and often illuminating. Take the following as an example:

    More upbeat, but not less analytical or thought-provoking, is this piece from a student at University of the Philippines:

    In the professorial circles in which I run, I am probably among those more likely to identify with the students of VOST2011: besides being a “distance pedagogies guy” (in progress), I am after all a Gen-Xer, and until a subject matter grabbed me in my Masters work, felt continually disenchanted with and alienated from the structures of education, while still identifying strongly with other students as a peer group. At the same time, however, I am formed by an exceptionally traditional and modernist Ph.D. program, and believe as strongly in “disseminating data” as in facilitating constructivist activities for peer-to-peer learning.

    Professors: What do you think of Wesch’s call for submissions, and what do you think of some of the videos? How do they speak, or not speak, to you as educators?

    Students: What are your visions today? What do you see from the place where you are expected to learn?

    [VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]