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Letter of Recommendation for Letters of Recommendation

20 May 2015, 13:30 UTC
Letter of Recommendation for Letters of Recommendation
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

My wife pointed out to me an interesting article in the May 2015 issue of Science about gender bias when writing letters of recommendation. It is by Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt and describes her personal experience in reviewing graduate student proposals for small research grants. She found systematic differences in letters of recommendation for female and male proposers that were detrimental to the females.Here are some specifics. Ten percent of the 60 proposers had one or more letter with inappropriate content for the purpose of the letter and all such cases were in letters for the women. Prof. McNutt cites examples of mentioning that the candidate was "so good to her elderly mother", "spending time in nature with her husband and her animals friends". Another discussed the candidate's balancing being a scientists and a mother. Also, the language was on-average different between men and women in a detrimental way for women. In some cases, the women got adjectives such as "friendly", "kind", "pleasant", "humble", and frequently "nice". Typical language for the male candidates, and also many of the females candidates, included "brilliant", "creative", "hard-working", insightful" and "showing leadership". Graphic from Science May 2015 issue (McNutt) Interestingly, the same bias was ...

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