I’ve received a bunch of questions on writing letters of recommendation for students. I think the answers will be helpful both for students and for faculty. And I hope both will weigh in, as these are questions about both how faculty should handle letters and what students can expect from faculty. There are a lot of questions here, but I think they’re best addressed in one big post. The issue basically boils down to: how do you write letters for students who are on the job market together and who are applying for the same jobs in roughly the same area?
What’s the best strategy here? Do you just send a letter out for each student and not mention the letters you’ve written for other students?
What’s the right thing to do by the students? Should you counsel students so they don’t apply to the same jobs? In some ways it depends on the situation. Either, (1) you really think the students are pretty comparable and it is a matter of fit with a particular job, OR (2) you really think one of them is significantly better than the other, at least for top jobs.
It’s the second case that’s the trickiest. If you’re a student, would you want to be tipped off that you weren’t as competitive compared to a fellow student? Would you want to know? Or is it too discouraging?
Assume that the adviser gives positive and encouraging but realistic advice to students about the kinds of places they should be applying. How would students prefer the two-student problem to be managed?
If you’re on a search committee, how do you prefer these letters are written?