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Author Topic: Dead Reference?  (Read 5313 times)
yellowtractor
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« on: November 21, 2012, 3:45:58 PM »

OK, this one comes from a former student.  Former student is on the job market.  Former student has (she thinks) three excellent LoR's.  Former student's former Ph.D. supervisor, well-known in the field, is the author of one of these letters; the problem is, he died earlier this year.  Former student feels weird sending out this LoR (or having Interfolio send it) now that the author is deceased.

I told her I thought it's perfectly fine to keep sending out the letter (which was presumably written in good faith and is dated, I mean dated when the prof in question was still alive).  But presumably she should remove his name from the list of references she usually attaches to her CV?
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voxprincipalis
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2012, 4:09:58 PM »

Instead of including a phone number, she should include the contact information for a medium.

(Yes, I would take his name off the list.)

VP
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2012, 4:16:19 PM »

Instead of including a phone number, she should include the contact information for a medium.

I almost told the student this but caught myself before I did.

But seriously--nobody else would consider junking a good LoR because its author happened to die, right?
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hoptoad
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« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2012, 4:39:18 PM »

I'd use the LOR.  Maybe one of the other letter writers could explain the scenario in their letter to help verify the legitimacy?
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data5112
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2012, 4:40:33 PM »

Instead of including a phone number, she should include the contact information for a medium.

I almost told the student this but caught myself before I did.

But seriously--nobody else would consider junking a good LoR because its author happened to die, right?

The same thing happened to me this year. I'd say it's time for a new reference. What would happen when a SC member attempted to call this person?
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hegemony
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2012, 4:41:04 PM »

I think part of what makes a good letter of recommendation is that the search committee can verify the recommendation with the recommender, and get further thoughts, clarification, etc.  Thus I don't think a letter from someone who has died carries the same weight.  It's very unlikely that it would be forged, but that's also a marginal concern, since it is no longer verifiable.  It also could easily make the reader feel a bit creeped out -- the attention would be on "I am reading a letter from beyond the grave" rather than on the candidate's credentials.  I would drop the letter.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2012, 4:43:00 PM »

What would happen when a SC member attempted to call this person?

Now this...is a very interesting question!

I expect my former student will try to get a new letter as soon as she can, but I think she's going to have to keep using this one through the present cycle, as she's been out of school a little while.
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It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
seniorscholar
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« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2012, 6:04:40 PM »

I told her I thought it's perfectly fine to keep sending out the letter (which was presumably written in good faith and is dated, I mean dated when the prof in question was still alive).  But presumably she should remove his name from the list of references she usually attaches to her CV?

My suggestion, especially if the supervisor who has recently died is a reasonably well known person in the field, is to revise all the c.v.s sent out in future so that below that person's name, in parentheses, something like (To my sorrow, my supervisor Dr. Whatever passed away on [recent date]. The letter he wrote  on [date] is still available from Interfolio, if desired, and another member of my committee, Name-position-email-telephone, can be contacted if further information is needed.)

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mouseman
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« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2012, 6:35:41 PM »

I knew it had been discussed: http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,74550.0.html

Some of those posts were great.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2012, 6:39:02 PM »

You humble me, Mouseman.  Thank you.
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systeme_d_
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« Reply #10 on: November 21, 2012, 6:44:53 PM »

When one of my committee members {let's call him Professor A} died, I was no longer on the market.  However, several of my friends were, and Professor A had been their dissertation advisor, or a key committee member. This was before Interfolio.

The department chair went into Professor A's computer {the chair had the passwords because Professor A knew he was terminally ill} and retrieved the pre-written letters for Professor A's advisees and a few other students. The chair also composed a letter to accompany Professor A's recommendations that verified that the deceased had written the recommendation, and that he would be happy to answer any questions about the letter or the student.

My friends were very relieved that the chair acted in this way, and added a letter of verification to their application packages.

Today, with Interfolio, I'd suggest that the chair add a similar letter of verification to each advisee's Interfolio file.
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anisogamy
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« Reply #11 on: November 21, 2012, 7:02:33 PM »

When one of my committee members {let's call him Professor A} died, I was no longer on the market.  However, several of my friends were, and Professor A had been their dissertation advisor, or a key committee member. This was before Interfolio.

The department chair went into Professor A's computer {the chair had the passwords because Professor A knew he was terminally ill} and retrieved the pre-written letters for Professor A's advisees and a few other students. The chair also composed a letter to accompany Professor A's recommendations that verified that the deceased had written the recommendation, and that he would be happy to answer any questions about the letter or the student.

My friends were very relieved that the chair acted in this way, and added a letter of verification to their application packages.

Today, with Interfolio, I'd suggest that the chair add a similar letter of verification to each advisee's Interfolio file.

This sounds ideal. My inclination had been to send along the letter, but to add a fourth reference so that there would be someone that the SC could reach for verification. This way of going about that seems like the best possible solution in a sad situation.
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larryc
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« Reply #12 on: November 21, 2012, 7:22:02 PM »

No one ever questions my letter from Frederick Jackson Turner.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #13 on: November 21, 2012, 9:54:40 PM »

No one ever questions my letter from Frederick Jackson Turner.

We're all just too impressed.

On a serious note, YT, I think Systeme_D's suggestion is a good one.  After all, the guy died just recently and getting another reference of comparable quality may be hard at this point.  However, the student should be making a concerted effort to find new mentors (even more than a recent graduate should be doing) to be in better shape if the job search extends for several years.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #14 on: November 21, 2012, 10:51:41 PM »

No one ever questions my letter from Frederick Jackson Turner.

We're all just too impressed.

On a serious note, YT, I think Systeme_D's suggestion is a good one.  After all, the guy died just recently and getting another reference of comparable quality may be hard at this point.  However, the student should be making a concerted effort to find new mentors (even more than a recent graduate should be doing) to be in better shape if the job search extends for several years.

Yes, this, I think.  Thank you all!




(And Larry, when you can produce a LoR from Nat Turner, then I will be impressed.)
« Last Edit: November 21, 2012, 10:52:22 PM by yellowtractor » Logged

It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
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