Now that I have my PhD and am "on the market" I have to ask people for letters. I understand the point, but it's times like these that I envy my husband and others in his profession who only have to provide contact information for people who will serve as references.
That seems so much easier and less anxiety provoking than asking for letters. I often worry that my references won't send their letters on time; they are busy academics afterall. I also think it gets old contacting my references everytime I see a position I want to apply for. I know everyone just writes one letter and sends the same one out to all the places I apply to, but there's got to be an easier way...
One easier way would be if my references sent me a bunch of signed letters in unaddressed envelopes that I could just send out when the need arises. If they are worried about the confidentiality of their letters they could sign over the seal on the back of the envelope. Of course there would be nothing to stop me from opening an "extra" to see what my letter writer says about me.
What is the letter writing protocol these days?
I grew up operating on the assumption that if someone writes a letter for you, you should send a thank you note. I do this for anyone who writes a letter on my behalf. I've written letters for my students but have never received a formal or informal thank you note from any one them - even for letters I produced on short notice. Is this custom now passé?
Another thing I have noticed is that many of my letter writers have shared their letters with me. It's very rewarding and encouraging to read those letters, and it certainly helps me to become a better letter writer myself. Why don't more people do this?
Maybe they do. I'd be interested to hear other academics' experiences with letter writing. How common is it for references to let you read their letters? And, do you share your letters with your students? Why or why not?
I don't share mine. I have never really considered sharing my letters and I would certainly be taken aback if one of my students asked me if s/he could read my letter. How rude! These things are supposed to be confidential, aren't they? Maybe these reference letters are less confidential at the PhD level. Who knows, but it is curious that so many of my letter writers have let me read their letters. I think sharing supportive letters with PhD's applying for academic positions is a really great idea for the reason that newly minted PhD's don't have as much experience writing letters. Having access to model letters would be very helpful.
It's frustrating that at this point in the game I don't have a position lined up for the fall and given the way academic hiring works, I won't have a teaching position for the upcoming school year and won't be applying for the next academic year's positions until October-November. At leats now I have a PhD in hand so I can apply for a bunch of positions I wasn't eligible for before. That's exciting! But it also means I'll have to ask for those letters all over again...