Gendered language in reference letters

…”nice” never got me a research grant or professional position. –Marcia McNutt

I previously posted an interactive visualization tool the shows language differences when reviewing male vs. female professors on ratemyprofessors.com, which shows a startling difference in word frequencies.  These reviews may have been hastily written by students, and they may not have thought much about the word choices they used when describing their professors.

What about letters of reference?  These are often critical pieces of information for acquiring a job, securing grant funding, and long-term career success.  A colleague just forwarded me an editorial that appeared in Science, written by Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief for Science Journals.  McNutt was recently tasked with reviewing small research grant proposals written by graduate students.  She found that over 10% of the proposals included reference letters with inappropriate content for the decision to fund the grant.  While the offending letter writers were both men and women, all of the affected applicants were women.  Letter writers should highlight the applicant’s qualifications, so one would think that these would be carefully vetted for gendered language.  Sadly, they are not.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s