PSA: Needless Logins Cause Strokes

These days, there are few things online that I hate with more passion or that send my blood pressure through the roof more rapidly than the sites that require me to create an account with a complicated “secure” password, when my purpose of being there should not require an account or a password at all.

Example: Now is the time when undergrads apply to grad school and I submit letters of recommendation. I fuckin’ hate it when I have to open an account and log in just to upload a goddamn letter of recommendation. I want to click on the link you sent me, browse to select a file, upload the file, click submit, and never ever  think about your site again. Capisce?

And, it’s not enough that I write a letter, I have to fill out (otherwise I cannot submit) ridiculous questionnaires about whether a nebulous trait of the student, like maturity, is exceptional (top 1%), outstanding (top 5%), excellent (top 10%), or similar ridiculously finely graded bullshit.

All that I know is in the fuckin’ letter. Leave me alone. Most of these kids didn’t really do research as undergrads; even if they did, they still don’t have  three people who know them really really well.

All. I Know. Is In. The Fuckin’. Letter.


  1. I believe (I’ve been told, I can’t verify) the reason that the sites for uploading letters of recommendation may require those crazy passwords is due to government regulation- the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires anything related to individually-identifiable student performance (including letters of recommendation) to be secure privacy-protected information that requires a strong password. For whatever that’s worth.
    I have some colleagues who will basically no longer write letters of recommendation, because of some convoluted argument related to FERPA. I don’t quite understand it.

  2. Yup. I have to say that it takes about three times longer for me to do letters than it did when they were paper based. They should all take interfolio…

  3. UGH. Letter of recommendation season is slowly killing me. Actually, it’s going to quickly kill me this week, since my research group members who are applying to grad school this year didn’t send me their LOR submission info before Thanksgiving, so I’m going to need to submit 5,000 LORs in the next two weeks for the December deadlines. And that’s in addition to the two sets of LORs for postdocs on the faculty market (WHY can’t these deadlines be at all aligned like grad school letters?!) and one for a grad student on the postdoc market (even though I’m not at a PhD-granting institution, ugh, collaborators who need that random third letter — so hard to write for a student I’ve only met in person once!). Grump, grump, grump. I also hate the checkboxes. And the faculty LOR submission systems are almost as bad. I did one for a flyover state university this year that limited you to 4,000 characters (about half the length of my letters!), and didn’t notice until I’d spent like half an hour ruthlessly chopping my letter to pieces that if you read the small print at the bottom of the web form you could actually just email them a PDF with no length restrictions. GRRRRRR.

  4. I noticed a funny thing this year— NONE of the checklists that I filled out for the top dozen or so biomedical science PhD programs in the U.S. asked even 1 question about whether the applicant was actually good at labwork! Bizarre. Why don’t they ask the most important question?
    There is probably some head scratching among the schools I sent rec letters to for this one particular student……they are probably wondering why I rated a student only 50% “likely to succeed as a scientist” despite ranking them top 1-3% on all other questions. This student worked with me all summer and was super super bright. But not even one experiment they did was successful. Something always went wrong…they added the wrong reagent at the last step, dropped it all on the floor at one point, forgot a key step, etc. And the few experiments that did get completed oer the summer yielded strange results that they could not repeat. God help us if this student ends up in a PhD program – I wouldn’t have them in my lab for anything.

  5. @Artnsci: I totally understand! Some people are not meant for lab work but might be for theory/computation (or vice versa). Or they could be bright (i.e., get things quickly) but have no intuition or analytical skills. Or they can severely lack attention to detail.

  6. Question: What are you supposed to do with these top1%/5%/10%/50% checkboxes? I always fear that when I click top20% or lower that the student’s chances of getting in are basically toast. But what if that simply is where they were at the time they were in my group? They undoubtedly matured since I last worked with them, but what should I do? There are some people who I really would love to see get into grad school, but who simply were not top of the bill (yet??) when they were in my lab. Or should I then just decline? I.e. should you only write a letter when you can say top5%??????

  7. When I review grad students for admission, I basically ignore the “checkbox” information as being random noise. I’ve never understood why any faculty committee approved them (and they were approved by some faculty committee in the distant past). I’m in agreement that I just want to upload the letter that I took some care to write well—not waste time marking boxes and answering irrelevant questions.

  8. Even worse – a student of mine has asked me to submit a dozen letters (which is fine, my letter is appropriate for all of the applications), all of which are going through a central server. But each school needs me to click through the same %$^#^% checkboxes, and they don’t centralize. Do people click different checkboxes for each school?!

  9. Hmmm… well not to brag, but I just submitted a letter for one of my high school research interns’s college applications through a central website, and it was like a dream come true. Yes – I did need a password – but otherwise, no questions, no checkboxes, and only a generic letter (did not need to be addressed to each school individually) was required. Also, user friendly interface.

    The checkboxes stress me out as well. I have great students who are easily top 20%, but checking that box makes me feel like I would be tanking them. Not everyone can be top 5%.

    Separately, today I was asked to review a paper, and when I clicked the “accept to review” link, I was sent to a website to create a password! I ended up clicking away and never actually replying to the e-mail.

    I have a generic password that I use for unimportant “work” stuff. It is a good password with caps/no caps/symbols/numbers/letters/over 8 characters. I have a similar “good” password for generic unimportant personal stuff. Every so often a site needs a DIFFERENT type of password (only these very specific symbols allowed, or no numbers, or at least 12 characters or some other crazy thing). Not being able to use my generic well-crafted passwords makes me extra angry.

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