Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D.

Open Education, SoTL, Psychology

Month: November 2013

Asking for a Letter of Reference

I often get approached by students asking for a letter of reference. To be honest, merely being asked is often a wonderful validation of how the student in question perceives you. And writing a letter of reference (an art in itself) is a joyful exercise when you know the individual well and believe in their abilities. But too often the student is simply one name amid a class of 200. They might have done well enough in terms of their grades in the course, but often they have never visited my office hours, hung around after class for a chat, or even participated actively enough in class to stick out in my memory. What to do then?

In these cases I typically advise the student that, given our limited personal contact, any letter I write could only really discuss their performance in the course (interpreted via formal, summative assessments). Of course, I could include information also listed in their cv, but none of this amounts to the kind of reference they really need (or are hoping for). I believe the ethical approach here is to be open and honest with the student and then let them decide. A letter from someone who knows them well enough to comment on their character and performance over a longer period of time is far more valuable (having been on the receiving end of many letters of reference I can also attest that a lukewarm letter of reference is often rather damning). In short, the question they should ask me is not “would you please write me a letter of reference?” but instead “do you feel you could write me a strong letter of reference?”

A Nice Finish

This term I taught another graduate seminar in Applied Social Psychology at UBC. The group included nine students from counselling psychology, business, and language & literacy education. We covered a lot of ground over the semester and I was trying to think of a way to review our journey while providing some closure.

I ended up sticking post-it notes onto the double chalk-board, each listing a week’s topic (arranged chronologically). I then invited the students to use the chalk to write around those notes to list the concepts, theories, or ideas that stood out the most for them. I was thrilled to see the exercise work so well. This collective mind-mapping exercise vividly illustrated our journey (it is often easy to forget how much we accomplish over four months). By the end of it we all marvelled at the space and everyone began taking photographs of our intellectual journey (wish you were here?). The final step involved distilling seven general social psychological principles that ran through all of the topics. These were as follows:

1. The power of the situation

2. The power of the individual (to alter the situation for all)

3. Perceptions are often more important than reality

4. Dual processing (e.g., implicit vs. explicit levels)

5. Attitudes can lead to behaviour or vice versa

6. Culture and self are mutually constitutive

7. Multiple levels of analysis (e.g., individual, group, culture, etc.) and multiple forces impacting behaviour (e.g., biology, evolution, culture, social norms, personality, etc.)


Journey mapping exercise

Journey mapping exercise


Journey mapping exercise

Final class exercise

Journey mapping exercise