Should job candidates update their letters?

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In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

I’m on the job market for the second time this year, and I’m wondering if I should ask all of my letter writers to update their letters. My advisor is updating his to reflect new publications and awards, but do the others need to? I’m especially curious if it’s recommended to ask the writer of the teaching letter of rec to update their letter, since I’ve taught several new classes and won a teaching award since last year.

Good question. I think an updated teaching letter might help. However, my sense is that the most important thing in a teaching letter tends to be the letter-writer providing a detailed account of a teaching observation–that is, of their experience of you actually teaching in the classroom. This, in my experience, is the real value of teaching letters: they describe what the rest of a candidate’s teaching portfolio cannot–what someone else’s experience of their classroom performance is like.

Consequently, if the author of the OP’s teaching letter has anything to add in that regard since last year (i.e. if they have observed you teach since last year), then updating the teaching letter might make a lot of sense. However, I’m not sure that updating it otherwise will really make a difference (i.e. simply because you’ve won a teaching award and taught more courses). Then again, updating the letter probably can’t hurt–and it could help, right?

Similarly, in terms of whether candidates should update all of their letters each year, again I’m not sure. But I suppose it probably can’t hurt, and could help–particularly if you’ve accomplished things that might lead to stronger letters. So why not ask? 

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. What do you all think? It might be helpful to hear from search committee members!

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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