Monday, March 24, 2008

How to Provide Information to a Black Hole

Some years ago I was talking to a visiting scholar who was a faculty member in a foreign country. I asked her why letters from her country seemed to be so uninformative. She pointed out that there, faculty never read letters: they only write them. Even graduate students are admitted purely on the basis of test scores.

The facts were hardly surprising—after all, this is the system I grew up with in India—but after hearing the way she put it, the proverbial bulb lit up. If you never evaluate letters yourself, how would you know what letters should and shouldn't contain? The feedback—admission decisions—is seemingly random, and therefore of little use. [Yes, I know, that isn't the same as a black hole. But admit it, the title got you reading.]

Read on...

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