GEMS Blog for Advisors

April 22, 2021

Graduate School Request for Review of Information Required on Graduate Applications

Reposted from Dean Joy’s e-mail on April 22, 2021:

Though most of us are not in the middle of graduate admissions season, I’m writing today to encourage you and your graduate faculty members to examine and update language in your solicitation for letters of recommendation.   As a reminder, programs can include an optional rating grid for recommenders.

We’ve learned that many programs have not examined these optional fields in years and that many of them ask letter writers to evaluate the candidate on dimensions that will not yield useful information or are highly problematic.  For instance, some recommenders are asked to rate prospective students on “emotional maturity and stability.”   These can be weaponized as gendered or raced terms and also ask colleagues at other institutions to assess students in a near-clinical manner that is inappropriate for assessing the ability for graduate study.

I encourage you to move away from such language in the admissions process and think about how to be more precise about the information you’re trying to elicit.  For example, are you trying to determine if a student can work independently?  Do you want to know if they’ll be able to adapt to a fast-paced lab?  Do you want to know if they work well on a team, or in relative isolation?  Consider focusing on the student’s track record of observable behaviors that are essential for success in your program, rather than assessing broad personality traits that are subject to interpretation and bias.

Many of you have various admissions seasons.  We encourage you to have your graduate faculty review the language in your solicitation for letters of recommendation and make appropriate changes as soon as possible.

Below please find three brief, useful references to help spark conversation among your faculty and guide these revisions.  Also, feel free to reach out to any of the associate deans at the Graduate School who would be happy to provide further guidance:  Kima Cargill (Office of Academic Affairs;, Ralina Joseph (Office of Equity & Justice in Graduate Programs;, Bill Mahoney (Office of Student and Postdoctoral Affairs;


  1. Columbia University: Avoid Implicit Gender Bias in Recommendation Letters
  2. University of Arizona: Avoiding Gender Bias in Reference Writing
  3. National Center for Women & Information Technology Promising Practices 


Dean of The Graduate School
pronouns: she/her
Additional Resource: Graduate Admissions Best Practices