Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lost in Translation: Recommendation Letter Edition

An enraged Chinese professor posted a recommendation letter from a UIUC faculty five years ago. Professor Liu of Hunan University was encouraged on kind words on the letter, and offered a job applicant the position. However, the guy failed miserably as both an instructor and a researcher.

While regretted of making the decision five years ago, Professor Liu fiercely blamed the applicant's adviser who provided a recommendation letter upon request from Hunan University. Professor Liu posted a scan copy of the original letter, and underlined words that allegedly had misled him.

However, this may be a case of 'lost in translation' (between eastern and western cultures). Had Professor spent more time on English 099 (pre-college level), he would be able to smell the clues. It's so stale that he did not even need to sniff. Actually the simple fact that the adviser did not voluntarily provide a letter was an obvious sign that was hard to miss. Not to say the wordings were so obvious that one should kick himself for failed to read the meaning/mood of the letter.

Red lines were marked by Professor Liu to illustrate how the letter was misleading, but on the contrary, they were crystal clear and unumbiguous in the tone:
1) '..has a perfect academic record (straight A)..
No other letter for a doctoral recipient would emphasize on GPA, not from a research lab for sure.
2) '..contribution to the understanding ... led to three publications'. Three publications were not impressive at all for a physics major, not to say the adviser seemed to be reluctant to mention the title and journal of them.
3) ' of importance..' This is probably the weakest way of praising the work might be of any significance.
4) The letter is simply too short.

In the conclusion paragraph of the letter, the adviser was straight forward as he could.
1) '.. is an intelligent and hard-working researcher.' This is an alert by itself since it was as far as the adviser was willing to go. Plus, it's the nice puddings to balance what he was going to say next:
2) '.. strong personality..'. Did you read this?
3) '..skill that will.., once he devote to it'. In other words, nothing had been observed, yet.
4) 'I 'think' he will be..' He was so unsure...

Professor Liu discussed in length on the returnee's job performance at Hunan University. Then Professor Liu went beyond his way to make comments on the returnee's relationship with students, females, and, his own father. It goes into details such as the guy forgot to zip after going to bathroom. It also cited tension between Professor Liu and the returnee throughout five years. Professor Liu credited himself on how he had helped the guy to get the job, bypassing all normal hiring procedures (no interview was conducted), then the associate professorship promotion, and finally transferring to another college. If the returnee was as terrible as Professor Liu described in the blog, to crash and burn in the classroom as early as his first semester, who did Professor Liu got him promoted to Associate Professor? If he was such as horrible person, why would Professor Liu helped him transfer to another college, after Hunan University wouldn't renew the contract? Now, why would Professor Liu disclose the ordeal in detail after it seems the guy would have nothing to do with him?


There is much left begging for an answer. Perhaps those again lost in the translation. Only this time, it was lost in the translation of Professor Liu's own mind.

学者刘全慧 发表于2009-11-21 22:01:19









Based on the information in the blog (the returnee republished his dissertation on the ACTA Physica AINICA), the seagull was able to identify the alleged 'unqualified' returnee to be Dr. Liang-Xin Li. Li was an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physics of Hunan University.

Li, Liang-Xin and Hu, Yong-Hua, 2004. Intersubband and intraband transitions of self-assembled quantum wires for the infrared detectors. ACTA Physica Sinica, p848-856, 54, 2.

Based on above information, the author of the recommendation letter is likely Dr. Yia-Chung Chang, a distinguished research fellow and director of the Research Center for Applied Sciences at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Dr. Chang was professor of Physics at UICU from 1991-2008.

1 comment:

mfcappie said...

After reading that letter, I don't even think it is by a native speaker of English. Why does it have a misprint (the two s's together)? "He devote to it?" That's not proper English. Why isn't it on university letterhead? A real recommendation letter would be.

I'd guess it was written by the job-seeker himself.