Letters of Recommendation
Generally, it is best to seek letters of recommendation from faculty members of upper-level courses who know you well enough to write something non-generic about you. Before you ask me to write you a letter of recommendation for graduate or professional school in the biomedical sciences, there are several criteria that must be met. The request for a letter is best made by making an appointment to discuss the matter with me after considering these three criteria:
You should have earned an "A" from me in at least one semester that you were taught by me.
I should know you fairly well. Merely earning an "A" in a lower-division class that enrolls 500 students does not guarantee that I know you. In such a situation, all I would be able to provide is a very generic letter that would not be of much help in getting you into the school of your choice. You should allow me to become better acquainted with you. This can be done in several ways:
1) by meeting with
me regularly during my office hours to discuss biological
2) by enrolling in an Honors section taught by me.
3) by enrolling in my section of BIOL 4301 and serving as an undergraduate TA (enrollment is by invitation only).
4) by serving as the chairman or secretary of the Biology Advisory Committee.
If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you account for the scientific origin of the human species?" If you will not give a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation.
Why do I ask this question? Let’s consider the situation of one wishing to enter medical school. Whereas medicine is historically rooted first in the practice of magic and later in religion, modern medicine is an endeavor that springs from the sciences, biology prominent among these. The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution, which includes both micro- and macro-evolution, and which extends to ALL species. Someone who ignores the most important theory in biology cannot expect to properly practice in a field that is now so heavily based on biology. It is easy to imagine how physicians who ignore or neglect the Darwinian aspects of medicine or the evolutionary origin of humans can make poor clinical decisions. The current crisis in antibiotic resistance may partly be the result of such decisions. For others, please read the citations below.
Good medicine, like good biology, is based on the collection and evaluation of physical evidence. So much physical evidence supports the evolution of humans from non-human ancestors that one can validly refer to the "fact" of human evolution, even if all of the details are not yet known; just as one can refer to the "fact" of gravity, even if all of the details of gravitational theory are not yet known. One can ignore this evidence only at the risk of calling into question ones understanding of science and the scientific method. Scientists do not ignore logical conclusions based on abundant scientific evidence and experimentation because these conclusions do not conform to expectations or beliefs. Modern medicine relies heavily on the method of science. In my opinion, modern physicians do best when their practice is scientifically based.
The designated criteria for a letter of recommendation should not be misconstrued as discriminatory against anyone's personal beliefs. Rather, the goals of these requirements are to help insure that a student who wishes my recommendation uses scientific thinking to answer scientific questions.
If you still want to make an appointment, you can do so in person during office hours (M-Th, 3:30-4:00), or by phoning my office at 742-2729, or by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ewald, P.W. 1993. Evolution of infectious disease. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 298.
Ewald, P.W. 1993. The evolution of virulence. Scientific American 268:86-98.
Morgan, E. 1990. The scars of evolution. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 196.
Myers, J.H. and L.E. Rothman. 1995. Virulence and transmission of infectious diseases in humans and insects: evolutionary and demographic patterns. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10(5):194-198.
Nesse, R.M. and G.C. Williams. 1994. Why we get sick. Times Books, New York, pp. 291.
Evolutionary biology in the medical curriculum -- what every
physician should know. BioScience 47(10):664-666. also see <http://www.evolutionandmedicine.org>
Rose, Michael. 1998. Darwin's Spectre. Princeton University Press, Princteon, NJ. pp. 233.
Seachrist, L. 1996. Only the strong survive: the evolution of a tumor favors the meanest, most aggressive cells. Science News 49:216-217.
Stearns, S.C. (ed.) 1999. Evolution in Health and Disease. Oxford University Press. pp. 328.
Trevathan, W.R., Smith, E.O. and J.J. McKenna (eds.). 1999. Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford University Press. pp. 480.
Williams, G.C. and R.M. Nesse. 1991. The dawn of Darwinian medicine. Quarterly Review of Biology 66:1-22.
last revised: 6/27/05