Asking for letters of recommendation

In academia, letters of recommendation make the world go ’round. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. As a student, you’ll need people to write letters on your behalf when it comes to applying for most jobs, fellowships, scholarships, prizes, awards, honors programs, graduate schools, law schools, and so forth.

So how should you go about asking for a letter of recommendation? And how do you ensure that you’ll get good ones?

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American Pendulum: Recurring Debates in U.S. Grand Strategy

My book review of American Pendulum: Recurring Debates in U.S. Grand Strategy by Christopher Hemmer is now free to view online.

It is impossible to understand contemporary or future international politics without a firm comprehension of U.S. foreign policy. Even in a supposed era of relative decline, the United States remains the wealthiest, most militarily powerful, and most influential country in the world. Simply put, how the United States chooses to discharge itself is of enduring relevance for all inhabitants of planet Earth.

In American Pendulum: Recurring Debates in U.S. Grand Strategy, Christopher Hemmer offers a schema of U.S. foreign policy intended to delineate the realm of the possible when it comes to America’s actions on the world stage. Hemmer’s approach is to catalog and scrutinize some critical dimensions along which U.S. grand strategy has varied in the past and over which national leaders have clashed. He points to four areas of disagreement in particular: the divide between unilateralists and multilateralists, the debate over how best to spread U.S. values, disagreements over the proper extent of U.S. interests, and the question of whether time is “on the side” of the United States or its adversaries. To grasp the contours of these four debates, Hemmer submits, is to know how U.S. leaders think and, by extension, to apprehend the broad range of options that exist for America as a global power—now and in the future…

Click here to read the full review on the Political Science Quarterly website.

Tolerance on campus

I have a short piece on tolerance included in today’s Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s excellent student newspaper. It’s a follow-up to an article I wrote last year about the need to celebrate political diversity on campus.

Last year I wrote in The Collegian that the diversity of political views at Colorado State is a major strength of our campus community. “CSU Rams should be proud of their oasis of pluralism,” I urged.“And they should be jealous guardians of its future.”

My point was that students can learn a lot from others with whom they disagree, and that we should acknowledge the value of a campus community where the free exchange of political ideas is truly fostered.

Few people would openly disagree with this sentiment. Indeed, there is a prevalent belief today that diversity of every sort—racial, ethnic, gender and so on—is an intrinsic good that needs to be promoted, protected, and celebrated. I agree. But despite the overwhelming social pressure for people to show an outward commitment to toleration in all its forms, the truth is that tolerance can be an obnoxiously difficult principle to put into practice when it counts…

Read the full piece here.

Extra-curricular activities: Are they worth it?

People enroll in college to become more educated and to receive an academic qualification, usually with a view to improving their career prospects. But once they arrive on campus, all students quickly discover that there is more to college than just taking classes. Especially for undergraduate students, there are a host of extracurricular opportunities on offer: clubs, societies, sports teams, political parties, campaigning organizations, internship opportunities, and more.

Are any of these extracurricular activities worth the time and attention? And if so, how much effort should be devoted to them?

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Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious academic offense and can result in your expulsion from college. It’s crucial, then, that students understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it.

First, it’s important to note that every student has an individual responsibility to do some research into plagiarism and to understand the limits of what is acceptable. As always, ignorance of the rules is no excuse for breaking them.

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Writing professional emails

Some things in college are hard to master. Conducting research, giving presentations, writing papers, solving problem sets—all of these can be difficult to get the hang of. But there are other things that no student should find taxing. Being professional in your written communications falls into this category.

I think that students sometimes forget that college is a professional setting. They forget that their relationships with staff and faculty are more like workplace relationships than easygoing friendships. And they don’t realize that how they act in college can have long-term repercussions for their own professional reputation.

In my view, the most egregious instances of informality can be found in emails. You might laugh, but I really do worry that my students will email prospective employers or future clients with the same casualness with which they email me. I can assure you, such a thing would not do wonders for their prospects of promotion.

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