I'm happy that you found this page. In it, I describe my policy on writing letters of reference. While I recognize that this is probably a little unusual, please bear with me as I explain the reasoning behind it.
A letter of reference is something I write on your behalf to a company, school, or other organization describing my assessment of your fitness for the position you are applying for. Most of you are outstanding students and I truly enjoy playing a role in helping you to get to the next step of your professional life. I probably write more letters than anyone I know and this is not an attempt to write fewer letters.
In a letter of reference I am writing (typically) about my assessment of you as a future professional. Professionals must have the highest ethical standards and vast knowledge, both of the subjects they have students, as well as the world around them. Science students are very good at learning facts, processes, and concepts, but often poor in learning about the world around them (specifically in their knowledge of the news of the world). As I look at this lack of knowledge, it occurs to me that by writing letters of reference stating that someone is suited for working in the world without understanding it in the big picture is irresponsible on my part. People who can't discuss societal matters intelligently from ALL perspectives are not prepared for the world. As a result, I have decided on the following policy regarding my letters of reference. For me to be truly sure that students are ready for the field they wish to pursue, they must demonstrate to me reasonable knowledge of the policy makers, events and issues of the world around them. This will come in the form of a oral quiz I will give that students must pass before I write a reference letter for them. The only exception to this policy is that I will NOT require students to pass a quiz for letters of reference for positions on the OSU campus or Corvallis area.
The form of the quiz will vary. No two will be the same. The questions will come from items one could obtain by reading the front section of the newspaper for a half hour each morning. The Barometer will NOT give you anywhere near the depth you will need to answer these questions, so don't rely on it. I'm not saying you need to go out and subscribe to a paper, though I think students aimed at professional schools should automatically do this at a minimum. (Were you aware that OSU students can get the New York Times delivered to your door cheaper than the Oregonian?) There are many newspapers available daily in the Library for free. In addition, I am happy to help you get on top of the world around you. Toward this end, I created a listserv called 'bbnews' that I run. You can subscribe to it by going to http://lists.oregonstate.edu/ and entering 'bbnews' (without the quote marks) in the box labeled List Name and then following instructions. I email links to the current news out to this list sporadically (about twice per week). In addition, I organized a weekly meeting for students interested in discussing the news. It is called Newsgroup and its meetings are announced on the bbnews listserv.
I hope all of this will be of benefit to you and I can write you a great letter of reference.
PS: The news quiz is about 50% over recent news and 50% over things I think all students should know. A link to information I think all students should know is HERE.