Archive for: October, 2016

Making writing letters of recommendation easier

Oct 31 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

A few last thoughts on writing letters of recommendation.

I keep a set of templates in my letters folder. I've got essentially three levels for students:

1) Students I don't know you but you took a class with me. The class had >40 students (often 150+). I usually ask for a CV. If I and the student have time, we meet, so at least I can remember the face, if they spoke in class, or anything else memorable. This letter tends to be one paragraph. It mentions the rank or grade of the student, and usually 1-2 facts that are specific to the student.

2) Students who took more than one class with me. You came to talk to me. I've got more than 1-2 facts I can say about you. These are usually two paragraphs. One with the facts about the class or classes and the objective facts about the grades the student got, and one with specifics that give more info on the student.

3) Students who worked with me. These are usually two-three paragraph jobbers. The first paragraph still tends to have the objective facts (Mark worked 10 hours a week for two terms, a total of 36 weeks, and received credit/or was paid). If there are two sets of interesting specifics (ie class vs work) then they are in two paragraphs.

General points that make writing easier for the more complex or lengthy letters:

I almost always ask the person for whom I am writing to give me a list of what they've done in my lab. I tell them to include any specific incidents they remember as being important. I don't ever include anything I don't explicitly remember, but often they jog my memory about something that is good for a letter that I've forgotten. I find their bullet points are very useful for me, yet in list form easy enough for me to read.

I try and tell the student what kind of letter I'm writing. So if its going to be 1-2 paragraphs, I say that I don't know them that well, and that this is all I can say about them. Sometimes they go ask someone else, sometimes they say that's fine. But I do not worry if I can't say more. In the beginning, I used to ask the students to come see me, and interviewed them, got more information took notes, and crafted tremendous letters. That strategy didn't last for very long. It just took too much time, and I found that I was not giving the most help to the students who I thought were the best, who may have deserved the help. When I taught large pre-med, undergraduate classes, I would be asked for 5-20 letters in a short period of time. I also don't worry tremendously about making each letter a work of literary art. That's not a good use of my time.

I also try to be honest about the quality of the letter to the student. "I'm happy to write this letter for you, Susie, but you only got a C in my class, and we really never spoke during the term." I don't mind showing students the letter, but they don't get to decide if I send it or not based on what I say.

Writing letters is an important job, and important to the students. However, in the panoply of things I do, and the importance to my career, its not so great. Balance, balance, balance.

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Writing (difficult) Letters of Recommendation

Oct 28 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Here is part 1 on general writing of letters. Understanding what goes into a good letter, irrespective of the a particulars of the person you are recommending, is the first step for any letter. But what else do or can you say when there is a problem? What kind of problems? Different kinds of problems, suggest the need for different responses. Some of the problems are when the person you recommend:

  1. is trying to change jobs for a difficult, personal reason that is nobody's business.
  2. took the job that they could, which involved a 4-4 (four classes in each of two terms) load, but now wants to try and move.
  3.  is applying for a job that's not quite a match, but again, has personal reasons for wanting that location
  4. didn't quite achieve all they thought, you thought, they wanted to achieve

The first, and sometimes easiest situation is when the person still has a good to stellar record, but is moving or changing for reasons that may not be transparent to the people reading and evaluating the application. The applicant needs to at least address the issue, and sometimes you, the recommender can or might want to in your letter. This can be difficult. First off, I do not believe that anyone has to or must disclose personal information, even if its the main reason for applying for a job. Yet, still, there is a committee evaluating the application, and if the goal is to at least get invited for an interview, one needs to address problems the committee (or whoever is doing the hiring) will perceive. It's far easier for the search committee to throw an application into the "hold for later in case we don't find anyone in the first group we invite in" pile.

When you do write a letter for someone in this situation, it's really good to check with them as to what their story is going to be. In fact, its always good to check what the person is going to say before you write a letter. Nothing will reduce the impact of your letter if it is at odds with what the candidate says.

Honesty is important. You cannot say "this person is an excellent fit for your position" when you and the person applying and the search committee know damn well that it isn't true. It is possible to address this directly, if you can:

Dr. Hopping may not seem like an immediate fit for a position in your department, but her expertise in biomechanics, in particular the effects of scale on leaping and jumping, has the potential, to broaden and enhance the insect locomotion group's research interests.

That is, find something in Dr. Hopping's work that speaks to what is important to the place where she is applying for a job. Be careful not to tell them how to do their work: "you would be fools not to include the scaling of locomotion in your studies". Tell them, show them, how Dr. Hopping would be of value to them.

Dr. Hopping's work on the evolution of scaling in biomechanics of saltatory locomotion is broader than just one group of animals. She has looked at the impact of small scale (allometry) but also the major changes in design over orders of magnitude in body size.

A second situation is someone who you know is good has not quite lived up to their potential. The power of a letter is that the problem can be discussed, and strengths brought forward in ways that may be awkward for the candidate themselves.

I would like to discuss Dr. Slithering's publication record. When she was a graduate student, she published two papers (first author) that showed great promise as part of her thesis. These papers were excellent because... blah blah blah. Yet, for family reasons, she took a job at Lower-Lame-Deer State College, where she had a 4-4-2 teaching load right out of graduate school. Her work at LLDSC was excellent, including teaching reviews that demonstrate the same enthusiasm and intelligence she brought to her PhD work. During the 3 years at LLDSC, she published two papers, despite being in a job that was 80% teaching. She has continued to maintain a research career in the face of difficulty. Dr. Slithering has decided to try and return to a more research/teaching balanced position. I support this transition, as despite her publication record, she has maintained her research. Further, she will be able to walk into any teaching position without difficulty.

This is the old "turn weaknesses into strengths". Do not lie, or even bend the truth about what happened. You do not even necessarily have to justify why Dr. Slithering went to LLDSC in the first place. "Family issues" or "personal concerns", if true, are always acceptable. But, emphasize and talk about what the person is good at. If there is an objective reason, offer explanation for what happened, in this case the teaching load. Try to point out what the person will bring, given who they are and what they have done, to the new position.

Now, what about the person who just hasn't produced, despite having everything going for them? They haven't done a postdoc (in a field where almost everyone does), they have one middle-authored paper from their PhD. They TA's one class, but didn't like the teaching part. Now, they want a shiny job to which everyone and their second cousin is applying. The first question I have for you, the letter writer, is why are you writing this letter? Yes, Dr. Crawlsaround is a good friend. Maybe they saved your bacon in grad school. If you are good friends, have a chat, and ask them why they are applying. It gets harder when there is a significant back story. Maybe it includes bullying or hostility or out and out sexism/racism/genderism something that kept them from producing. If this is a person you care about, and you really believe that they aren't even going to get asked for letters for this position (but they've come to you for one "just in case"), maybe its time to talk to them about other options: A postdoc, a 2nd postdoc, things they can do to enhance their CV. Why are they applying for this job? Keep in mind that every letter you write also reflects back on you. Its often a small pond in which we swim. If you write too many letters for friends who aren't great, you will be known as someone who writes letters for friends who aren't great.

But Dr. Crawlsaround insists, and you feel obligated (this time). Ask yourself: why do you think she's so good? And put that in your letter. Don't spend lots of time justifying the weaknesses and holes. It's usually not a good idea to say "Dr. Crawlsaround's mentor, Dr. Underthearth, was a firstorder jackass who bulled her, and that's why she didn't publish". You never know if Dr. Underthearth has a good buddy on the search committee, and that you have just screwed your next grant submission. Beyond this, it doesn't make for a strong letter to be whinging about why Dr. Crawlsaround didn't achieve, when the reasons are fuzzy or political or subjective issues. Stick to what is positive, and why you think she's good for the job.

When writing these letters, its a always a good writing strategy to put yourself in the position of the search committee. You wouldn't want to hire someone who is going to come in and fail. And you're not going to hire Dr. Hopping if you are building a group of fish/aquatic ecology and locomotion types. Don't include negative stuff, it can leave a bad taste in the mouth of the search committee reading the letters. If you want to recommend someone, try to put forward why you would want to hire this person. In fact, I often include that line in my letters:

If I had a position available in my department, that required both teaching and research, I would hire Dr. Slithering in a heartbeat. She is hardworking, and shown that she can rise to the challenge and be a success even in a less than optimal situation.



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Writing Letters of Recommendation

Oct 26 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Now that we understand what you own, and why its important, we can talk about what makes a letter a good letter. Here is something that I wrote about letters of support for a grant application. And something about supporting a junior colleague's grant proposal.

But how to write a job letter under difficult circumstances? For example, the person is trying to change jobs for a difficult, personal reason that is nobody's business. Or the person took the job that they could, which involved a 4-4 (four classes in each of two terms) load, but now wants to try and move. I think that first one must master writing a letter for someone without such issues. At that point the the changes that one needs to make become obvious.

The zero-th guideline in my view, is to determine: can you write the letter? Do you really believe in the person and their abilities? If you, yourself, are an overwhelmed junior faculty, or an overwhelmed senior faculty, it is important to make the decision about how you spend your precious time & energy. Are you writing this letter for a friend, out of friendship, yet in the end you can't say anything beyond this person was a good friend? Ask yourself the hard questions, and answer honestly. It is ok to say no to a friend.

Given that you do decide to write a letter, there are some parts that are good to have in all letters. You can't just say "this person is marvelous". I've read too many letters like that, and what they say to me is "the person writing doesn't have a clue as to who they are writing about".

A first paragraph that contains [note: the examples here are from real letters I've written, but for a number of different people, at different levels]

1. the Name of the Person, usually in bold & italic so that people know who this letter is about. They may be reading lots. They may gets sorted into the wrong place.

2. A (brief) sentence about who you are. How long you've known the person. In what capacity. You can also sneak in something good about the person here.

It is my great pleasure to recommend Dr. Bunny J. Hopping for a position in your college. I have known Dr. Hopping since 2008, when I was responsible for hiring into the Department of Animal Locomotion at the MRU School of Vet Medicine. She started there as an Assistant Professor, but has recently been promoted to Associate Professor, but without tenure as MRU does not give tenure. Despite leaving MRU two years ago, Dr. Hopping and I have maintained our professional relationship. She is someone who’s scientific and professional opinion I value greatly.

A set of paragraphs outlining the greatness of the person you are recommending. Organizing them by type (research, teaching, mentoring) is helpful to the reader. I often break research and funding into separate para's.

3. This para talks about the specifics of science. I describe the science, and mention some metrics. I try to include specifics, in this case that its both clinical and basic science. That's important for this particular job, which was described as a mix of training researchers and clinicians.

Dr. Hopping is one of the finest young/mid-career scientists in the field of locomotion research. Her research and publication record are both deep and broad. Her work spans the basic science of the biomechanics of movement,  through to the clinical implications of that work for recovery from hunting wounds. Her 16 publications are in both strong basic science journals (example) and clinical journals (another example). She has won many major awards in our field, from the X, Y, Z.

If you have room you can include specifics of the research. If its a younger person, with fewer pubs, talking about the importance of a particular pub can strengthen the letter. I worked in (this is for a first job letter) that I believe, and why I believe, she has the capacity to be a faculty person, an independent scientist.

Dr. Hopping and I worked on a joint project, and I was impressed with her independence, intellectual maturity and insight. During this project, she not only measured the films of bunny hopping, but she developed new hypotheses about vertebral structure as she explored the data beyond the original hypotheses. While working hard on data collection or extraction, she is always thinking of what the next step will be, blending hypothesis generation with the data collection to test it together. Our collaboration involved using films that I had collected over 10 years ago. She knew of these films and came up with this project on her own, because it was something in which she was interested. I did not feel I was helping a student get a publication, but that I was working with a colleague who challenged my ideas and brought new ones to the table.  In my view, this paper is strong evidence of her ability to function as an independent scientist.

4. The para on funding also includes detail. I've gone back to show that Dr Hopping's funding also covers multiple fields. I know this is a long paragraph to put in as an example, but what is important is that I say more than she has funding from X,Y,Z. I say why that funding is important, what she's done with it, what she can do with it in the future. I want my readers to see more of the real person, not what someone would get from their CV.

Dr. Hopping is also very well-funded by NIH, NSF and the DOD. She received a XX on aging and hopping funded by NINDS. I was a mentor on that grant, and followed her progress closely. She made excellent use of the support from the K23, and was very productive during that time, producing Q,R,P. Currently she holds an R01 “name of proposal”. In my view, this is ground-breaking work, with the potential to transform our treatment of individuals with movement disorders. This work is based on a thorough understanding and comprehension of the basic science of neurophysiology. In this project she continues to combine her ability to perform research the relies on basic science, that expands our understanding of the neural basis of hopping with a goal of clinical outcomes that have direct patient benefit.

If it is a new person, without funding, say something about why you think this person will be able to get funding. Any experience in helping to write grants.

5. Finally a para on teaching needs to include more than "she's doing it":

As a teacher and mentor, Bunny is one of the most generous and intelligent scientists I know. Her commitment to the larger field is reflected in her teaching work, both through online courses, personal teaching and her contributions to an award winning textbook. Her lab is filled with young trainees who, after working with her, are both ready and energized to contribute as scientists and health care providers. [And then some more examples, or quotes from students or reviews].

6. If the person has done something else, some service beyond, like setting up a school for underprivileged children on your university campus, but something that is NOT necessarily being looked for in the job ad, here is the place to put it. If it is important for the job, put it up higher in the letter.

7. I always try to close with a para about the person as a person. Why I'd want them as a colleague:

In summary, Dr. Hopping is one of the best young scientists working in locomotion disorders today. Everybody who interacts with her, comes away stronger and better for the experience. Our collaborations have challenged me, made me grow, and improved my science. Her impact on the field is large; her potential to transform this discipline  is larger. I recommend her to you without reservation.

or for a younger colleague:

I think that Bunny is already a good scientist, with the potential to become an outstanding one. She is an excellent teacher, who is committed to education. I would hire her immediately, if I had an open position. She will be an excellent addition to your department.

Now what if the person is difficult, and doesn't have such a sterling record as our Dr. Hopping? This has gotten very long and I'll put that in the next post. Stayed tuned....

5 responses so far

quote of the day

Oct 24 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.  ― Mary Hemingway

I wish I could do this. I wish I could do this.

Ugly politics at work are a grain of sand in my shoe.


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The ego blows that are NIH reviews

Oct 21 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Recently on the tweets:

I wish to be fair to Sean, who is thoughtful and was trying to make a specific point:


@pottytheron I really am not talking about her score, or the outcome.

— Sean Eddy (@cryptogenomicon) October 20, 2016



@pottytheron no, and to be clear, I'm not complaining about outcome. I don't think those *particular* critiques are good for the NIH system.

— Sean Eddy (@cryptogenomicon) October 20, 2016


The NIH process favors large laboratories. Solo theoreticians have a rough time. But we need theoreticians too. @drugmonkeyblog

— Sean Eddy (@cryptogenomicon) October 20, 2016

Sean felt that these reviews discouraged, significantly discouraged to the point of leaving science, a promising young scientist. He said that these reviews were another straw on the camel's back.

I do not know the person to whom Sean refers, and can't even take a guess at who it might be. But I've seen this story many times. Heck, I've been part of it on both sides. I've given what I thought was a fair review that probably wounded some young scientist to their very core. I remember when I was that scientist. Truly, even in those golden olde dayes, there were NIH rejections, and some of them had unpleasant comments that were a bit beside the point. And a critique to my mother, in the 70's or 80's: Why should we study heart disease in women, since we know how it works in men. This would be a waste of funding. Ah, there has been some progress.

My response here, longer than a tweet is twofold:

First, the substantive claim: that NIH does not care about "small science" or solo-practitioners or small-dogs.  This is just blatantly not true, as much as NIH can be said to "care" about anything. NIH may not prioritize theoretical or small lab, but it does not penalize for it either. I don't have DataHound's data on this, but I have always been small, and I've mentored people who stayed small (one trainee at a time, no tech). They get funded. They do. NIH does support theoretical work. I know theoreticians with funding.  But they publish, even if most of their papers are single -authored. Yes you publish less when you do not have an army generating data for you. But probably one paper every other year is not sufficient, no matter what your science. Please don't tell me about the snowflake nature that makes more than 1 paper every other year impossible. Shades of Maria. It may be wrong. It may be cruel. It may not promote the best science and research. BUT... if you want to survive, get tenure and be part of this world, you must publish.

Second, the response of a junior person to rejection and review comments that range from cruel and hard to silly and stupid. It happens. I would love for this to be a world where we all sing Kumbaya all the time. But its not. Expecting the world to take care of someone's ego is not a good strategy. Sometimes those comments are not meant, delivered or in reality as ugly or nasty as they are perceived. My unvarnished truth (for example, "concerns exist that with this level of productivity, this PI may not be successful if funded") may be your hurtful ad hominem ("I am publishing as much as I possibly can"). Your blisteringly obvious hypothesis is totally opaque to me. Everyone hates peer-review, but damned if I can think of a better system that would be less biased, less idiosyncratic, and produce less garbage at the end.

Everybody gets rejected. Everybody. Again, the world is far from perfect, but if you want to give up after your first rejection, you are not going make it. Your first grant rejection is nothing compared to what is coming your way.


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Friendship and a death grip on truth

Oct 21 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Again, a post written two weeks ago, only now being posted:


A friend of mine, years ago, going through a divorce from their (very liberal, right-thinking) ministerial spouse, once mused that while the spouse loved humanity, it was people in specific that this spouse could not stand.

I reminded of this as I watch the (near-adult) child of a dear friend go through hell. This child, who I have known for years, is a good person. But this good person did something wrong. There was (minor) injury to another.  But the child's community of peers has judged, and found this near-adult child wrong. The situation has a lot of she-said/she-said, and it is not clear where the exact truth lies.  Yet, the peers of this child have piled on, saying things like "I cannot possibly be friends with someone who has done what you have done" and "until you admit your sins, and truly repent,  I can only turn you into the police". (note this was not a police-actionable deed, and let me add that race was not an issue). There was much public shaming and harassment and the near-adult child is devastated and left college

I am sad that these young people, the friends of the child, the lover of the child,  have drawn this line so stringently, so harshly. No peer has stopped and asked to hear the child's side of the story. The lover of the child has said "I need to let you go so we both can move on". No peer has said "yes, this was bad, but I love you anyway".

The question of when you forgive someone, when your love and relationship is more important than a single deed, is not necessarily black and white. There are things one may not or  cannot forgive: rape, murder, torture. But smaller transgressions? There needs to be room for a person to say "I did this wrong thing, and I am sorry" in the company of friend who will say "I love you, especially for saying this". Part of the problem comes where you draw the line between unforgiveable and forgivable. Young people, in my perception, often have more trouble with that line.

If I have learned anything, walking this earth for as long as I have, it is that I can be wrong. That my judgements, my clear-eyed views of the truth are often more cloudy than I know, at the time, even now. That sometimes caring for a person, even a person with a history of not caring for you, is not just an objective good thing, but something that makes me better in more ways than I know.

My hope is that these young people, years from now, maybe only months, will look back, if not in shame, at least in a larger understanding of their standards for love and friendship and support. My hope is that the young person, the child, will not be so injured as to turn around and do this to others.

S'hana Tovah, to my Jewish brothers and sisters, to my brothers and sisters of all faiths, and to my brothers and sisters who profess no (organized or otherwise) faith. May everyone have a friend that stands by you in time of need.

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Repost: What do you own?

Oct 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the most important things one does is write letters of recommendation. They may not get read. They might be ignored. But then again, they might not. One of my favorite old posts is "What do you own?" So, I'm putting up here, as a starting point for thinking about writing letters for others:


What do you own?

When you are a grad student you own your thesis. period. Maybe you are lucky and have an undergrad who is helping you with some of the tedious pars). And while you may care about the undergrad, you don’t own their success or failure.

When you become a postdoc you own the project. Maybe you own part of a grad student’s career – because what happens to them reflects back on you in ways that the work of an undergrad doesn’t.

When you become a TT person (or sometimes, in some very big labs, a senior postdoc fellow, who is figuring out a non-TT career), you own the lab or your part of the lab. You all of a sudden own the careers of a technician, and any trainees you’ve got. What they do reflects on you. And what’s more you own your career, in a way that wasn’t really so obvious when you were a postdoc and you just owned a project.

The transition to ass prof (as opposed to a full ass prof) is a bit more subtle. You can continue to own your lab, the classes you teach, and your family (remember them?).  Or you can do more and start owning other junior faculty.

Now obviously I mean “own” not in the slavery sense, or the apples for the grocery store sense. I mean it in the “take ownership of a problem or process” sense. It is a way of identification of things for which one takes responsibility. It is the sense in which another person’s successes or failures not just reflect on you, but are things that you truly care about, prioritize and work on. Understanding what you do and do not own is a critical ability for academic success. Not to mention personal mental health.

One way of assessing leadership (another douche term), that is now so corrupted that it can mean anything from inspiring and directing others to achieve more than they could on their own to have double digit R01’s), is to see what a person thinks they own.

When you are a junior faculty and own your lab, you can be very successful with trainees, they got lots done, they get jobs, you’ve got lots of grants that make all this possible. But their successes still have your name on it. Mature “ownership” (if you will) means that when you start working with other junior faculty, that you work towards their success, and that to you, their success matters, even if you do not get your name on their papers. Even if you are not included for 10% effort on their grant. Even if your department head will not acknowledge your activity as part of your job.

This is harder. All of the previous ownerships had some assignable outcome (papers, grants, invites to sit on study sections), most of which can show up on your CV. When you take ownership of other faculty, or even other groups of people (as the Chair of the Support for all those XX, Brown, disabled or  people we have to let in, even though we wouldn’t live next door to any of them, unless they were rich and good-looking), it may turn up as “chair of the…” or maybe not even that.

The decision to do something like that is a decision based on knowing what kind of person you want to be. You do it for you, when no one else is looking. Maybe you do it because someone else took a risk and did it for you ages ago. Maybe you do it because you have a spiritual basis for such behavior (I will admit to being hugely suspicious of this one, but acknowledge that it is possible). Maybe you just like helping. But to me, that's part of leadership or maturity or whatever  – when you recognize that as a senior person you’ve got stuff to share, and ways to help,  and acknowledgement of ownership doesn’t matter.

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How do I know what is the right thing to do?

Oct 20 2016 Published by under dementia

I wrote this several months ago. I had forgotten it.


My mother is slipping out of this world (see these posts: here and  here and here and here). I've written a lot about my pain and hers:

I too want Mama

Winter of her life is now

Snow on hair and mind

I see her once or twice a week. I care for her when I see her, but that's almost more for me, as there are others who care for her where she lives.  She is in a good place, a safe place. She is being taken care of by people who have a calling to take care of her. But almost every time I leave her I think: should I being doing more?

And then the internal dialogue starts:

"Should I be doing more?"

"But what else could I do?"

"I could go see her every day"

"That would be very difficult, and end up taking 60-90 minutes out of my already over-filled time"

"But I waste so much time... maybe this instead of reading sci-fi at night"

"Would it matter to her?"

"How can I possibly know what matters to her?"

I do not think that I am alone in this dialogue. I would guess that every aging child, every adult child who cares for their parent, whether they have the resources I do, or whether the demented (or not demented) parent is living at home in too-small of a space, has this discussion with themselves. To take on the care of a parent, one must already have made a commitment.



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Things to never ever ever to do in writing your NIH proposal

Oct 07 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Never ever fudge your publication record. Even if you are absolutely 100% totally sure that this paper will be out before study section, do not claim something as "in press" or "accepted" when it is not. Do not claim 14 pubs when your pubmed online bibliography has only 12.

A (slightly) more subtle corollary of this advice: if you submit a revised version of a proposal, it is not a good position to have the same four papers "in prep" or "submitted" that you did in the previous version (or even in a different version) that was 9 months to 2 years ago. If you haven't moved the papers in a year, take them off of your biosketch.

Study sections see these things. They comment on them. It reduces the confidence in everything else you say.

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References for allies (and would be allies) of transgender people

Oct 04 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The child of a friend has come out as transgender. The letter that the parents wrote brought tears to my eyes. I do not have permission to post it here, but to paraphrase: we love our child. Our child's choice of gender does not limit or change that love.

What the letter did contain, that I can repost here, is a set of links for people who want help with accepting and supporting transgender people of all ages: Trans 101 from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Tips for Allies of Transgender People, also from GLAAD an article from Time Magazine explaining how to talk to and about someone who is transgender   A Guide to Gender and Identity

Finally, I again recommend Deirdre McCluskey's memoir:

The parents end the letter with a reminder that a question that would make you uncomfortable, will likely make a transgender person uncomfortable. That holds for questions you would ask of anyone.

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