Role of the referee: To provide an assessment of the potential for a candidate to succeed in a graduate program, plan of research, or academic award.
Suggested strategies to minimize implicit bias when writing a letter of reference or other assessment of a candidate:
- Avoid using stereotypical or interpersonal attributes when describing character and skills (e.g., words such as nice, hardworking, conscientious, dependable, diligent, kind, agreeable, sympathetic, compassionate, selfless, giving, caring, warm, nurturing, maternal);
- Focus on research skills and achievements using words that describe the candidate’s research excellence (e.g., thought-provoking, innovative, novel, thorough, detailed, impactful);
- Consider using, where appropriate, ‘stand-out’ adjectives (e.g., superb, excellent, outstanding, confident, successful, ambitious, knowledgeable, intellectual) for all genders (e.g., women, men, transgender, two-spirit);
- Use the nominee’s formal title and last name instead of their first name. Avoid attributing the contribution of an applicant’s work to the order of authors, as not all disciplines follow a single convention;
- Consider whether your comment unintentionally includes ‘doubt raisers’ (i.e., negative language, hedges, unexplained comments, faint praise and irrelevancies, such as “might make an excellent leader” versus “is an established leader”);
- Use inclusive language is (e.g. “the applicant” or “they” instead of “he/she”) and do not use words or sentences that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory language of particular people or groups, or their institution;
- Avoid being unduly personal;
- Support your points by providing specific examples of accomplishments always;
- Do not include information related to ethnicity, age, hobbies, marital status, religion, disability;
- Avoid sharing personal information about the applicant; such information may be helpful only in explaining academic delays or interruptions and should be addressed with caution.
Source: Adapted from the Vanier Graduate Scholarships website. (Canada, 2020)