Lance adds more thoughts on the subject of rejection, and he talks about rejection letters. On this subject, Oded had interesting thoughts in an earlier essay. Oded was writing about papers rejected from conferences, but perhaps his point applies more broadly. If I may paraphrase, Oded says that a rejection letter should contain constructive criticism, as appropriate, but it should not explain the reason of the decision. In Oded’s view (reiterated in his more recent essay), rejection of papers from conferences and decisions not to hire certain people are simply decisions about the allocation of scarce resources. Typically, they have no sensible rationale, and, in any case, they are not meant to be a judgement on the value of the paper or of the person. It is confusion between allocation decisions and value statements that creates much needless frustration, and it should be avoided.
Offering specific reasons for rejecting a paper or passing on a candidate is then, in Oded’s opinion, a step in the wrong direction, because it makes the decision sound indeed more like a value judgement.
Making a job offer is, for a department, a significant long-term commitment, and so it is for a candidate to accept an offer. Deciding where to work greatly affects one’s life, and deciding whom to hire has a great effect on a department’s life as well. It is no wonder that the comparison to romantic relationships always comes to mind. Indeed, if one thinks of an academic job interview as a blind date set up by common friends, everything makes sense.
So, I was wondering, what does Oded’s ideal rejection letter sound like when translated to the setting of romantic relationships? And then it hit me:
It’s not you, it’s me.