I still remember the day a mentor—one that I deeply admired and respected—told me to draft my own letter of recommendation (LOR). To say that I was aghast at their request would be a gross understatement. Throughout my education, the imperative of abiding by the honor code had been repeatedly emphasized. How could I reconcile composing my own LOR with my desire for academic integrity and compliance with the honor code?

As a first-generation student, my training was characterized with many instances of such panic: a lack of familiarity with the implicit norms—also known as the hidden curriculum—not only made it more challenging to navigate academia, but also exacerbated my imposter syndrome. Thus, I have been committed to exposing the hidden curriculum to make academia more relatable and accessible in a twofold approach.

First, I endeavor to convert these tacit norms and rules into explicit knowledge by curating content, coupled with meaningful examples and/or actionable advice when possible. For instance, when I discuss application fee waivers, I also share an example email draft of how to request one. Circling back to my opening scenario, I still find the expectation that students or trainees draft their own LORs deeply unsettling. Consequently, I drafted an LOR worksheet that I ask folks to fill out so I can have the information to write a strong, compelling letter.

Second, I endeavor to promote belonging in academia by being transparent and vulnerable. As such, I frequently share rejections or “raw confessions” on Twitter, despite concerns that they may be perceived as “unprofessional.”

Only by dismantling the gatekeeping mechanisms produced by the “hidden curriculum” can a more inclusive environment and level playing field for all individuals, regardless of their background, be curated in academia. Hence, I am composing a series of Edge for Scholars posts dedicated to hidden curriculum-related topics, outlined below, which is informed by this two-pronged approach:

  • Reading Recommendations
  • Navigating Barriers, Setbacks, and Difficult Conversations
  • Grant-writing
    • How to Find Funding Opportunities
    • How to Plan and Coordinate Proposal Writing
    • Grant-writing Resources

If you have any other suggestions for blog post topics, feel free to contact me with your ideas!

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