Letters of Reference


Instructions for Institutions
Guidelines and Best Practices for Letter Writers



Instructions for Institutions

Each nomination must include three letters of reference. Institutions are provided an additional two weeks after the relevant nomination deadline to meet this requirement. Institutions should consult their Canada Research Chairs online institutional portal and monitor the receipt of letters to ensure that all three letters are received for each of their nominations before the final deadline to submit letters of reference. Note that a nomination that is missing letters of reference after the two-week extended deadline will be withdrawn from the cycle.

Conflict of Interest

Please read carefully the Chairs program’s guidelines on conflict of interest and the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations.  

With the exception of new Tier 2 nominations, for which up to two of the three letters of reference can be ‘in conflict’ along with at least one ‘arms-length’ reference, letters of reference for Canada Research Chairs nominations must be from referees who are not in a conflict of interest with the nominee.

It is the responsibility of institutions to ensure that letters of reference submitted in support of nominations meet the Chairs program’s requirements regarding conflict of interest. If, during the peer review process, a letter of reference is found not to meet these requirements, the letter will be removed from the nomination package by the Secretariat.

Letters for New Nominations

Tier 1

  • All three letters must be from established authorities in the field who are not in a conflict of interest with the nominee.
  • One letter must be from a recognized international authority in the nominee’s field who does not reside in the country in which the nominee is currently working.
  • All three letters should address the international stature of the nominee, the specific impacts of his or her research, and the broader value of his or her research contributions.

Tier 2

  • One of the letters must be from an established authority in the field who is not in a conflict of interest with the nominee.
  • Two of the letters must be from referees who are not affiliated with the nominating institution, unless they are the nominee's PhD or postdoctoral supervisor.
  • All three letters should emphasize the nominee's potential and ability to independently lead a program of research and establish an international reputation during their five years as a Tier 2 Chair.

Letters for Renewal Nominations

Tier 1 and Tier 2

  • All three letters must be from established authorities in the field who are not in a conflict of interest with the nominee.
  • One letter must be from a recognized international authority in the nominee’s field who does not reside in the country in which the nominee is currently working.
  • All three letters for renewal nominations should emphasize the nominee's accomplishments in his or her previous term as a Canada Research Chair.

Note: The Canadian Privacy Act stipulates that Government of Canada organizations must provide the text of letters of reference to nominees upon request. Organizations are not required to reveal the identity of the letter writer.

 


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Guidelines and Best Practices for Reference Letter Writers

Thank you
The Chairs Secretariat wishes to thank you for generously offering your time and expertise in providing a letter of reference for a Canada Research Chairs nominee. Letters of reference are an important part of the Chairs program’s rigorous peer-review process. They are carefully considered by reviewers and inform the funding recommendations made to the Program’s Steering Committee.

Letter Format

Letters of reference must:

  • be presented on letterhead;
  • be dated;
  • clearly state the full name of the nominee;
  • include your (the referee’s) name, position, department, institution, email address and telephone number;
  • include an original signature;
  • include a statement from you (the referee) declaring that there is no conflict of interest (if applicable);
  • include a statement describing the professional relationship between you (the referee) and the nominee;
  • be submitted to the Chairs Secretariat by you (the referee) directly, or by the nominating institution;
  • be received by the Chairs Secretariat no later than midnight of the relevant final deadline to submit letters of reference;
  • be sent by email (information@chairs-chaires.gc.ca ), fax (613-943-3282), or by post (the original copy does not need to follow by mail if the letter is submitted by email or fax) to:

Canada Research Chairs Secretariat
350 Albert Street, P.O. Box 1610
Ottawa, ON K1P 6G4
Email: information@chairs-chaires.gc.ca

Letter Content

Reviewers will find it helpful if you divide your letter into four parts, as follows:

Part 1 – Introduction

Explain your relationship to the nominee and provide context to your credentials as a referee for the individual:

  • Include a statement declaring that there is no conflict of interest (except in the case of new Tier 2 nominations, as noted above) in you providing a letter of reference for the nominee.  
  • If applicable, describe the professional relationship between you and the nominee, including the period of time you have known each other and in what capacity.
  • Include a brief description of your own qualifications and credentials to help peer reviewers put your recommendation into context.

Part 2 – Quality of the Nominee

This section should provide insights into the quality of the nominee in reference to the Canada Research Chairs program’s evaluation criteria (see Evaluation Criteria: Quality of the Nominee and Research Program  below). As appropriate for the nominee’s career stage and the type of chair nomination (i.e., Tier 1 or Tier 2, new or renewal), please comment on the following:

  • the nominee’s training background, expertise and experience in the area of research for the Chair being proposed;
  • the quality, originality and innovativeness of the nominee’s academic/research accomplish­ments;
  • the nominee’s impact in the field and the value/significance of their research contributions;
  • the nominee’s record of (or potential for) attracting and supervising trainees, students, and future researchers;
  • for Tier 1 nominations only, the nominee’s international stature as a leader in their field;
  • for Tier 2 nominations only, the nominee’s ability to independently lead a program of research and their potential to establish an international reputation during the five- to ten-year tenure of the chair.
  • for Tier 1 and Tier 2 renewal nominations only, the nominee’s accomplishments during their previous term as a Canada Research Chair; and
  • the nominee’s ability (or potential) to establish collaborations with other researchers within Canada and abroad.

Part 3 – Professional Stature and Skills

This section should provide insights into the nominee’s professional stature and skills at a more general level, as appropriate for the nominee’s career stage and the type of chair nomination (i.e., Tier 1 or Tier 2, new or renewal).Please be particularly careful to avoid unconscious gender bias in this section (see Limiting Unconscious Bias below). Please comment on:

  • accomplishments and activities that demonstrate the impact of the nominee’s previous work (e.g., peer reviewed research funding record, awards, invited talks, contributions to professional practice or public policy, etc.); and
  • skills and attributes that demonstrate the nominee’s potential for future contributions to their field of research (e.g., leadership skills, vision, technical skills, writing ability, dependability, commu­nication skills, mentoring ability, creativity, originality, independence and collegiality, etc.).

Part 4 - Conclusion

Conclude your letter with:

  • a summary of your main points; and
  • a sentence that clearly and explicitly states your overall recommendation.

Best Practices

When drafting your letter, please consider the following best practices:

  • Be accurate, fair, clear and balanced.
  • Avoid being unduly personal (i.e., do not use the nominee’s first name).
  • Support your points by providing specific examples of accomplishments where possible.
  • Use superlative descriptors (e.g., excellent, outstanding) judiciously and support them with evidence.
  • Letters should, ideally, be between one and two pages.
  • Consider any points listed above in Letter Content that you may have left out unintentionally. Such gaps may leave reviewers wondering why these points haven’t been addressed.
  • Include only information that is relevant to the Chair position (e.g., do not include information related to ethnicity, age, hobbies, marital status, religion, etc.).
  • Avoid revealing personal information about the nominee. Such information may be helpful only in explaining a gap in the nominee’s productivity record (e.g., circumstances where health issues or family responsibilities have led to career interruptions) and should be addressed with caution.
  • Be aware of unconscious bias and choose your words carefully (see below).

Limiting Unconscious Bias

According to a report issued by the American Association of University Women, implicit biases operate at an unconscious level, are influenced by our cultural environment and can impact our decision making. A study out of Wayne State University, which systematically compared letters of recommendation written for female applicants with those written for male applicants, found that, compared to the letters written for men, those written for women were more likely to: 

  • be shorter in length and incomplete;
  • include gendered terms (e.g., woman, lady, mother, wife);
  • include fewer ‘standout’ adjectives (e.g., excellent, outstanding etc.);
  • include ‘doubt raisers’ (negative language, hedges, unexplained comments, faint praise and irrelevancies);
  • focus on interpersonal attributes versus research skills/achievements (e.g., kindness, compassionate etc.); and
  • include personal information that was not relevant to the position.

It is important to avoid unconscious bias within letters of recommendation as it can potentially have an unintended negative impact on the overall success/career of individuals—especially in the case of women. Research shows that social and environmental factors (including unconscious bias) contribute to the under-representation of women in science. 

How to Limit Unconscious Bias

In order to limit the influence of unconscious bias within your letter, consider the following:

  • Focus on comparing the nominee with the specific requirements of the type of Chairs position (i.e., Tier 1 or Tier 2, new or renewal).
  • Avoid using stereotypical adjectives when describing character and skills, especially when providing a letter for a woman (e.g., avoid words like nice, kind, agreeable, sympathetic, compassionate, selfless, giving, caring, warm, nurturing, maternal, etc.).
  • Consider using ‘stand-out’ adjectives for both men and women, where appropriate (e.g., superb, excellent, outstanding, confident, successful, ambitious, knowledgeable, intellectual etc.).
  • Use the nominee’s formal title and surname instead of their first name.

Consider whether your letter unintentionally includes gaps, or doubt-raising, negative or unexplained statements (e.g., ‘might make an excellent leader’ versus ‘is an established leader’).

Evaluation Criteria: Quality of the Nominee and Research Program

New nominations Renewal nominations
Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 1 Tier 2

Nominees must:

  • be outstanding and innovative world-class researchers whose accomplishments have made a major impact in their fields;
  • be recognized internationally as leaders in their fields;
  • have superior records of attracting and supervising graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and, as chairholders, attract, develop and retain excellent trainees, students and future researchers;
  • be proposing an original, innovative research program of the highest quality.

Nominees must:

  • be excellent emerging world-class researchers who have demonstrated particular research creativity;
  • have demonstrated the potential to achieve international recognition in their fields in the next five to ten years;
  • have the potential to attract, develop and retain excellent trainees, students and future researchers;
  • be proposing an original, innovative research program of high quality.

Nominees must:

  • continue to distinguish him/herself as an outstanding, and world-class researcher;
  • have successfully attracted, developed and retained and continue to attract, develop and retain excellent trainees, students to their institution;
  • be carrying out a program of research that is producing leading-edge results which are making a significant impact at the international level.
  • be proposing an original and innovative program of research of the highest quality;

Nominees must:

  • be developing into an outstanding researcher of world-class calibre and is poised to become a leader in his or her field;
  • have successfully attracted, developed and retained and will continue to attract, develop and retain excellent trainees and students to their institution;
  • be carrying out a program of research that is producing important results which are making a significant impact in the field;
  • be proposing an original and innovative program of research