An academic used ChatGPT to write a letter of recommendation that helped a student win a prestigious scholarship from Cambridge

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APRIL 24, 2023

Matt Huculak, an academic, used ChatGPT to help write a reference letter for a student. LAW Ho Ming/Getty Images

  • Matt Huculak, a university librarian, used ChatGPT to help write a letter of recommendation for a student.
  • The “heartfelt” letter may have helped the student win a prestigious scholarship to Cambridge.
  • Huculak said using ChatGPT can help academics break the cycle of recycling old reference letters.

An academic at the University of Victoria in Canada used ChatGPT to help write a reference letter for a student — and the payoff was big, as was first reported by The Atlantic reported.

Matt Huculak, the head of advanced research services at the university’s libraries, asked ChatGPT to write an “excellent” reference letter for a student, who ended up getting into a graduate program at a “top-three” school in Canada. The student went on receive a prestigious scholarship from the University of Cambridge soon after, Hucula told Insider.

“Honestly, the ChatGPT generated letter was among some of the best letters I’ve read,” Huculak said. “It was concise, it used “concrete” examples, it spoke to the candidate’s ability to collaborate with others.”

He used the chatbot’s response as a template of what not to write, as he knew the AI would suggest a tired and formulaic letter.

A screenshot of the ChatGPT-generated reference letter Huculak used as a template of what not to write. – Courtesy of Huculak

Huculak said he was pleasantly surprised with the final outcome.

“What I wrote ended up feeling like the most ‘human’ and heartfelt letter I’ve written in a long time,” he told The Atlantic.

Huculak said that using ChatGPT helped him write a letter that was original. Professors, he said, tend to recycle past reference letters and tailor them to a particular student, which could produce dull letters.

“A formula, per se, isn’t bad,” Huculak told Insider. “But when a professor is invested in a student’s success, you are always fighting the ‘form’ of expectations in order to show how unique your student is and why they will be successful at the institution to which they are applying.”

Repurposing old reference letters could help professors save time and even avoid the anxiety of an empty page. But using ChatGPT to generate the letters, Huculak said, can break the cycle.

He said it gave him the space to experiment with the writing in a way he didn’t feel comfortable with before. After all, writing a reference letter, Huculak said, “is a tremendously difficult task” that he finds “anxiety producing.”

While, some colleges and schools around the world have banned ChatGPT out of fear that students will use it to cheat and plagiarize, Huculak is among academics who think the AI chatbot can make their jobs easier and boost students’ productivity.

Stephanie Kane, a professor at George Mason University, said she used ChatGPT to come up with topics and concepts to include in her class syllabus, according to The Atlantic. Ethan Mollick, an entrepreneurship professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said he requires his students to use ChatGPT to generate project ideas and improve their writing.

“This is going to save teachers a lot of work,” Zak Cohen, a middle school director based in Louisville, Kentucky, told Insider when asked about ChatGPT.

For some, the results have been promising. Shannon Ahern, a high school math and science teacher, told Insider she uses ChatGPT to write lesson plans, generate exercise worksheets, and write quiz questions. It saved her the stress of working late into the night, she said.

“Before using the AI, I stayed up late preparing class materials and would show up to class the next day feeling sluggish and tired,” Ahern said. Now, I go to work feeling refreshed.

Huculak said he “will certainly continue to use” ChatGPT as part of a challenge to “really grasp what the student has accomplished.”

“I think committees will quickly learn to spot ChatGPT letters,” Huculak said. “It really is on reference writers to be more creative.”


Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on Business Insider