This ChatGPT hack is pretty clever.

Breaking the Mould

A University of Victoria academic used ChatGPT in a fascinating way to write a recommendation letter for a student, The Atlantic reports — and it worked so well that it helped the student win a prestigious Cambridge scholarship.

"A dirty secret of academe is that most professors have a cache of letters separated into different categories," Matt Huculak, the head of advanced research services at the University of Victoria, told the Atlantic.

In other words, it's an extremely formulaic approach that results in equally formulaic recommendation letters.

In an effort to break out of this kind of monotony, Hucalak had an interesting idea: he asked ChatGPT to write an "excellent" reference letter — and then used it as a template to write an opposite, "anti-formulaic" letter himself.

"What I wrote," Hucalak told the Atlantic, "ended up feeling like the most 'human' and heartfelt letter I've written in a long time."

As it turns out, the letter was heartfelt enough to win the student in question a prestigious scholarship to Cambridge University.

Laying it Bare

Hucalak's use of ChatGPT is fascinating, and in a way, flips not only the conventions of academia — a field notorious for its rigidity — and even ChatGPT, which has been widely touted for its creative process, on their respective heads.

After all, ChatGPT was trained on human-written data and likely spat out an amalgamation of countless formulaic recommendation letters. Therefore, using the output as a template on what not to write in order to bring a bit of humanity back into the mix is arguably pretty clever.

Speaking to the Atlantic, Hucalak called this process "[laying] the genre" of recommendation letters "bare."

Opposite Day

Of course, the ethics of a teacher using ChatGPT to write a recommendation letter are pretty murky. But since Huculak only used it as a reference, his use case seems pretty ethically sound.

In fact, given the student's success in getting into Cambridge, it could be seen as a call to ditch the formulaic templates once and for all.

READ MORE: The End of Recommendation Letters [The Atlantic]

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