I am preparing the application for an AP position at a local university. The documents I am required to submit include recommendation letters from three referees, who the university's website states should preferably be my ex-supervisor and/or employer. But altogether I have only two ex-supervisors in the past.

My question is, who could serve as an a alternative referee for me (other than ex-supervisor and employer)?

My understanding of the preference is someone who has worked with you for a relatively long period of time and therefore is in a position to speak on behalf of you. I had thought of my collaborators, but most of them work with me on a short-term. I have only one long-term collaborator, but he is from math dept. (I am an engineer).

  • 3
    I don't think it's a problem that your collaborator is from math department. Ask them. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:20
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    What country/area is this? and is it a reasearch-focused or teaching-focused position? Usually the main criterion is that the letter writer is familiar with your work and is an established academic; it's not important why exactly they know you.
    – Thomas
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:34
  • @Thomas Thank you. It is research focused but usually both research and teaching are required I suppose.
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 14:50
  • @OlegLobachev THank you. I think its a good idea to ask them too.
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 14:50
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    What is "AP"? It matters considerably in the U.S. whether it might be "associate professor" versus "assistant professor", or ... something else. Please clarify? Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


In order of preference:

  1. Your other thesis committee members.
  2. Administrators who supervised you, e.g. supervisor of TAs.
  3. Professors with whom you taught as a TA.
  4. Collaborators / coauthors.

For my job applications I had my advisor, a committee member, and a professor from another department with whom I had worked. One to speak about my research, one to speak about my writing, one to speak about me as a colleague.

  • This is very field specific: in (theoretical) physics a collaborator would hold much more weight than a thesis committeee member (who did not much more than read your thesis)
    – pgunnink
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 19:13
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    The OP mentions he is applying to a "local university", which presumably is not an R1. Institutions which do not rely mostly on grants look for well-rounded professors, ie someone who knows their stuff, can teach, and is a good colleague. In this context a letter from a collaborator is more likely to be seen as a letter from a friend. Of course, if your collaborator has name recognition outside of your narrow field, by all means go for it, but otherwise 3 letters talking about research is a hat on a hat.
    – Cheery
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 13:13

The long term collaborator from math dept would be perfect.

  • It is a long term collaborator, so they should have found something positive in you;
  • It is from another department, so it shows that you are able to speak the different dialects of science (and you are an engineer that stereotipically behaves like an engineer, this is an enormous plus).

And the final important point:

  • it will distinguish you from all the other engineers applying for the same positions and providing boring, uninspiring 100% engineering references.

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