I am about to submit my thesis. At the moment, I am looking for jobs, but my relationship with both of my Ph.D. supervisors is not good. Now I am facing another complication where I have to find a recommender for a job. I am too scared to get them to be my recommender, yet I will probably have a reason as to why not them.

My supervisors have shown many reactions which indicates that they dislike me, for example, scolding, ignoring emails, blaming, and talking behind my back. Nevertheless, I always act nice to them and say that I agree with them that it was all my fault.

I did not change the supervisors because of my stupidity in thinking that nobody will accept me as my research field is tiny. These results in me feeling as if they all tried to dish me off from this program, but I was too stubborn.

Edit: To give a note that I risked using one of them which turns out not as bad as I thought. Sometimes, the HR just wants someone to provide an honest feedback, and sometimes, the sup may just want an alumni

  • 1
    Have you asked your supervisors directly, or are you just guessing? (And do you trust them enough to tell you to your face if they don't plan to write strong letters?) Remember that graduating a weak student reflects badly on them; they have a selfish incentive to write strong letters on your behalf.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 18:08
  • That is an interesting point. I see what you mean. But I am not so sure if I could trust them. The blaming part really makes me feel betrayed so badly.
    – FGSn
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 7:20

4 Answers 4


Not having the recommendation of the PhD supervisor is going to raise some flags, especially in academia. However, you can get recommendations from other senior people you collaborated with on research papers if you published any. Those people should be able to write decent recommendation letters for you. If you apply for non-academic jobs, you could also ask for a recommendation letter your boss from a previous job if you had one, or your diploma/masters thesis advisers.

Also, if you only have your supervisers to write you recommendation letters, you could still ask one of them who seems nicer. Even if they don't like you and think you're incapable, they would like it even less to have an alumnus flipping burgers. So, they might write you a reasonable recommendation for a non-academic job even though they might not be willing to give you a good letter for an academic one.


If this is an academic job, then you need to have a candid conversation with your supervisors. Tell them you're looking for jobs and ask whether they would be able to give you a good recommendation, or if you would be better off not having their recommendation.

If this is not an academic job, the above is still a prudent approach, but your supervisor's recommendation is much less critical. So long as you can find 2-3 people willing to answer the phone and say nice things about you, you should be fine. (Most non-academic jobs require phone conversations, not letters).

By the way, I wanted also to comment on this line:

I always act nice to them and comply with that it was all my faults

At least in the US, grad students approaching graduation should strive to be the professors' peers, not their slaves. It may have been more productive to have "candid conversations" earlier in which you raised the issues you mention directly and tried to resolve them. In particular, it's not necessarily good to accept that everything was "all your fault" -- it's OK to politely push back when you think you're right, or at least ask questions to prevent such situations from recurring. Good luck!

  • Yes. Thanks for pointing it out. Only if I could turn back time, I will set up the boundary or change the sup panel entirely. Now, they messed up my progress and destroy my confidence so much.
    – FGSn
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:37

Having read another one of your other recent questions, I'll answer this by assuming (I don't actually know if this is true) that the chances of getting a helpful recommendation from your supervisors is quite low.

In that case I'd suggest you follow the same procedure as has been recommended on this site for the case where the advisor has died, that is, ask a department administrator to write a recommendation.

This case is a little different, though. I suggest you explain frankly to the administrator that you want to work in industry, but you need a positive letter from someone connected with your department; and that there's a bad feeling between you and your supervisors.

A letter from an administrator in a situation like this probably wouldn't be glowing, but it could be enough for you to get a job in industry. Hopefully, once you're on the job, things will go better for you and after a while your workplace supervisor will be able to give you a strong recommendation in case you want to make a lateral move.


You really need them to recommend you for a job so for me you need to have a dialogue with them and ask them to recommend you, tell them how sorry you are . Good luck

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