I am applying to a PhD program. I worked in the past with researcher A from research team T who was my bachelor thesis supervisor. Now, I am applying to a PhD progam within the research team T and also to another universities.

Researcher A would be a perfect candidate to ask for a reference letter, since my internship under his supervision went really well. However, I am wondering whether or not it would be appropriate to ask him, since I would use it to apply to other universities (he would know that of course).


  • I already applied at team T and am waiting for news.
  • A is not the team director but the team is quite small and A knows I applied there.
  • A is not the one who would supervise the PhD I applied to.

I am afraid that asking him for a reference letter could make him think that I am not that much interested in that lab L and that this could have a negative impact on my application at this lab.

3 Answers 3


I understand your hesitation and there may be situations in which your concerns are spot on. That said, people in the position of researcher A exist to support and further the successful outcomes of their students. Outside specific research contributions, this is their legacy. One of the most rewarding aspects of leadership is helping people succeed.

Based on your question, I recommend immediately asking researcher A for a recommendation letter. Discuss any concerns with them directly and save yourself the worrying. You can always draft the letter for them and let them make revisions as they see fit.

Good luck!


Unless you were very explicit and told your letter writer that you would be applying to his group/department and no others, there is no reason why they could think you don't want to apply elsewhere as well. Even then, it would be perfectly acceptable to ask them to send your letter elsewhere since you have not committed to work with them. It is common to apply to multiple programs and explore your opportunities.

If you are still concerned, explain that there a few other programs that you believe would be a good fit for you, and to which you would like to apply. Ask your letter writer if there are other programs/groups they would recommend.

There is nothing wrong with exploring your options. And if your letter writer thinks that's a bad idea, you might want to reconsider working in their group as this issue may arise later when you need their letter to apply to positions elsewhere.


While FBolst is technically correct, it gives a terrible impression about your interest in the position. Hiring decisions are normally made by committee and it would not help you if someone mentions in a meeting that they were asked to support you elsewhere. This would be especially true if they have only a couple of candidates that they are then considering.

On the other hand, once you get an offer, it might be advantageous to you if they knew you had other options. But, prior to an actual offer, I think the negative outweighs the positive. Use caution here.

  • That's two very different opinions on the question, I'm a bit confused ^^' (and scared because I finally asked him for the reference letter). But yes that's what I was concerned about..
    – Mai Kar
    Jul 2, 2018 at 21:48
  • 1
    @MaiKar, what's done is done. Don'e obsess over it. If you get questioned on it, then have an answer, but express positive feelings about the place to which you applied. Very few actions are disqualifying. People tend to be reasonable.
    – Buffy
    Jul 2, 2018 at 23:35
  • "People tend to be reasonable" I think this is a good conclusion, thank you.
    – Mai Kar
    Jul 3, 2018 at 13:20

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