I am a Graduate in Life sciences who has been working in a corporate job for the past 2+ years.

I am currently researching and aiming to apply for PhD programmes in Europe. In requirements for PhD I have come across the need for Recommendation letters from past supervisors.

It has been over three years since I worked under a Research supervisor. And I feel it would not be appropriate to ask them after a long term.

Are there any means by which I can proceed without recommendation letters ? How will this affect my chances for acceptance?

2 Answers 2


I just want to add to Buffy's answer, with which I agree. Applying without recommendation letters, even if somehow possible is a signal of death :) Generally speaking, decent programs focus on research and want their students to do the same. Since a doctoral student is quite an investment to a department (time from professors, stipends, materials etc..), often they are fairly risk averse. This means that admission committees often (so I've heard, but it is a logically compelling argument) search for as many signals that a candidate can (a) pass the rigors of the coursework (e.g., through past GPA), (b) produce productive and methodologically rigorous research, and (c) not quit in the middle. The last three points can be conveyed through past research experience, a compelling statement, and letters of recommendation. These letters can help alleviate the aforementioned concerns by showing that a candidate has experience with conducting research, and that people (i.e., professors) that are proven as researchers believe that you can cut the mustard.

Long story short - get these letters. If you need, it is often not a year wasted to spend working for professors before applying. You can increase your chances at a good graduate program dramatically, and also get a better sense if this is indeed a path you with to partake in.

Good luck!


Actually, I think it is a mistake to try to submit without letters. People will wonder about your motives and worry that you don't think you can get good recommenders.

Your break isn't that long, actually. After 20 years it would be different. Your old professors probably still remember you if you did good work. Of course, you will need to reintroduce yourself, bring them up to date on what you have done recently, and remind them of what you did in the past.

But, assuming that you had a good enough relationship back then to have asked, that hasn't changed. It is certainly appropriate to do so. Many professors, in fact, are happy to hear about old students and to support their further advancement.

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