I am applying for tenure track /postdoc and I asked two professor to write me a research letter. In some job applications I am asked to describe the relationship with them, and I am not so sure what are the correct words.

The first one is a professor in the university where I obtain the PhD. They are also an expert in the field.

The second one is a world-class expert in my field. I know them personally as we meet in conference over the years and I visited them occasionally.

I did not collaborate with both of them.

Any suggestions?

  • What's wrong with the descriptions you just wrote?
    – JeffE
    Oct 28, 2019 at 13:58
  • The input area is so small and I suppose it fits only one or two words. @JeffE Oct 28, 2019 at 14:13
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    Bear in mind that the online job application site is often designed to handle everything from secretaries through janitors through professors. Don't overthink this kind of thing too much.
    – avid
    Oct 30, 2019 at 9:00
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    If you only have one or two words, and you don't think "senior colleague" is sufficiently accurate/precise, I suggest "see letter".
    – JeffE
    Oct 30, 2019 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


Both don't seem like unusual "relationships" at all, so I don't think there should be any issue describing them just like you did here.

If there is a drop-down list, you can select whatever is the most appropriate (presumably there are options amounting to "colleague at my current department" and "collaborator" - I think it counts as "collaborating" if you have visited them occasionally, even if you happened to not have published a paper yet). If there is a freetext field, you can just write what you wrote here.

  • 2
    +1, but in mathematics visiting someone does not count as “collaborating”.
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 28, 2019 at 13:32
  • @DanRomik Hmm, I see. How would you call somebody who you have visited multiple times then, without actually collaborating? "Scientific acquaintance" :) ?
    – xLeitix
    Oct 28, 2019 at 14:18
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    That said, I don't really think it matters what OP puts into that text field. Presumably the letter writer will state in their letter how they know OP, and nobody will look at the content of the text field.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 28, 2019 at 14:19
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    I would call them somebody I visited multiple times but did not collaborate with. There isn’t a special name for such a person.
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 28, 2019 at 16:59
  • I don't understand this concept of "visiting somebody multiple times without collaborating with them." What happened on these visits if not research? Why does this world-class expert have so much time that they can host a visitor for something other than research? Who's paying for these visits, and why? I suspect that the asker actually means that they've met the person several times. Oct 28, 2019 at 19:59

Your letter writer will describe the relationship in the first paragraph of their letter. If you are not sure what they will say, then ask the letter writer. You should be saying the same thing they say.

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