I am applying for faculty positions as assistant professor. I have two questions regarding recommendation letters.

(1) Is there is a limit for the number of references? For me, I have many research collaborators who I can ask them to write me a reference letter. Most of faculty positions ask for three reference. Is it a good indicator when more than 3 references sent their letters to the research committee?

(2) Is it okay to add one reference who is currently assistant professor and was my lab mate for two years? We also co-authored many papers together.

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    One question per post, please. Nov 9, 2019 at 4:11
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    You will have to ask at the departments where you are applying. There isn’t a single worldwide standard on such things.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 9, 2019 at 5:56

2 Answers 2


When reading references committee members evaluate them based on different evaluation criteria. Some place a lot of weight on the worst opinion voiced. In that respect, having more references than needed is a risky prospect. Another point to note is that you’re never 100% sure that all your referees write the most enthusiastic letter possible. For example, they have a student on the job market at the same time.

In my experience, additional letters carry little benefit and potentially expose you to a lot of risk.

While this varies widely by discipline (and by department I’d imagine), reference letters (in math/CS at least, but again YMMV) carry more weight when they’re from big shots. In that respect, a letter from a junior collaborator is not going to have as much impact, especially since this is a close collaborator who will most likely say only good things about you.


In many hiring circumstances, committees cannot and will not look at additional letters or any additional documentation that was not specifically asked for. If you send more than the required number or letters you risk having them selected at random, with additional ones tossed in the rubbish can. Your strongest and most relevant letter has a chance, then, of being thrown away.

It's not uncommon for applicants to have many possible people who could write strong references if asked. The posted application requirements are there to keep the playing field level for applicants and to not overload the hiring committee. You are not likely to benefit from going against the posted requirements. This would be an unwise risk to take.

Regarding your second question, who you ask to write your references is your choice. If that person portrays you in the strongest possible light, fine.

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