I've done some reading about recommendation letters and graduate admissions, but I had a question of my own.

I'm currently a master's student who's looking to apply for PhD programs soon, and have been wondering who would be the best person(s) to write letters for me. The "obvious" choice would usually be one's advisor, but I actually don't feel comfortable asking him.

The lab that I'm currently at is very large (around 30-40 people) and my professor doesn't do research, but is rather a business person. He rarely has time for meeting with his students because he's always attending meetings or giving an "invited talk" somewhere. So students including myself usually rely on seniors or PhD's at the lab for guidance. I've been blessed to meet many talented people who have helped me until now.

That being said, I don't feel comfortable asking my advisor for a letter because I feel he doesn't know me well enough as a researcher. Whenever I submit papers he doesn't even read them and just gives me the grant number to add in before submission.

Would it look bad on my part if none of the letters I submit are from my advisor? There are a few other professors who I could ask who I've actually done research with. I can ask my advisor and he'd happily ask me to write the letter so he can modify it and sign it off but I was wondering if it's better I just ask others.

P.S. I've thought about changing advisors but I stayed at this lab because I can't afford to pay tuition on my own and there aren't other professors at school whose labs are doing research similar to mine and offer funding. I'm in Korea in case anyone's wondering.

1 Answer 1


Would it look bad on my part if none of the letters I submit are from my advisor?

Yes, assuming someone reads your letters.

Your advisor should ask people who worked closely with you to help your advisor write the letter so it can include sufficient detail.

  • But wouldn't that be dishonest?
    – Sean
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 4:00
  • I corrected a grammatical ambiguity. Is it now clear why it is not dishonest? Commented May 9, 2020 at 6:24

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