I am applying for postdoc positions this fall, and have three references.

My main two writers are doing everything as I expected.

The third agreed to write a letter for me--and he wrote a very good letter. It was very positive and I was even impressed by how personal it was, given that we do not know one another all that well. He is also very well-known/famous in the field. However, he simply gave me the letter to use as I wish, so it won't be customized for each position or anything.

I do not really have any good sense of what to do with this, when I apply for postdocs.

My PhD advisor said that he agreed it was strange, but "I would keep the letter and when requested send it and say he sent it to you." I am just not sure what the least awkward way to do this is.

(I want to add: both my advisor and I are quite certain this letter will help my case. My first two letters are going to be great, and are written by people who know me very well and will be tailoring, etc.)

Should I simply include, after the contact information for two references on my CV, "An additional letter of recommendation from ________ is available by request."?

  • Is it possible the third reference is just really busy? Leaders in their fields are often really busy, so he might have given you the letter because he knows that he might not have time to give you a more customized one on time when you need it.
    – ObscureOwl
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 12:20
  • Totally. I'm not even remotely upset that he did it this way and I totally understand why he did it. He's very busy and very well-known, so I was happy for him to agree to write for me at all. I just cannot figure out a non-awkward way to submit the letter. Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 12:23
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    What I do when I'm in this situation is to send the letter by email to the recruiter, witht he professor who wrote the letter as Cc. This way, the professor is aware that you used their letter, and the recruiter knows that the professor is aware, and the recruiter is not afraid that you might have written or tempered with the letter yourself.
    – Stef
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 12:31
  • The issue that I am having is that many postings request that I email a professor with a CV and the "contact information for 2-3 references," so that they can reach out for the letters if they like my CV. I do not know how to tell them about this letter without looking amateurish. I normally would have included the contact information for all three references at the end of my CV. Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 12:42
  • Your country? Where do you want to apply (country)?
    – user111388
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 12:42

1 Answer 1


Edit after some exchange in the comments below: I recommend that you contact the writer of the third letter and tell them that what you really need is them to send the letter directly when asked, and to pass on contact details now. This problem seems to be the result of a misunderstanding, and busy high profile researcher or not, if a misunderstanding is happening, it makes sense to clarify things. If you don't get a response, you can still use the letter you have.

Original answer:

Personally I wouldn't have worried about simply including the letter. What's wrong with that? It's a good letter, and if they don't believe it is genuine they can contact the writer. Where I work, such letters are not that important anyway. Personally I'm fine if a candidate is able to present two or three such letters by qualified people in which there is nothing worrying, and that's it. As most candidates fulfill that, these letters play no further role in decision making (frankly even unsuitable candidates can come up with glowing reference letters, so these are not that informative; even some high profile people write nice letters for everyone). Of course I can't guarantee it's like that everywhere.

  • Okay--I was just worried about sending the letter unsolicited. In other words, they ask for the contact information of references, and I was wondering what I should do for this case. Are you saying that I should email the letter with my other materials, then let my potential postdoc advisors email the other two references? Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 14:06
  • What exactly were you asked to do? I don't quite get the procedure from what you wrote. Were you asked for letters or for contact details so that they can request letters? If you are asked for contact details, you should ask the author of the reference whether they are fine with you passing on their contact details of course, rather than asking them for a letter. Or is the situation that you have done just that, and instead of authorising you to pass on the details, they sent you the letter? Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 14:12
  • I was asked for contact details, but presumably that is simply so they can ask for a LoR. I only asked for a letter. My other two references are fine with being contacted for whatever. Most of the positions are asking for the contact information for two or three references, so I am covered either way, but I would like to have this letter counted in my favor, given who is writing it and its contents. My advisor was also confused by the fact that I was simply given the letter, and he agreed with me that I should not pester the writer about doing something different/extra. Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 14:29
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    @Lewian In academia, letter writers usually submit them directly to the institution. The person being recommended never sees them.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 15:00
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    @Lewian In my experience (as an applicant, as a letter-writer, and as a letter recipient), everybody knows that "asking someone for a letter" is shorthand for "asking someone to write a letter and send it on request". To first approximation, nobody in American academia accepts letters directly from applicants. And this has been true for decades.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 18:16

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