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I'm a tenured faculty member and am applying for a lateral, mid-career move at University of X. Unlike a normal search that would be handled by a department, it is for a prestigious research position and the search is thus being handled by University X's Office of the Provost. They'll shortlist candidates and then the successful candidates will end up essentially as bonus positions for departments.

My question thus has to do with using a reference for a position at University of X from a professor at University of X.

I have been a long-time collaborator with a full professor at University of X. They often write me reference letters for fellowships, awards, nominations, etc. Normally, this colleague would write me a letter.

But, I am applying to work at his university! Given it is a lateral move, would it be weird to draw on a reference from this collaborator when applying to the University of X? On the one hand, it would be an opportunity to highlight the great fit I might bring to several faculties at this university. On the other hand, they might be seen as having a vested interest as a new line for their department would be, well, a new line.

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    Is this professor at X reasonably savvy? If so, then I would expect that they would know how the local politics would play out better than strangers on the Internet. Nov 29, 2020 at 21:33
  • Fair point, @AlexanderWoo - my sense with this question is that there are enough 'unwritten rules' out there, esp. in an interdisciplinary environment, that it's worth scoping these things out. Nov 29, 2020 at 23:00

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A letter written by someone the reader knows is likely to be more credible than a letter written by someone unknown. So it makes sense to get a letter from someone at X when you know the reader will be at X.

they might be seen as having a vested interest

Most letter writers have an interest in the success of the person they are recommending. A writer who works at X will have additional knowledge of the interests of the whole university, which could result in a more useful letter.

would it be weird to draw on a reference from this collaborator when applying to the University of X?

No.

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Sorry, I don't see an issue for you. If you ask for a letter they might say no, of course, and they might want to game a new position (of course), but that is out of your hands. Letters from collaborators are a good thing, especially if they are also well respected academics.

Ask, and see what happens. If anyone thinks there are ethical or other issues, they aren't on you.

Or at least ask them for advice on whether a letter from them would be good or not.

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Unlike a normal search that would be handled by a department, it is for a prestigious research position and the search is thus being handled by University X's Office of the Provost.

First of all, since your username is "Canadian Humanist" I thought I might point out that it's not unusual for a Canadian university to handle faculty applications through the Provost or VP Research Office, even for some entry-level assistant professor positions, for example University of Ottawa does this, but at University of Victoria, even Canada Research Chair positions are processed through the department.

They'll shortlist candidates and then the successful candidates will end up essentially as bonus positions for departments.

Usually the departments are involved quite closely in the process, even for the most prestigious positions such as Canada 150 Research Chairs, which often involve several million dollars of start-up funding.

My question thus has to do with using a reference for a position at University of X from a professor at University of X.

I have been a long-time collaborator with a full professor at University of X. They often write me reference letters for fellowships, awards, nominations, etc. Normally, this colleague would write me a letter.

But, I am applying to work at his university!

It can be helpful if an inside-member with whom they're already familiar as a colleague, writes a strong endorsement for you, but people could also be trying to help their close friend/collaborator join their department by writing a strong letter, so you may wish to have arms length reference letters too. If you're applying for a Canada Research Chair position, then you will need to have at least one arms-length letter of reference (and not too long ago, you actually needed all three of the letters of reference to be from arms-length referees, meaning that your "long-time" collaborator would not have counted, no matter their university). In fact even the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships in Canada require arms-length referees, so if you're going for a prestigious position in Canada you may wish to keep this in mind.

You could use the fact that you have an "inside" letter of reference, to give a fourth letter of reference (if they're asking for only three). I know the advertisement for the position probably says that only three letters will be considered, but it will not hurt you if you were to write to the office of the provost saying that you wish to include four letters because one is "internal".

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    Oh, "You could use the fact that you have an "inside" letter of reference, to give a fourth letter of reference (if they're asking for only three)" is a great idea. Thanks! For way of context, it's an institution where applications would normally be handled through a dept, but this is a unique cluster hire opportunity being handled (abnormally) by the central admin. Nov 30, 2020 at 21:08
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I would discuss it with the letter writer e.g. ask the letter writer how they think it would appear in their institution. That person is going to know the culture and politics of their institution better than you do. That person should probably put some thought into how they would address this in a letter. I think it would be strange not to at least briefly add a preamble or postscript saying that they have been one of your writers before.

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