I am applying for CS PhD programs in the US, most of which require 3 recommendation letters. I have already gotten two letters from my previous university advisors (a professor and an assistant professor), and I believe they will be strong letters. But there is still one left, for which I have two choices:

  1. My manager from a previous employer.

    • He knew me well and also promoted me once. So I could expect a strong letter from him.
    • However, he has little contact with academia and doesn't have a PhD degree. Plus, he is not that much older than me. So, I even doubt whether he knows how to write letters for academia or not.
  2. The boss of my manager, a chief scientist.

    • He is a very famous scholar in the field of my study. I guess it's good to have a letter with big name.
    • However, he didn't know me well. We've spoken a few times but that is. There is a possibility that he refuses to write for me, and even if he does, the letter will be mild at best.

Moreover, I think it's unwise for me to try both because I need the reference of my manager if I want the chief scientist to write for me. But if he refuses, then it would turn my manager to look like a compromise choice, which could be awkward for him.

I am looking for advice on this choice. Much appreciation for your opinion!

1 Answer 1


Personally I would go with the employer, because it shows a different side of you. Both the other letters are already from academia. Ask the employer to try to emphasise skills that would also be useful in the program, so send information about it with your request.

  • Thanks @TanjaU. This is a good idea. I could even do a survey on what a letter could include then contact him with those information.
    – Kato
    Aug 18, 2021 at 8:21

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