I just submitted my doctoral thesis yesterday. I finished my project two years ago and published it in a high level journal. My supervisor asked me to give the co-first author position to a postdoc, although there isn't any input from her. After a long time of struggeling, I agreed, because otherwise she will not support me in getting my degree smoothly and will refuse to write a recommendation letter for postdoc applications. After that, she still asked me to do many experiments. These experiments are for her funding, for other colleagues, and all not related to my project. She took four months to finish proofreading my thesis. Actual working time on it is not more than 24h. Now she asked me to come back for experiment after I start my postdoc training, otherwise she will not support me in the future if I want to find a scientist job.

She said she would not write me a reference letter if I didn't come back. Now I am leaving for postdoc training. So I want to know how important the letter is for a job seeking? Any advice?

  • 1
    I assume you are in the US. You could do your PostDoc in a country where reference letters are not that important. At my institute in Germany, you wouldn't need any reference letters to apply successfully. You would need a good publication record, though.
    – user9482
    Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 7:20

2 Answers 2


I want to know how important the letter is for a job seeking? Any advice?

No, a letter from your supervisor is not essential in most normal circumstances to get academic jobs. You do need good letters from senior academics. But getting a job depends on many factors, and having your supervisor as a reference is only a tiny one, and hardly an essential one, if at all.


Yes, a letter from your supervisor can be very important until you land a permanent position, say as junior faculty. But if you have a sufficiently rich CV then it matter less.

But, I think you are clearly being abused. The steps you take should be "away" from this person. Alternatively they need to be stopped from this sort of unprofessional behavior. And, unfortunately, you probably aren't in a position to make that happen without hurting your own future. Pretty much everything you describe is misconduct.

If she is funding you at the moment, however, she may be right in asking you to do some things unrelated to your project since they won't interfere with it now. Such things could be benign, and even advantageous, if they weren't accompanied by coercion and threats against your career.

  • I don't think the student needs the professor's recommendation, but I don't see where he/she is "abused" here. These are usual arguments that occur in work environment, and nothing exceptional here. Not giving a reference is not nice, but it seems reasonable if the student decides to stop their involvement in a long-term project. (Adding the postdoc name is unethical indeed, but not an abuse.)
    – Dilworth
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 2:48

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