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I am currently a postdoc in a research group and I would like to move to another group and leave the current one. I would like to ask my current PI for a recommendation letter since another PI is requesting one. I am not sure how to approach and ask him especially if he is willing to extend the contract. We didn't discuss whether we will extended the contract 4 months from now but I am not sure if he is going to do so. I know this may seem trivial and the answer would just simply be to ask him to send a letter on my behalf, but I am trying to keep my current position as a second option. To be more specific, in case I am not successful with the ongoing interviews or with the postdoc search, I want to discuss with him to extend the contract later on. So I have two questions on my mind:

  1. Is there a way I can ask him for a recommendation letter and at the same time don't ruin the possibility of extending the postdoc contract 4 months from now?
  2. Another option would be not to ask him in the first place. Do you think is it okay not to provide a recommendation letter from my current PI? May be I can arrange three recommendations from my past referees. Is it a weak point in my submitted applications? Thank you so much for suggestions so I can make the right move...
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  • Do you prefer to extend the current position or to change? What is better for your career?
    – Buffy
    Dec 8, 2021 at 14:57
  • both for my career and my preference, I would like to change. But I don't want to lose the chance to extend the contract in case the only opportunity I have is to stay in the current research group.
    – Naps
    Dec 8, 2021 at 14:59

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If your advisor is a good person who values your interests, they'll understand the situation you're in, and it would be best to have a candid conversation with them about your goals and next steps. It's completely reasonable to want to have a backup plan, though post docs are also intended to be temporary, brief positions.

It's reasonable that, even if they are a good person, your advisor may also want to move on to another person for the role (assuming they still have continuing funds) either because they feel you've accomplished what you can there and want to nudge you out the door, because there is another candidate who they need to make a decision on (and therefore can't wait to find the result of your applications), or because they aren't satisfied with your progress (I think this last option is least likely, but if so hopefully they have already discussed this with you).

The only thing you can do is have a candid conversation to find out where they are at and share where you are at. Ask explicitly about different scenarios, such as "is it possible I could renew my position here if I don't find a suitable position elsewhere?"

It's also possible your advisor is a selfish or insecure jerk, and they will take your wish to depart as some offense to them or a lost opportunity to gain something from you. For this sort of person, it does not seem worthwhile to me to strategize your approach too much. I'd focus on moving on as quickly as possible, with or without them as a reference depending on your intuition.

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    Couldn't have said it better.
    – Buffy
    Dec 8, 2021 at 15:49

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