I am a PhD student in Economics at one of the top five universities in India. I am on the job market now, applying for postdocs pretty much anywhere in the world (as long as there are people with overlapping research interests).

Situation: After a few years of lowkey power abuse, it all recently escalated to textbook workplace harassment, and my advisor (the abuser) has now decided to withdraw all his support from my future job applications, notwithstanding the following facts: (a) out of my eight papers, six are 100% my work, the other two he made at most 5% contribution, and yet he has imposed himself as a co-author in all of those (five of them are already published/in the arxiv), (b) he has also made me do his referee work in the past.

In effect, he won't be writing me any recommendation letter. Not only that, he went out of his way and falsified information about me to some higher authorities in my university (not that that harmed me in a major way, because some faculty here know me better). So after all this, I probably can't even ask for letters from him in the future should he happen to change his mind; I am almost sure he would write downright lies about me.

Problem: Despite having a very good track record of publications, I am facing the possibility of being forced to leave academia for no fault of mine (well, except naivety).

Sidenote: Some of the higher authorities in my institute know about this, and so do my other letter writers; and they expressed sympathy and support towards my cause. However, at this stage of my PhD (my thesis has already been submitted) the faculty members who know the details of my case and support me are powerless to help me in any practical way. We don't have a clear-cut HR either.

So, my question is this: if the postdoc selection committee (and, in the future, for tenure-track positions etc) comes across an applicant, who doesn't have his PhD advisor's letter (an advisor who happens to also be the co-author of at least five papers), but all the other letters are mostly positive, what are his odds?

P.S: I know this doesn't speak well for me; after all, how did I let something like this happen? How did I not see the red flags and switch advisors when I still could? I won't get into the details and defend myself, but I'll just say that mistakes happen, and this time I made the mistake of not switching advisors when I still had time and now I'm beating myself up over it.

P.P.S: I haven't gotten into details of abuse but if it comes up in the comments, if anyone asks, I will edit and add some examples.

  • I am really sorry for the situation you had to face. Take care of your mental health as it will help you make rational decisions.
    – user135061
    Jan 27, 2022 at 10:29
  • there is a position of ombudsman or something similar for Faculty student conflicts, you should tell him the problem by meeting them and they might suggest you what actions you should take and give you advice which you might find useful in your carreer.
    – user135061
    Jan 28, 2022 at 10:33
  • 1
    Thanks @No-One, for your kind words. Unfortunately, as I said we don’t have such things. Mine is a renowned institute in my country, one of the best, but things like HR or ombudsman are very uncommon in most institutes in my country.
    – noway
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:31
  • I suggest you ask concerned authorities again or check website of your institute. I know a friend in a developing asian country who had problem with faculty and that was resolved by ombudsman. I think your institute might have ombudsman or some other similar position for such issues as govt these days direct institutes to have such positions but of course they are not widely publicized and most of students are not aware of them.
    – user135061
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


This is a situation where you should explicitly ask one or two of your letter writers to explain the situation in their letter. A reasonable hiring committee will accept this explanation for why your advisor has not written a letter.

Now, if none of your letter writers know you well enough to write about you and your work in a way that an advisor normally would, then a committee may have difficulty hiring you because of a lack of information. However, they will not specifically hold the lack of a letter from your advisor against you.

  • Thank you for your suggestion! Two of my letter writers wrote something like this (and also told me to add something along these lines in the cover letters): that the missing letter from my advisor is not in any way a reflection on my academic abilities and performance, nor on my personality.
    – noway
    Jan 28, 2022 at 16:18

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