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My diploma thesis supervisor was ignoring me for 99% of my diploma thesis writing and even bailed on me and did not come to the defense. I graduated with distinction and I want to apply for PhD. However, my supervisor ignores me again when I am asking him to give me a recommendation for PhD to TUM. It is a classic situation for him, apparently: many students reported the same problem.

What would be the best solution? Should I try to "catch" him at campus despite him ignoring my emails? Should I instead ask my bachelor project supervisor (far less famous researcher, however)? Should I instead ask for a recommendation someone from my actual job (also a PhD but different field)?

What would be the best decision in this situation? Maybe someone has an insight specific to TUM? Would it be weird that from two recommendation letters I'll send none will be from my diploma supervisor despite me graduating with distinction? Should I explicitly explain why I did not have recommendation from my supervisor in my application?

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  • Are you applying for a structured PhD program at TUM or for a specific open position as a scientific employee for which you can do the PhD while having that position (I think that this is roughly called "individual PhD" in English)? This makes a huge difference because in a structured program, there will often be some committee doing decisions while in the latter case, it's all up to the person you are sending your application to, and there you only need to be convincing.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 9:42

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Academic references are usually best when written by someone who knows you a little bit better and knows how you work, how motivated you are etc. You have to be aware of the fact that recommendation are usually always formulated positive, so in order for the reference to stand out of all the recommandation which some professor receives, it is best if it is written a little bit more personal.

In your specific situation, I think you have to decide between two factors:

  1. Is it more important that the guy who writes your recommandation is famous in his field or in the field you apply for your PhD or
  2. is it more important that it is written by someone who knows a little bit better (as you diploma supervisor probably can't say much about your working behaviour, presentation skills, etc.).

I personally think there is no really universal answer which of these two factors are more important and I would recommand to decide what you personally think is more suitable. For PhD-applications one usually needs anyway at least two references (at least in Germany and hence also at TUM, I guess), so what you can do is trying to ask you diploma supervisor to write one (if you think he is really famous in his field and that it would benefit your application) + one reference by someone who knows you better. The benefit of the latter one is that you can also ask them to specifically point out some skills which you think are important to mention...

Regarding your last question, I don't think that it is weird that your diploma supervisor is not your academic reference, if you decide to not take him. In the end, it is your choice of who you think can say most about you. In the end, since you graduated with distinction, it should be anyway clear that you did a good work in your diploma. It is not your fault that your supervisor seems to not really care about his students.

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