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I finished my PhD some time ago, and my relationship with my advisor was really poor. For instance he refused to write me any recommendation letter for my postdoc because he considered that working with me was extremly difficult (I think the same about him).

On the other hand I had very good relations with other permanent researchers, which includes my co-supervisor. They were able to write me strong recommendation letter which caused no problem for me to find a postdoc. Note that they are far from being as famous as my main supervisor.

As a last information in case it can play a role in the answers: from the feedback I got from talks given at international conferences, and more importantly, my jury report, my PhD was considered as outstanding.


I would like to pursue my academic career with hopefully a permanent position. The issue is that my former main PhD supervisor is extremely famous and has connections everywhere in my field. I don't think he will publicly say that it was hard working with me (it would give him a too bad reputation to do it), but I am worried of what happens "behind the scenes": small talks I will not know which might influence jury members for when I will try to find an academic position.

My question: I would like to know how likely this poor relation will cause me trouble for recruitements for permanent positions at universities or research institute (again, acknowleding the fact that my supervisor is very famous and has good connections everywhere). Do jury member take care to not focus on what a single person thinks in terms of human qualities? Which advise could you give me to mitigate the risk evoked here? Ideally I would like answers from people involved in such hiring jurys.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 13:35

2 Answers 2

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If you had no trouble finding a postdoc, then I wouldn't worry. Your relationship with your advisor is certainly going to have less of an influence the further along you are in your career. It's a bit of a cliche that for postdocs the advisor's letter is the most important part of the application (because they have a unique view of your research potential), and for TT the advisor's letter is the least important part (because by then you should be widely known in your field, and your advisor is biased). In general, yes a bad relationship with an advisor could be a big problem, but if that were the case you wouldn't have gotten a postdoc.

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  • Thank you for your answer. This is really reassuring. From your perspective what happens "behind the scenes" shouldn't play too much of a role then? Why do you think so? Is it because jury members are aware that this kind of thing can happen and they try to get information from other people to "compare"? For your last sentence: I did have a bad relation with him. But good relations with others "saved" me (no one asked me why i didn't have my main supervisor as referee). Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 19:49
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    What I mean is that if your advisor were the sort of person who would make it broadly known that they hated you and would be unhappy if you were hired, then this would have already happened. So most likely your advisor isn't trying to torpedo your career, and just doesn't care about your future either way provided they don't have to work with you directly. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 20:03
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    I’m starting to see why your advisor found you difficult to work with. Anyway, yes something like that could happen, but there’s nothing you can do about it, and I don’t think it’s especially likely for the reasons I laid out. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 12:17
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    You came here to ask for advice, and I gave the best advice I had. Could that advice be wrong? Absolutely, I'm wrong all the time! You don't have to agree with my advice, just listen to it, since you asked for it. Instead your approach seems to be that if I disagree with you I must have misunderstood, and if you repeat yourself enough eventually I'll agree with you. It's hardly the worst behavior, but it is annoying. Who knows, maybe your letters say "yeah, he's annoying, but his stubbornness is exactly what makes him a great scientist." But I'm sure it made advising you challenging. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 15:58
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    Ok. Thanks for the feedback. I see your point. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 16:00
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It is impossible to say, but you can probably avoid most of the potential for negatives since you have good relations with others and it has been some time.

Over time your career depends more on you than on recommenders. A good CV will be the main thing and positive recommendations from others will be a plus.

There is no need, in general, to name your supervisor in any application, especially as time goes on. Moreover the work you did as a doctoral student becomes less of a factor in any case.

Others here have suggested you try to patch it up. That may be possible or not, but one way to go about that is to have some trusted person, known to both of you, make the first overture. Perhaps your co-supervisor would be a good choice.

Even a mild suggestion from a colleague would put him on notice that he needs to tread carefully. But "behind the scenes" is invisible. Hopefully most people would behave ethically but it is impossible to guarantee that.

Sabotaging a former student is unethical. Keep that in mind. It reflects badly on the one trying it.

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  • Thanks for the advices about using the co-supervisor. It might be a good idea (he is aware of the difficulties I had with my main supervisor). However, assuming my main advisor is saying bad things about me to members of a jury comittee, is it usual that these people "cross check" this information? I am saying this as bad relationship between student and advisor are pretty common, aren't jury member aware that it can happen? Or it is not in the "culture" of jurys to cross-check this. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 19:52
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    I don't know what goes on in the Great White North, but in the US, such would be considered improper and likely ignored. If it happens, then it may not be the first time. My best guess is that you can relax until you get some actual feedback.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 19:56
  • Thanks for the feedback! Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 14:58

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