I have been applying for graduate level positions at several labs in the US, and I received the following reply from the PI of one of the labs I applied to - "if you are interested you should provide two or three references who are willing to write letters of recommendation for you, and we should then also schedule a Zoom interview."

What does providing references exactly mean? Should I just include the name, details and email of my referees and send it via email to the potential supervisor, who would in turn contact them for the recommendations or should I email the people on my list of referees and ask them to drop an email with my letter of recommendation to the potential supervisor's email?

I am confused. Please let me know what is the norm in academia and how should I proceed.


2 Answers 2


It is a bit ambiguous. You can ask for details. But before you provide names and contact information, ask the potential recommenders for permission and say that a letter will probably be asked for. Don't let it be a surprise.

I hope, but assume, that they want a letter and not a conversation with recommenders. That would be the norm.

Normally letters come with the application itself. Here they seem to be willing to delay the need for them until they speak (zoom) with you. But give everyone a heads up so they can be thinking about what to write or say.

And three letters is pretty typical.

  • Actually I received the email from the PI of the lab I applied to, not from the graduate admission department. Does the same answer still hold?
    – Harmonic
    Sep 18, 2022 at 18:56
  • Yes, probably more so. The admissions office would be more likely to just ask letters be sent with less ambiguity. Presumably you haven't formally applied yet. Look at the requirements. In the US acceptance is most likely by a committee.
    – Buffy
    Sep 18, 2022 at 18:58
  • The thing is, I am not applying for a specific programme at the university. I would want to work for my graduate level thesis (masters) at that lab while being enrolled at another university.
    – Harmonic
    Sep 18, 2022 at 19:05
  • 1
    That is a bit unusual. Make sure everyone is on board with your plan. But the same advice holds. Warn your recommenders and let them know the details.
    – Buffy
    Sep 18, 2022 at 19:08
  • 1
    I think it is best for you to ask them for more details (to know if they want the contact information of referees or just the letters of recommendation).
    – Neuchâtel
    Sep 18, 2022 at 19:12

Sometimes, they want to have a short conversation with the referees via email.

Here is the academic reference/letters of recommendation section in the guide for Master of Philosophy applicants at the University of Queensland (UQ). I have found it useful as it shows everything I need to include in my application to UQ (no more, no less). It is likely to be the same for Doctor of Philosoply applicants.

Furthermore, the application will not be finalized until the Graduate Office manages to contact the academic referees and receives the letters of recommendation from them.

Academic referees

Please provide us with two referees who can comment on your academic work. For each referee, include their:

  • honorific and name
  • role title
  • employing organisation and the city and country where they are located
  • contact details, including office address, telephone, fax and email (preferably an institutional, rather than private, email address), and
  • an indication of the capacity in which you know this person (e.g. were they a lecturer or thesis supervisor, an employer, how long you’ve known them etc.).

References/letters of recommendation

Include the contact details of two referees who will support your application. These referees will need to provide insight into your research experience.

We will contact your referees for a report, but you will need to enter their details into the application form.


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