I was applying for postdoctoral position in a reputed lab in a foreign country and they have asked for recommendation from my PhD supervisor. Although my PhD supervisor has given an informal recommendation by email, he has not given formal recommendation yet. When I asked, he said that our country has some diplomatic problems with the host country (nothing serious in reality), so he cannot give a formal recommendation unless he knows the exact potential job description in that country.

Now, if I have to ask the host lab, I cannot tell all these 'diplomatic' stuff (which I also believe is pointless and my supervisor is just being paranoid). So, is it good if I just ask them the exact project I would be working on and tell them that my PhD supervisor will only give recommendations after getting such information?

2 Answers 2


Actually, I think you need to see an "exact potential job description" before you even consider a job. If the employer is unwilling to give that then there are all sorts of red flags, especially for foreign nationals. I suggest you ask for a complete description and see no reason why you shouldn't share it with your advisor.

Perhaps they are being paranoid, but perhaps they are trying to either protect you or to write the most appropriate letter that they can. Such knowledge is useful to both you and your advisor.

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    Thank you for your suggestion. But I am worried that I can't simply ask an esteemed professor something like "please give me an exact job/ project description now, or my PhD supervisor will not give recommendation letter"- It might show that I am somehow suspecting them. And also as my PhD supervisor only told me these things on phone-there is no proof that he even asked for such thing! So the entire burden would be on me.So,what to do now? Feb 20, 2023 at 14:16
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    You don't need to mention your supervisor at all. Just ask for a complete job description to help you decide on your future. It is your right to know that before you take any job. An honorable person would be glad to oblige. There should be no negative implications at all.
    – Buffy
    Feb 20, 2023 at 14:19
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    @Buffy: "An honorable person would be glad to oblige" - I know many honorable profs who are chaotic and would probably just reply "well, anything a postdoc is supposed to do";)
    – user111388
    Feb 20, 2023 at 15:04
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    @user111388 than you know. Knowing that your potential supervisor is not the most organized person in the world is important information too... Feb 20, 2023 at 16:48
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    @MaartenBuis: In the case of the people I think about, I would absolutely recommend to do a postdoc with them even if they are not the most organized person. So I don't think the information they are not the most organized person is going to tell you much;)
    – user111388
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:35

Here's my general approach to dealing with these sorts of situations:

You are interacting with two people whose intentions you do not fully understand and with whom you apparently don't feel at ease just being honest with. (For example, you don't want to tell the host lab person about the 'diplomatic' stuff.) Let them figure it out themselves in an email to everyone:

Dear Lab Head and Host Person, I asked Lab Head about a letter of recommendation, and he suggested first seeing a complete job description in order to tailor his letter to the purpose. @LabHead: Is this what you were asking for? @HostPerson: Would you be so kind to provide what LabHead is looking for? Sincerely Possible future postdoc

My reading from your post is that you are confused what everyone wants and why. But these people know, and they've got experience with how these things work. Let them sort it out!

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