I'm considering applying for PhD positions. I finished my MSc in 2021. Would it be OK to ask my supervisor for references? I feel a bit strange because I've barely seen him in person due to COVID and it's been 1.5 years. Do I just ask him for a letter/email that I can keep and use for several PhD applications in the near future or do I need to ask him for a letter for eq h individual application?

At the same time, when I graduated it was still COVID and everyone was working from home. I've been meaning to see him in person after I got my MSc and thank him for supervising me (and have a nice bottle of wine and other goodies for him). I avoided doing this before my MSc work was graded to avoid a conflict of interest and so it does not look like I am trying to bribe him. But now I feel if I go and see him and give him gifts, it looks like I'm bribing him for PhD recommendations.

Any wisdom on if I'm overthinking it or about to do a faux pas?


2 Answers 2


It's perfectly acceptable to ask; if it's your most recent degree and you did well in it it will presumably be a strong letter that will help your application.

It's unlikely that you will be able to ask him to send the letter directly to you as most (all?) universities will contact referees directly for their letters (for obvious reasons, otherwise candidates could just write and send fraudulent letters about themselves). When supervisors agree to write reference letters they will be well aware that they will have to send/upload the letter for each application you make. The task is not too onerous; when I do it, I write one letter for the candidate and only make minor changes to it for each application. If your supervisor agrees, you can help them out by making a list of the places you plan to apply to along with the application deadlines, so they have an idea of when the requests will arrive.

Regarding the gifts, if you are really worried about it then you could wait til you have submitted your last application; then it would also work as a thank you for the reference letters.


I would suggest trying to have a conversation with your supervisor in which you explain that you want to apply to a PhD program and for which you need a letter of reference, in this way you can ask if it is possible for him to writte you with a letter in case that the answer isn't positive, you can ask him for someone who is willing to writte you a letter, but always make sure to point that the letter has to be from your supervisor

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