1

My former Master's advisor is toxic, and we had conflicts. I cannot go into detail, I am afraid it will reveal who I am. I am an international student, and I earned a master's degree in the United States.

My advisor said they will write a rec letter for my PhD program. I am so afraid that they will write an unfavorable recommendation letter. I cannot control how my advisor thinks of me. Fortunately, another professor in the same department said they will write a recomendation letter for me, but they will not be able to say much about research skills because they are not my advisor, so they never have done research with me before. However, this other prof said they will write a favorable recommendation letter, because they saw how I suffered, and I impressed them in their class.

Is it a good idea to nevertheless also ask for a recommendation letter from my former master's advisor?

1
  • 1
    We can't really know what a toxic person will do. Perhaps they will be super nice and write a good recommendation or perhaps they will just write "Never hire Tube, they are the worst". We can't really guess. You know the person, so you are most likely to know. May 26, 2023 at 13:33

1 Answer 1

1

It is better to err on the side of caution and NOT ask your former supervisor (let's call him X) for a recommendation letter. There are three possibilities how your situation can go down:

  1. Let us assume that X will write a bad rec letter, trashing your skills and achievement. No matter how glowing the rest of the two recommendations are (further assuming you'd need three), your direct supervisor's rec will weigh more than the rest (it will most certainly not be overlooked). Dr. X’s letter will cast a dark shadow over them, and you will lose your shot at your dream college.

  2. In the second scenario, let's assume Dr. X shrugs and writes a mediocre, bland rec letter, without putting too much thought into it. He doesn't say anything remarkable about you and doesn’t care enough to make you shine or sink. Keeping in mind that most of the prestigious schools won't just look for a run-of-the-mill recommendation, they are most likely to look for a brilliant and glorious one. If you are aiming low and you are almost certain that the grad admission committee or prospective supervisors will just count your rec letters (and will not peruse through it), then by all means go ask for rec letter from Dr. X. But why would you sell yourself short?

  3. The third possibility is a rather dramatic one. It demands that Dr. X has a change of heart, he regrets how he treated you, he loses his sleep thinking how had wronged you, and/or he has finally found it in his tender heart or probably had an epiphany that he should redeem himself by giving you a boost. Ask yourself what are the chances of that happening. If you have a good realistic reason to believe that Dr. X has turned over a new leaf, then go ahead and ask him. Otherwise, you'd always blame yourself for not taking the chance.

A buddy of mine did something rather mischievous, which I cannot condone in good conscience. It involved asking his professor for three recommendation letters, for one "urgent" paper application and two online ones. The professor sealed his rec letter and gave it to my friend for his paper application, which never made it to its destination. Turned out his prof gave him an effortless rec letter that didn’t do him justice and my friend never included that prof as a recommender after that.

1
  • 1
    Option 3 is very unlikely, unless the prof has highest integrity. In the latter case, they probably would be transparent to the student that they were not happy with X, Y and Z, but that they would write a letter highlighting the strong parts of the student's work. If they don't do that, it's risky business. As for the trick of your buddy, I admire their subversive approach. But careful, some profs want to know whether their reference arrived at their destination. May 28, 2023 at 21:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .