Faculty member X offered me a PhD position, spontaneously. I have also been interviewing for a job. The company asks me now for a reference, and I clearly cannot provide X. I want to provide faculty member Y, which knows X and is in her same department.

How do I ask for a reference to Y, without having X know?

My idea was: Dear Y, [...] I was thinking of continuing with a project supervised by X, or to stay in industry. Since you know me well from course Z, seminar W and project K, I would be glad if you could act as a reference for an industrial position. In case this helps, I attach some detail about company, position and my CV [...].

I hope this is a good draft, and if not, I am looking for ways to improve it. Assuming it is a good idea to approach Y in the first place!

The assumption in the answer of @JosephDoggie is correct: I still consider the offer of X, and will likely take the job, if I am offered it.

  • Does Y know your situation? I.e. do they know that you have some kind of relationship with X?
    – Lilla
    Sep 27 at 9:41
  • 'I clearly cannot provide X.' Why not..? If this person is willing to act professionally and in your best interests, they can write you a good recommendation. What could sound better than 'I am currently trying to hire this person'? Oct 29 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


This is a multi-faceted answer.

It appears from the question that taking the job you are interviewing for and "the offered PhD position are mutually exclusive. I'm further assuming that you want to retain the PhD position if you don't get the job interview but will abandon it if you do. If you are certain that you won't want the PhD position under any circumstances, you could just tell X about the interview, and ask them to be your reference.

This is a somewhat common situation. It's ok to do that but try to keep as honest as possible with all parties. My own advisor told us that we would likely face a situation like this, and it's ok to do what is best for us.

I would just ask Y without telling them not to tell X, that gets too complicated. Of course, be polite in asking. I think your suggested outline is OK, I personally would leave the X out of it, as well as the associated-with-X position.

Some of this would be culturally dependent, I come from the US perspective.

Best wishes.

  • 1
    I agree that writing 'don't tell X' is not something I should do. I was hoping that, by only mentioning X, he understands not to let the news arrive to X. Why would you leave X out?
    – hahn76
    Sep 26 at 22:05
  • 1
    And about your assumptions, they are all correct.
    – hahn76
    Sep 26 at 22:11
  • It just makes it worse for Y to mention X in my opinion. Sep 27 at 13:00

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