An assistant professor position asks for candidates to provide three recommendation letters. I had a strong and excellent relationship with my PhD Advisor. He will certainly provide me with one recommendation letter but I am quite sure this is the only one I will get, at least in time as my two other PhD supervisors do not respond to my emails as quickly as before.

As a young researcher in a post-doctoral position for one month, my Professor is the only researcher able to write a recommendation letter. In contrast, an Assistant Professor position that I'd like to apply for asks for three. Should I still apply or will my application be too weak?

  • 4
    Does your PhD supervisor have enough of a good relationship with the other two that the supervisor could pressure them to respond?
    – Dawn
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:27
  • 8
    If the posting specifically asks for 3 letters and you only supply 1 it is likely that HR (or the support staff) will not let your application proceed. Get the other two letters.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:58
  • 6
    Not only PhD supervisors qualify to write recommendation letters. Isn't there anyone else who knows your work to some extent? Do you have any teaching experience? A person who organised a programme in which you taught could write a letter. There are further options. Commented Jan 5 at 23:48
  • Seconding @JonCuster's comment: probably your application file will just be considered "incomplete, pending letters..." and won't be considered at all. At the same time, presumably it doesn't cost you too much to apply, anyway? Still, you'll likely not be competitive against people who do have 3 letters, and are otherwise comparable. Commented Jan 6 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


It is a waste of your time applying, and a waste of your letter writer’s time, if you cannot satisfy even the minimal requirements listed. Three letters means just that - not one, not two, but three letters are required.

Academia is very competitive. If you want to have a realistic hope of being successful, you should aim not just to satisfy the minimal listed requirements for academic jobs, but probably to exceed them significantly. (By this I mean not that you need to have 10 letters rather than 3, but that you need to have 3 very good letters rather than just 3 generic letters. And you need to similarly exceed the minimal requirements for other listed criteria like quality of publications, etc.)

Disclaimer: my experience is mainly in the US, but I also have some experience with French academia and think the above advice would apply there as well. However, ask a person with firsthand knowledge of the specific job market you are targeting (geographically and discipline-wise) for more authoritative advice.

  • Seems a bit (more than a bit) harsh. Also formulaic. No exceptions? Ever? So the OP just gives up?
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 8 at 14:16
  • @Buffy I try to give the most truthful advice. I didn’t say OP should give up, but as for the number of letters, yes, it seems virtually certain that there will be no exceptions (subject to the disclaimer explaining the limits of my knowledge).
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 8 at 16:13

While having fewer than the "requested" letters isn't optimal, you gain nothing by not applying. How you do will depend in part (as always) in what that letter says about you and your work. If the other parts of your application are strong you may be fine.

Perhaps the one writing your letter can press the others to hurry up and get it done.

You must log in to answer this question.

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