I have applied for a postdoc position in the USA. I have been asked to submit two letters of recommendation. I have requested one of the letters from my supervisor. After multiple attempts, finally, she has given me one. Now, the problem is her moody nature. I am worried if the admissions committee calls her for background verification. She has given the letter on her present company letterhead with the title 'To whomsoever it may concern' and no date. Although it is written that I worked with her until my viva, there is no specific date mentioned. Should I submit this recommendation letter or take two from my present employer and submit them? My husband got my canadian visa rejected. So I want to be very careful so that no common friends will know where I am applying.

2 Answers 2


Academic recommendation letters are quite different from recommendations letters used for non-academic positions, which often merely confirm existing employments.

Usually, they are confidential and not seen by the applicants, but send from the author of the letter, typically an academic with a university affiliation, directly to the committee. Such a letter may well be addressed to 'whomsoever it may concern', but should contain a date, describe the relationship of its author to the applicant (including a timeline), and give a true assessment of the applicant's qualities, possibly with reference to the position they are applying for. It is not uncommon for such letters to fill a page or more and describe in some details the projects of the applicants and their approach in tackling any problems.

For applications to a first postdoc, a letter from the PhD supervisor is usually quite important. Without a good letter from them, the application is difficult (you would need a very good publication record, for instance, to compensate). The fact that your supervisor required several promptings to finally produce a letter either means she doesn't really want to recommend you (for whatever reasons) or that she is just a bad/sloppy supervisor.

However, in your case, it seems that you left academia and now attempt to rejoin. This is unusual (though not unheard of), but you should try to have academic-style recommendation letters. It would be helpful if one came from an academic who knows your work -- a personal relation is not necessary.


I've been on hiring committees for postdocs at universities. We have understood that not all primary advisor are willing to write strong letters of recommendation or provide references. However, we have wanted somebody who you have worked closely with. For example, hopefully another committee member can describe you, your work ethic, and skills.

Additionally, if you have a current position, the committee's I have been on would consider that position and your feedback from it more heavily than your previous position (like your PhD).

But a lot of this is situation specific and depends upon the position and the hiring committee (or possibly a single PI if they alone are making the hiring decision). One PI may refuse to hire you if your PhD supervisor doesn't give a strong reference whereas another PI may be happy with your current project's supervisor's recommendation.

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