This is similar to a previously asked question, but deals specifically with addressing the problem on the CV. My adviser had a bit of a personal meltdown and left the department while I was finishing analysis of field data/writing up. His students were assigned the following year to a non-tenured professor. This new professor was of little help to me my last year of writing up, sat on my dissertation with no comments for over 6 months and only produced comments after I went to the departmental chair. He did not think much of the type work I was doing and went so far as to say so during my defense. I will add here that I have a number of publications (>5) including single authored ones-which for my field is significant- as well as an excellent track record of funding and in presenting my research. I have a strong CV but have had no success thus far in securing a job. I once saw one of the letters he had written for me (it needed to be included in a single PDF so he had to send it to me) and it was terrible. It talked mostly about him and how he really did not know me well and with a few generic sounding "he will no doubt exceed" sentences that just sounded fake. Months later a colleague suggested that I find a different reference than my adviser (but was not clear as to why).

So, my question is this: since committees will no doubt look at my list of referees and wonder at my lack of an adviser-I have taken to including a short "note" in the "reference contact information" section explaining that 1) my original adviser left academia at the end of my time as a student and 2) that my new adviser was up for tenure the year I defended and very busy and was in a different field than mine, so instead "below are three people who are in a better position to judge me on my research, teaching, writing skills".

Is this providing too much information or is this instead ensuring that rather than questioning and then rejecting my application the committees will stop and think "oh okay, I can see why the applicant did not include their adviser"?

  • This is a sufficiently different question that I've changed the title to reflect the different aim and prevent closing votes, but otherwise I've left things the same.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 19:37
  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/635/…
    – Bravo
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 3:59
  • Is there a problem if he leaves academia or if he leaves Academia.StackExchange.com? ^_^ Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 7:47
  • Ask other people on your PhD committee. Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 21:25

3 Answers 3


Your current advisor's letters are killing you. Do not ask him for any more letters. Do not list him as a reference in your CV. Don't walk; run.

I will add here that I have a number of publications (>5) including single authored ones-which for my field is significant- as well as an excellent track record of funding and in presenting my research.

In that case, you really should have no trouble finding enough other good references to overcome any concerns raised by not having a letter from either of your advisors. Everyone reads advisor letters with a grain of salt anyway; strong letters from well-known senior researchers outside your home department have much bigger impact.

Of course, if anyone asks why your current advisor isn't writing you letters, you should answer honestly, but I think adding an explanatory note in advance is unnecessarily defensive.

  • 7
    I think a statement that the current advisor was administratively assigned and does not activel supervise the sudent's research is not overly defensive, and has the advantage of being true. (if this is not explicitly stated in a letter, it should at least be made clear in the CV.)
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 22:33
  • 1
    I absolutely agree with this. The "advisor"'s letters are the kiss of death here.
    – user10636
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 19:02

You should definitely get rid of the letter from your new "advisor." I think it would be reasonable to list only your original advisor as your advisor on your CV (not the new advisor).

I think you should make sure that one of your letter writers includes a short paragraph explaining that your advisor left academia and this is why you do not have a letter from your advisor. I would look into whether there's someone you can ask for a letter who feels some responsibility for your original advisor, for example, your advisor's advisor or a frequent coauthor of your advisor.

  • 3
    +1 for asking another letter writer to explain the situation.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 2:21

Assuming your field is relatively small, the odds are good that your advisor's fate is known to the community. Unfortunately, such events do happen, for all kinds of reasons—just a few weeks ago I learned that a relatively prominent academic in my field basically had his group wiped out because he was arrested on some rather nasty charges!

While it doesn't seem that your original advisor befell such an awful fate, it is clear that, for whatever reason, he is no longer in academia. However, given that he is probably known to many of the people working in your field, it might still be helpful to try to get a letter from him, even if he's doing something completely different. If you can't, because he has refused to do so, then you are entitled to explain the situation in your CV or cover letter. Be succinct and to the point, and stick to the facts; do not make it into a "sob story," which will not endear you to a hiring committee or postdoc advisor.

And good luck—such situations are always stressful, and are always unfortunate for the students caught up in them. It's one of the pitfalls of academic life, and I don't know of a good way to deal with it.

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