I have been in a tenure-track position in 5-6 years and I am applying to positions in other universities, including tenured positions. For the list of references, should I include my former PhD advisor? I have some other good names to include and also I have a good relationship with the former advisor. I was wondering the pros and cons of including/excluding the former advisor in the list of reference.

3 Answers 3


This might vary from field to field, and based upon how established and well-regarded you are within your own field, but personally I would not feel that it is mandatory to get a letter from your prior advisor, if you have other letter-writers who you think will be more suitable (know your work better, are better-regarded in the community, will write you a stronger recommendation). At this stage in your career most faculty are now established enough that they are your own brand and can stand on their own, separate from their advisor. In particular, 5-6 years in a tenure-track position is probably far enough along in your career that I don't think the hiring committee will look askance if you don't have a letter from your prior advisor.

In any case, if the hiring committee wants an assessment from your former PhD advisor, they will ask your former PhD advisor. For jobs at this level, it's not unusual for them to ask others for their opinion of you (beyond the letters that you provide), if you are a serious candidate.

That said, usually your former PhD advisor is someone who knows you well, wants you to succeed, appreciates your work and your interests, and is well-informed about your research -- so they are often a good choice of a letter-writer, all else being equal.

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    Speaking from the perspective of a regular hirer of tenure-track faculty: most people who apply for academic jobs do get a letter from their former advisor, no matter how many years out they are (unless the advisor is deceased). It's certainly not mandatory, but because it's so common one tends to wonder why the advisor's letter is not there when it isn't. When you are more senior you usually also get more letters overall, so just because some people may be more up on your current work may not be enough of a reason. Possibly the lack of an advisor's letter is worth an explanation... Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 6:13

In most cases it seems a good idea to include the former adviser.

I suppose an exception would be if you are now much more "established/senior" than your adviser, or if there is some serious problem with your adviser's professional reputation.


My impression is that at this stage it has much higher value if your recommendation letters can prove that you already somewhat established yourself in your field, your independent research topic is going well and people beyond your lab/institute start recognising your name.

Most cases a recommendation letter from your former supervisor hardly can demonstrate independency, it may even suggest just the opposite. I saw cases when a well-meaning ex-supervisor was writing pages about how friendly and docile is the candidate, how good student and doing always everything as ordered. This kind of recommendation letter you really DON'T want to get for a tenured position.

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