I'm preparing an application for another postdoc job; the end of my first term is nearing, and it has been 1.5 years since finishing my PhD. My thesis work was mostly done in not-well known research institute in a small country; my current postdoc position is in a significantly better university (world's top 100, strong in my area).

I'm somewhat reluctant to include my former PhD advisor as a reference because our relationship was strained in the last year of my studies.

The first reference I'll have is the PI in my current project. For the second reference, alternative options are:

  • another professor from my current university / project;
  • the director of the research institute I did my PhD in;
  • my former PhD advisor.

Which one would you suggest?

  • Out of curiosity, is only wanting 2 letters normal in your field? In math, I don't know any normal positions where the minimum number of references is < 3.
    – Kimball
    Apr 6, 2015 at 2:03
  • @Kimball Most of the posotions I looked at (or at least the ones I applied to) when looking for a math postdoc in Europe only required two letters. So at least such do exist, even if this is just a small random sample. Apr 6, 2015 at 6:30
  • @TobiasKildetoft Thanks. After jogging my brain some, I guess my comment was US centric. I only applied to a few postdocs outside the US, and it's been awhile since I applied so I forgot, but now that I think of it, I'm not sure any of the non-US/Canada posdocs I considered required > 2 references.
    – Kimball
    Apr 6, 2015 at 6:40
  • @Kimball my field is CS, and potential positions are in Europe.
    – kfx
    Apr 6, 2015 at 9:57

1 Answer 1


If you're afraid the relationship with your supervisor results in a negative reference for you, I suggest not to include him. However, based on the alternative options you have, you must be sure that they actually know you and are able to provide a reference for you.

Although the director of the institute potentially carries more weight (he's the director, after all), he must know about your work and your work ethic. If you worked closely with another professor in your project, it's more likely he is able to provide a better reference for you, and I would choose the professor over the director in that case.

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