I've been in my first postdoc for a year and feel that I'm not progressing in my career. There has been communication issues with my PI, he's not very supportive of his senior postdocs, and it takes a long time to publish.

I am currently looking for new positions, however how do I address the issue of my one year postdoc, especially if I won't be receiving a reference letter from the PI?

Should I address this in the cover letter?

Also, he is quite big in the field, so are there any considerations I should be careful about, for instance applying to people he has worked with?

Would it be worthwhile to ask other PIs in the department that I have not worked with but I have been on good terms with for a reference letter?

  • 6
    Have you tried talking to your PI about this? Some professors expect the postdocs to be completely independent, some expect them to do only what they are told... If he's known in the field, burning that bridge might no be a good idea and can get in the way of new positions... Jan 25, 2016 at 1:42
  • Currently the PI has created a toxic environment and some of our interactions have descended into outright bullying. Also I just don't think he'd be supportive of someone leaving so early.
    – John
    Jan 25, 2016 at 3:51
  • 2
    Been there. Not an easy situation. In my case, I literally changed fields before and after this postdoc (CS -> biomechanics -> CS), so it didn't really matter if I burned the bridge. Otherwise, I believe I'd had a hard time finding a new position, people wouldn't like to cross him. Any diplomatic solution would be preferable. A fake 2 body problem, for instance... While I favor telling the truth, I don't think its a good idea at this point.. Jan 25, 2016 at 10:16
  • 4
    @FábioDias Lying is never a good idea (simply for being a lie). The fact that no positive reference from the current PI is expected_ makes it worse. But I can't offer a better alternative.
    – yo'
    Jan 25, 2016 at 19:38
  • I wish it was that simple. But an interesting way to approach this is to find another reason to move (like I suggested the 2 body problem) and avoid the bullying altogether.... Tbh, it's better for everyone involved, nobody will like this and most likely nothing is gonna change anyway. I tried this, but it didn't work, my PI cut my grant and I had to go nuclear. I don't regret it, it was necessary, but I really didn't want to... Jan 25, 2016 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


I would apply to new postdocs using the professors at your former doctoral program as references. If there's someone at the postdoc school that you worked with and can speak positively, you could use one of them instead of one of your former profs, but I'd keep the ratio 2:1 or 3:1 in favor of your former professors.

The good thing is that you're in your first year of the postdoc. Sometimes there are just fit issues -- in terms of personalities or research topics or both. Everyone in academia is aware of this and we're aware it's not always the fault of the applicant -- especially when it comes to "big names" (== big egos). I think you could apply to new post docs referring very briefly and obliquely to fit -- and using the materials and references from your doctoral program.

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