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I am a postdoc who has been supervising a Master's student, who is applying for a PhD. The application uses an online system, and I have been notified that I have been designated as a referee. In general, will this be entirely confidential, such that the student will never see the reference I have written? Or will the student then see my reference on their application, with the ability to download it and read it?

Of course, I could ask my institution about this directly, and also this may vary between different universities, but I am wondering what the expected rule would be. My university is in the UK.

  • Based on how things work in my own (UK) department: PhD applicants don't necessarily see their letters of recommendation. I think that those handling the application would solicit letters of reference from those who have been noiminated, rather than asking the applicant to provide them. – Yemon Choi May 26 '16 at 2:01
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In the UK all references can be revealed if the student makes an application to the University under the Data Protection Act for a copy of their application record. The record would contain full disclosure of their entire file including all correspondence, including emails, and minuted discussions of the application. This would have to be a formal application and would accrue a fee.

Normally, in all other circumstances, the references would be kept confidential. Most UK universities would warn referees about the Data Protection Act when requesting a reference.

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If you are asked to submit letters via an online interface, there will normally be some indication of whether or not the candidate has waived her right to review the recommendation at a later date. If the letters are to be emailed to someone instead, then it's possible that such a waiver has not been made; in that case, you should contact the individual or organization requesting the letter if you want to ensure its confidentiality.

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    Is it possible to waive your rights under the Data Protection Act? If not, I would suggest this answer is not applicable to the UK. – MJeffryes May 26 '16 at 9:35

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