In Europe, is it common practice to ask an external member of your PhD committee to be a reference on a resume for job applications?

  • 3
    The question is how well does the external member know you? Is it enough to write a strong reference letter?
    – JoErNanO
    Aug 7, 2016 at 22:54
  • For at least some places in Canada, the external member can't be one of your references ("conflict of interest"). Is this also an issue in some European countries?
    – Kimball
    Aug 8, 2016 at 0:13
  • 1
    @Kimball: I've never heard of this, and I've asked at least three of my PhD reading committee members for reference letters. Also, wouldn't then your PhD supervisor be barred from providing a reference because of conflict of interest?? Aug 8, 2016 at 17:10
  • @JaapEldering The conflict of interest issue is just for the external member, who's supposed to provide an unbiased assessment of the thesis. (I'm not endorsing such rules, and I think they're often overly strict.)
    – Kimball
    Aug 9, 2016 at 0:20

2 Answers 2


For academic jobs, I think that an external committee member is a good referee. They have read through your thesis, so they are one of the few people able to offer an opinion on the quality of your research. For non-academic jobs, I think Christiaan's answer makes sense, they aren't going to be as interested in your research but more your work-related skills.

Personally, I (UK-based) have used the external examiner of my PhD as a referee in the application for my first postdoc and in a successful fellowship application. Not being from the same institution probably looks good.


If I understand correctly, you are talking about whether to include certain references on your CV (and not about who to ask to write a reference letter for you - thanks JeffE for pointing this difference out to us).

In general, as far as I know, potential employers consult references mainly to obtain information about things not evident from your CV. That is, for example, your overall work attitude, your ambitions, whether you can work in a group, how you tackle problems, how you handle set backs, what your specific expertise is and any other personal experiences that are noteworthy to a potential new employer.

All of these things are pretty much unknown to external references. While additional references are likely welcomed, your reference list should, dependent where you are in your career, at least have one or two potential contacts that have worked personally with you.

  • 1
    This answer does not match my experience either as a reference-letter author or as a member/chair of my department's faculty hiring committee. At least in computer science, reference letters are primarily evaluations of the quality/depth/originality/impact of the applicant's research--yes, even for new assistant professors--which external references can and do evaluate. In fact, all else being equal, letters from the applicant's home institution are considered biased and given less weight. Successful faculty candidates must have external reference letters.
    – JeffE
    Aug 8, 2016 at 12:16
  • @JeffE - I understand the question as targeting the reference list at the end of a CV. In case you are talking reference letters - yes those are the kind of polished up laudatory transcriptions about the track record and achievements of the candidate and yes, those can be written by anyone. Thanks for this Jeff - I updated my question to narrow down its scope.
    – AliceD
    Aug 8, 2016 at 12:41
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    Again, in my experience, the references listed at the end of your academic CV are precisely the people that you've asked and who have agreed to write you reference letters. There is no distinction.
    – JeffE
    Aug 8, 2016 at 16:22
  • My experience is the same as JeffE's. Then again, neither of us are in Europe.
    – Tom Church
    Aug 9, 2016 at 0:16

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