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I am completing my first postdoc and I had a pretty bad experience with my current adviser. I finally got to publish something, contribute in a grant writing etc., but overall it hasn't been great...

Now, I am going to start a new postdoctoral appointment under the supervision of a faculty I have been working with for several years and I will apply for tenure track positions once this last appointment has ended. I am pretty sure that my new adviser will be able to provide very good recommendation letters for me in the future. So the question is, will I need to provide recommendation letters from my current adviser? What if those are not good?

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When applying for your first tenure track job most search committees will expect that your PhD supervisor and current supervisor will be amongst the N letters of recommendation that you provide. While having your PhD supervisor and current supervisor write letters is not a strict requirement their absence would be noticed. The other letters can come from anyone that knows you well and is experienced enough to write letters for a TT position. There is no expectation that you have letters from all supervisors that you worked with.

That said, you should talk with your current supervisor about the possibility of getting a letter. There maybe some positions they are willing to recommend you for and there may be cases where you need N+1 letters and you only have N.

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In my field in the USA, you normally only need to send 3 letters of recommendation:

  1. One of them should be your dissertation supervisor (if diss < 5 years old)
  2. One should be a current supervisor (such as your new postdoc advisor)
  3. One should be from a committee member or someone else who knows your work well

As long as you have three, I think you're fine in not including a letter from the postdoc advisor that you're having problems with.

Note: Some programs require more. Even if n number of letters are required, there is no requirement that the n be comprehensive.

tl;dr: Letters of recommendation are used to indicate that some (at least n) faculty think highly of you, not necessarily that all do.

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    In my field, for tenure-track research positions, I think it's expected that you get 4-6 letters, even if the application only requires 3. (I think many explicitly state 4, but I can't remember.) In our case, 1 should be a teaching letter. – Kimball Aug 9 '16 at 0:35
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    Different departments ask for different numbers of letters, even in the same field, even within the same country. – JeffE Aug 9 '16 at 2:09

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