I am applying for (research) assistant professor positions in the computer science and statistics areas. I have seen advice on having at least one recommendation letter outside of my graduate school institution. I have two letters from inside my graduate school institution.

One letter is from my major professor, who can comment on my ability to obtain grants and conduct research. The other letter is from a professor who can comment on my ability to teach and conduct research.

I am currently deciding about my third letter, and have two options in mind. One idea is my manager at a software company from my summer internship in 2016. She can comment on my ability to get work done, work with team members, demonstrate software development skills, and make connections (she told me I was persistent in asking for the internship position). The other idea is a professor emeritus who I worked with back in 2009 during a postbac position. He is now in his early 80s but still publishes research. He was the founding chair of an academic department (not directly related to what I do now though within the sciences and maths), won several prestigious awards, and served most of his time in academia. He can comment on my research abilities and initiative (he was impressed that I developed my own research ideas to fruition during my postbac). He has written a recommendation letter for me back in 2012 to apply for graduate school.

I would be grateful to hear opinions on this topic. Do you think either of these third options appropriate? Is one more favorable than the other? Most applications require exactly 3 letters, but some allow 4 letters. Hence, I can include both for some applications. Thank you for sharing any of your wisdom!

1 Answer 1


Well, given that you are applying for a professorship position it makes much more sense the second third option. The recruiters do look for external recommendations, but external recommendations in the same area are more valuable as they give more interesting information on the candidate for that role. However, if i may, i would suggest you to have the first recommendation for your ability to get grants, the second one for your ability to teach and the third one for your ability to research. In this way, the recommendations will be covering all the aspects of the job, without overlapping each other and without overwhelming the recruiters. I hope my suggestions will help you.

  • Just to verify, you are suggesting the professor emeritus (instead of the summer internship manager at the software co.)? I was worried because I have not worked with him for almost seven years, and because he is not currently a professor (though still publishes).
    – ToBePhD
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:44
  • Also, thank you for suggesting to divide up the recommendations. Since I am applying for research assistant professorships, I thought it would be better to have more of my letters at least touch on my research. But it might be overwhelming if they all do, as you have suggested.
    – ToBePhD
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:45
  • You are welcome. Yes and i won't be worried about him being an emeritus professor especially if he is still active in his community. Clearly, it would be even better to being recommended by someone who worked with you more recently, but still i would divide my recommendations. Beside, at least here in Europe, research is valued more based on the h-index than on recommendation letters.
    – Alessio
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 13:47
  • 1
    i would suggest you to have the first recommendation for your ability to get grants, the second one for your ability to teach and the third one for your ability to research — I think this is bad advice for someone aiming for a research faculty position. The first letter should emphasize research, the second letter should emphasize research, and the third letter should emphasize research. (Yes, at least one letter should comment on grant-writing and at least one letter should comment on teaching, but those should not be the main emphasis of any letter.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 4:32

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