I am now preparing for my PhD applications to be submitted soon later this year. I recently was informed that one of my academic referees passed away quite unexpectedly.

The late professor was a great teacher and a wonderful person all round, in addition to being very well respected in my field. After recovering from my initial response to the news, I now have to decide who could write for me instead. I consider myself having done quite well and participated actively in the professor's class, hence the letter would have been quite positive.

I have considered asking my other tutors who have taught me in university, but I had not done as well and we were not as close, so I don't expect there would be credible or indeed useful details to be included in their recommendations. I have also considered asking my current supervisor (at another university) to write for me, though I have only been working for them since this summer.

Therefore my questions are:

  1. What should I do and expect now?
  2. How should I bring this up in my applications? Or should I? I certainly would consider it crass to include him anywhere on my CV or personal statement.

I have read discussions on situations where advisors passed away (e.g.1, e.g.2), but think my situation here is a little different, since I am still in the process of preparing for my applications and this was the first time he would write recommendation letters for me (he did not leave a letter, obviously). Hope this is ok.

I hope this question does not come off as insensitive, as I am at a loss thinking what to do next.

  • To add to the actual answers: your question is not insensitive at all. It’s respectful to the late professor, and is an important practical question you need to deal with.
    – PLL
    Oct 24, 2016 at 8:59
  • Similar question, which links to some more similar questions: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/42208/… Oct 25, 2016 at 3:28
  • Thanks. To incorporate @Roboticist 's suggestion, would it be appropriate to state on my CV (Supervised by the late Professor X). [project details] ?
    – CatC
    Nov 2, 2016 at 16:22

1 Answer 1


I had faced with a similar situation, some time ago:

  1. As an applicant, you should have a list, including people who are qualified in your view to present LoR. This list should be sorted based on the priority, reasonably. If one assumes the late professor as the first person in the list, your exclusive option is just choosing the next one. I just contacted the other professor, who was aware of my collaboration with the late professor and knew him for a couple of years. So, he, not only, did his best to show off my characteristics, but did try to depict some points about that famous professor and justified his tendency to work with me, as a bonus for my personal and technical features. In other words, all he did was presenting me as a right person to admission committee, in both his own view and the late professor's view (virtually!).

    Therefore, in my estimation, if you are eager to be known as a person with a sort of related connections to that professor, just try to be recommended by one, who knows you both and is aware of your collaborations (at least in some aspects)

  2. Typically, applicants mention the name of their supervisors within the CV, in addition to their references. If the late professor was not your supervisor, one might not consider citing his name in CV, as a reasonable stuff. However, assume that you have passed a course with him and had presented a seminar-based project with a report as its outcome. You can mention that report within the scientific accomplishment section in your CV and add a (Supervised by: Prof. XXX), in front of it. It's all to show that you have the experience of collaborating with that man, at least within a short-time research project.

    Furthermore, you can elaborate on his effects on your research methodologies and personalitywithin your SoP, undoubtedly.

Good luck with your application!

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