Like the title said, I'm applying for faculty positions. I am finishing a 3 year post-doc. I have strong support from my post-doc advisor and other profs we collaborated with. I have no problem getting three solid references. I've always struggled with my PhD advisor though. He was once important in the field, but he rarely publishes peer-reviewed research lately. I actually got my post-doc without his letter.

I'm considering applying without his letter to faculty positions. Anybody have similar experiences or advice? I'm baffled by my problems with my PhD advisor. I actually did publish with him, and even won awards.

  • 4
    You allude to problems with your thesis advisor, but you don't say much about them. The fact that he is not very research-active seems like a red herring: you can still get his letter and three more letters from more active academics: at least, in my field it works this way. (For that matter, even if he is not so active now, his past achievements could still make him very influential. That's kind of how it works.) Are you saying that his letter for you would actually be negative? Why did you not get his letter when you applied for postdocs (and how did you get a postdoc without it?)? Dec 14, 2016 at 22:40
  • This is going to be very country dependent. For example, in the US letters are really important, but in the UK letters are not so important. Further Americans tend to write more positive letters than Brits.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 14, 2016 at 22:46
  • To answer questions: The most important factor in getting the post-doc was a strong recommendation from another important person in the field who I had published with. Also, the hiring process was informal, my phd advisor had a reputation for not responding to anybody, and my post-doc advisor just didn't care.
    – Jack63
    Dec 15, 2016 at 1:44
  • To answer other questions. I get paranoid about telling too much about myself. The field is not math. It is a very applied field where they care deeply about funding.
    – Jack63
    Dec 15, 2016 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


Unless your former advisor can speak to your present and future research potential (especially funding potential), his letter won't add anything that your post doc references won't already say. At a certain point, prospective employers want to see that you have become an independent researcher, and a letter from a doctoral advisor might give the wrong impression.

  • 2
    This may be field dependent. In my field (pure math), it is overwhelmingly common that someone who is applying for a first tenure track job has a letter from their thesis advisor. I would guess that this happens at least 95% of the time...more than enough for people to take notice when the advisor does not have a letter in the file. What field are you in? (What field is the OP in?) Dec 14, 2016 at 23:16
  • When is that "certain point" when a letter from a doctoral advisor might actually give the wrong impression? Yes, I agree I should be showing intellectual independence, and I should show I'm an independent researcher.
    – Jack63
    Dec 15, 2016 at 1:49
  • If you've completed a post doc and three years have elapsed since your last collaboration with your doctoral advisor, it would (in my field) be unusual to have the advisor write a LOR for you. There's no rule saying you can't include it as a 4th LOR, especially if he can speak to how well you've developed over the years (assuming he's stayed apprised of your progress) and his reputation as a researcher is still highly respected. If all he can address is how well you did while under his supervision, I think you'd be better off sticking with the post doc references.
    – Inde
    Dec 15, 2016 at 3:29

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