I applied to a junior faculty position in a certain university. They asked me to provide a list of recommenders with the following requirements:

  • Each recommender should be a professor.
  • No recommender can be someone with whom I wrote a paper.

The second requirement rules out not only my Ph.D. advisors, but also most professors who know me as a researcher. I thought of several ideas for recommenders that meet both these requirements:

  1. Professors who meet me regularly at department seminars. They can (hopefully) testify that I can ask good questions. But this is only a small part of being a good researcher.
  2. Professors whose courses I took as a graduate student. They can testify that I can learn well. But again, this is only a small part of being a good researcher.
  3. Professors for whom I did some technical work, e.g. computer programming (for research purposes); same comment as above.
  4. Editors of journals for whom I reviewed a paper. They can (hopefully) testify that I can write good reviews; same comment as above.
  5. Editors of journals in which I published papers. They can (hopefully) testify that my papers are good. But, the fact that they published my papers already shows that they think it is good.
  6. Professors for whom I worked as a TA. They can (hopefully) testify that I know to teach. But for this, it may be much more relevant to bring recommendations from students (which I have).

What other options do I have?

  • 1
    How about your department chair? Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:30
  • 10
    Slightly off-topic, but that's an abysmal set of requirements. I have no idea what value they are expecting to get out of it, but as you correctly state, they're leaving out the people who (1) know you best and (2) know your value as a researcher.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:51
  • What country? This may give us a better sense of what kind of letters they are looking for. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:51
  • 1
    @eykanal - One could make the same arguments about reviewers for papers. Indeed, I suspect that the hiring university is (at least formally) looking for peer reviews of applicants, not letters of recommendation. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:57
  • 8
    Too short for an answer: sometimes hiring committees care whether or not anyone beyond your co-authors and advisor care at all about your work. This is not completely unreasonable, although maybe a little harsh for beginners. That is, if the only people who like your work are co-authors and advisor, that is a limited endorsement. Better to have some distant big-shots to have taken notice, and be willing to endorse. Distant big-shots are always more persuasive than anyone we know personally, after all?!? :) Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 23:37

4 Answers 4


People who cite your papers

A particular audience that is suitable for this are people who cite your papers. It is quite likely that the committee wants to see what impact (if any) your research has on your field, so they would want opinions from people outside your team that have read your research and find it useful. One way to find such people is to look at citations to your papers - they (obviously) have read your research, consider it valuable, and you should be able to find their contact information from their papers.

  • 2
    That is an interesting direction I have not thought of. One comment thought: "they (obviously) have read your research" is not necessarily true. Often, in my field, people cite many papers that seem related just by reading the abstract. Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 7:21

I don't know what kind of institution this is, but if it's a research institution, presumably they want references that can evaluate the significance of your work "objectively." So I would think of names of people who you haven't worked with, but should be interested in and capable of mostly understanding your work. It need not be anyone you know personally. (Of course you should email them to see if they are willing.)

If it is a teaching institution, then they probably want references from people who know how you will be as a teacher and as a colleague. (And a research institution may want at least one teaching reference anyway.)

Note: the institution may try contacting people not on your list, and if you have questions about what they are looking for, try asking them.


This strikes me as they are taking a similar approach to references / recommenders for junior faculty hires as many institutions do -- at least in North America -- for the tenure-track; those going up for tenure are often asked for names of potential letter-writers who are familiar with their research / teaching / service but have not published a paper with them. Putting aside whether this is appropriate when hiring at the junior faculty level, for the situation you are in I think there are a few options:

  1. As hpc answered, if you haven't published with one or more of your PhD committee members, they should make excellent candidates to ask to write a reference / recommendation letter. Most faculty and postdoc job applicants that I've seen (both previously as student colleagues during my PhD and now as applicants to my current university) have at least one of their committee members in the list of references they provide. Sometimes it can even look strange if you don't have at least one of them as one of your references, although in this case if you've published with all of them then you won't be able to do that (and nor will many other applicants, of course). If you haven't published with them, though, and depending on their role in your committee, they should at least be able to speak to your research, and possibly teaching or service as well.

  2. Ask faculty at your PhD university who you have not published with, but that know at least part of your academic profile. Perhaps they are familiar with your research and research skills from your papers and presentations, or from talking with you. Perhaps they have observed your teaching or have had you work as a TA for them. Perhaps they know about your service from serving on the same committees or in the same associations and organizations. They may not be from the same research specialty as you, but hopefully they can speak to at least some of your qualities. If you weren't able to use a PhD committee member, it might be helpful to try and get at least one faculty member who is a full / named professor and/or has some form of administrative role (department chair, program director, etc.) at your PhD university.

  3. Ask faculty from other universities whom you have met at conferences or other events and are in your area of specialty and/or your field. Think of those you might publish with down the road, should things work out, but that you haven't published with yet. Similar to those at your PhD university, if they have gotten to know about your research or service, they should be able to speak reasonably well to your achievements and potential.

There is likely some variance (as stated in the comments) depending on the country of the university you are applying to for a faculty role. That said, this is my sense based on my own experience in the US and Canada, and things may vary in Israel or other non-American/Canadian contexts. Good luck!


Other options:

  1. Your PhD committee members
  2. Your MS Thesis committee members (if applicable)
  3. Department Chair or the Graduate Program Director

You can also take your work to a professor you are not familiar with (but he/she is familiar with your research area), request them to write a reference letter based on their evaluation of your CV/papers/TA work etc. I think this has as much a chance as items 4 and 5 of your list.

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