A few years ago I graduated from a master program at a university. Since I since then has been working mainly in my own company and with granted projects, I don't have so many references from work life or post university activities, even though it's four years since I graduated.

When I apply for grants and jobs I am often asked for a reference, preferably a professor (which I have in my former professor) or a supervisor (which I don't have, since I'm not employed at a company).

How long is it "normal" to use your former professor as a reference when applying for grants and jobs?

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    I've written references for former students a decade later. Generally, though, these were for people who worked in industry for a time and then applied to a graduate program. – Bob Brown Mar 1 '17 at 12:24
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    The best practice is to have references who are the most recent, relevant references for the purpose you are using them as references. It would be strange to ask a professor from 10 years ago to give you a reference on your research accomplishments if you have been doing research with other professors for the past 10 years. This doesn't apply in your case, so feel free to use the most recent references that make sense for your situation. If you haven't kept in contact with them, it would also be good to provide them with an update on your activities since you graduated. – Bryan Krause Mar 1 '17 at 22:58
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    I agree with Danny, but I wonder if you can start cultivating some possible future references, by considering your collaborators? – aparente001 Mar 2 '17 at 7:30

There is no hard limit, other than the professor being alive.

Generally, it is useful to include only references that are relevant and can express something about your current abilities. So, if a professor can say something meaningful and relevant about you, even after a decade or more, then you can include them as a reference.

If, however, your abilities and skills have significantly changed in the respective area (e.g. you gained substantially more experience in this particular field), then the reference is outdated, and it is better not to include them.

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I have been asked for recommendations from students immediately after a course ends to up to about 5 years later. Some times for graduate school applications, other times for job applications.

To be honest, I see it as part of the job and generally do not mind giving them. I agree that there is not really a hard time limit so long as the recommendation is relevant to your skill set or character. The best thing that you can do is just ask them directly.

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