I need advice on how to explain during a job interview why I am not listing my PhD supervisor as a reference. I have a third interview for a job as a scientist at a startup company.

Previously, my supervisor caused me to lose a job offer by saying I had bad presentation and communication skills. That was when I was applying for a job as an FAS so that would be a much larger component. My supervisor and I had disagreements on writing my thesis with regards to how the 'story' was told.

The second interview required a 30 min talk about my work and yet I still made it to the next round.

I have my MSc. supervisor, a committee member/co-author and my department head as references instead. I realize this isn't as good, but I can't predict what he will say so I don't want to list him.

What can I say if the interviewer (a scientist, as the company has no HR) asks why I didn't list my former boss? And what are the chances he will be contacted anyways?

  • 2
    Did your supervisor say that you had bad presentation and communication skills because you had disagreements on how to write your thesis story, or do you actually have bad presentation and communication skills, relative to other PhD students?
    – Mark
    Sep 4, 2017 at 7:41
  • He thought the disagreement was an example of my poor communication skills. Basically we didn't agree with what order to present information in. Sep 4, 2017 at 8:20
  • wow, I would never understand why PhD students tolerate such behavior. you need to find post doc
    – SSimon
    Sep 4, 2017 at 10:08
  • 4
    Since this is an interview for a non-academic job, you might get better answers at Workplace.SE. Sep 4, 2017 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


Whatever you say, do not lie. They might contact him and if it turns out that you lie about the reason not to mention him as ref, you are probably out. So instead say the actual reason, without speculations and accusations.

One way to go could be:

We had disagreements on a few points recently when writing up my thesis and haven't talked it out yet


If you have additional references from third parties (colleagues or similar) explain that you consider the collaboration you had with them to be more intense and on the field, therefore they may provide more sincere opinions.

If this said they insist they want to contact your previous supervisor although you have explicitly stated he is not a reference then let them do so and consider that you may not want to work in environments where your (honest) decisions are worked around.

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