I'm a graduate student in the US, currently applying for postdoc positions on the mathjobs website. The format of the job postings is basically a description of the position, followed by

Application Materials Required
Submit the following items online at this website to complete your application:

  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Research Statement
  • ...
  • N Reference Letters (to be submitted by the reference writers at this site)

And anything else requested in the position description.

(where N is usually 3 or 4).

Sometimes, the position description says explicitly

N letters of recommendation, one of which should address the candidate’s teaching qualifications.

My question

If the position description does not have an explicit statement asking for a teaching recommendation letter, is it supposed to be one of the N letters I submit to them anyway? Or, should I submit N letters all having to do with my research? Is there any harm in submitting N + 1 letters in order to include my teaching recommendation letter?


In my experience serving on large numbers of pure mathematics search committees at a couple of different research universities, people who read the files are often only dimly aware of what the ad requests. The vast majority of files will contain 4 research letters and 1 teaching letter. Even if they only ask for 3 research letters, it is a poor idea to not include a 4th if you have one since most people will have 4.

Some people go overboard and submit a ton of research letters (I've seen 8-9 in a single file). This can also cause problems: 1. usually when someone has that many letters they are not uniformly strong/informed, and 2. it looks weird, sort of like a violation of implicit social norms. Probably you won't cause yourself problems if you go as high as 5, but don't exceed that.

  • 4
    Do you really think most postdoc applications have 4 research letters? My impression was that 3 was typical for new graduates and 4 or 5 was typical for TT applications. – Noah Snyder Oct 2 '17 at 16:18
  • @NoahSnyder: I seem to mostly see 4 research letters these days, at least for the most competitive applicants. But you do see a lot with just 3 letters. – Andy Putman Oct 2 '17 at 16:51

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