I am actively looking for a post-doc position, and I have found an interesting opening.

Nevertheless, this opening is asking three reference letters, not the contacts of three referees. This looks unusual, because, as far as I can see, usually three contacts are asked.

Concretely, this means that I should send them the actual reference letters, or is it just a way to ask the contacts of the referees?

Honestly I feel uncomfortable to ask to my referees to send me their letters.

  • 7
    Have you asked the people hiring? They may just want you to ask the recommenders to send the letters. Nov 26, 2017 at 21:39
  • The most common situation that I've seen in connection with hiring postdocs is that reference letters are to be sent by the recommenders directly to the department, and that this should be arranged by the candidate. (Usually, the postdoc positions are posted on MathJobs and "sending" reference letters is done by uploading the letters to MathJobs,) Nov 26, 2017 at 21:48
  • 2
    Only you can find out in which way they want to receive the letters, by asking.
    – Karl
    Nov 26, 2017 at 22:42
  • 2
    @AndreasBlass pretty sure that "usually" refers only to maths which makes it unusual if we look at all the fields...
    – user64845
    Nov 26, 2017 at 23:33
  • 4
    Completely normal procedure in (at least parts of) Europe. Where is the opening coming from?
    – Mark
    Nov 27, 2017 at 8:53

2 Answers 2


When applying for postdoc positions or funding for them, in mathematics, I have thus far experienced the following:

  • Fill information about references to a website, which requests reference letters. (The Mathjobs website is kind of like this, though it is fairly local to North America, so I have used it only once thus far.)
  • Give contact information of people who can provide letters of reference.
  • Get the letters of reference and submit them yourself.

You should read the instructions and ask the contact person if the instructions are unclear.


Do you know three people who would write something nice about you? They want to find a person who is active on campus and has good enough relationships to get these letters of commendation. They probably got stuck with bad candidates before and want people to vouch for you. Jump through that hoop! If you do not have 3 close people now, make 3 professors do it but don't get your hopes up. If you can, ask five people and have them return it to you. Then send the best three or four. Some professors can be brats and write bad letters or cold letters. If your references want to send it directly, they don't trust you or they may just want to send a generic one. Especially if professors don't know you, make a bullet point list of your accolades for them "for reference". They will agree more easily if you have the bullet points in hand. Don't call and say you are too dumb to know what a letter of reference is.

  • 4
    I don't think you understood the question. OP wants to know whether the people hiring are expecting OP to send the confirmation letters, or to send contact information for people who can write the letters, or tell the people to send the letters themselves...
    – user9646
    Feb 14, 2018 at 18:24

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