When to move on from grad program letters?

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In our October “how can we help you?” thread, a reader asks:

When is it OK (or even a good idea) to stop using recommendation letters from your PhD advisor in job applications? My former advisor is great, we have a good relationship, and I have every reason to think their letters for me are strong. But as a postdoc who’s several years out from their PhD, it’s starting to feel weird to rely on the testimony of someone who’s sort of professionally obligated to say nice things about me. (I have good letters from others outside my PhD program I could use instead.)

On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that search committees might interpret it as a sign of bad blood or other weird dynamics if a pre-TT person doesn’t submit a letter from their advisor. That’s a false impression I’d like to avoid giving.

This is a good question, and I think it probably pertains not only to your grad advisor but also to other well-known people in your grad program (such as the rest of your dissertation committee).

My honest answer is: I’m not sure. I continued to use letters from my advisor and dissertation committee for the entire seven or so years that I was on the tenure-track market–one rationale being that it would indeed probably look weird not to have letters by them (hiring committees might wonder, “Do they no longer support him?”). On the other hand, recognizing that it would probably also look weird to only have letters by my committee, I eventually expanded my batch of letters to include three or four outside letters. The only issue with that was that many jobs only allow 3 letters, so I often found myself having to choose which ones to include (and hope that the hiring committee would see in my CV that I had other recommenders as well).

Anyway, I’m not sure what to advise. It would be good to hear from others ‘in the know’ here, particularly search committee members!

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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