I have been a postdoc for about 3 months and I plan to go on the market selectively this fall. I get the impression from my postdoc mentor that he wants me to stay and finish up my assignment (and stay on after the institute applies for some additional funding). Although staying on is great, the postdoc is overseas and I would very much like to move back to the US as my mother's health has been deteriorating for the last few years (she will be fine for the next few years but I don't want to prolong my stay overseas, especially if something more serious happens). My question is, should I ask my mentor for his letter of recommendation? By the time I apply in the fall, I would have been in the position for 10+ months (I started in January). My problem with this approach (i.e., asking him for a letter) is that he may not want me to go on the market. I do not want to ruin my time as a postdoc as I do very much enjoy the people and the position. Another problem I have with this approach is that he has a very hands-off mentoring style, which I actually like, but we have not had any chance to collaborate on anything so far. I'm sure this will change in the next few months as we have some things in the works, but as time goes on, the deadline for applications in the new school year approaches. Does anyone have any advice? I still have my graduate school advisers as well, but I know it would look like a red-flag if I didn't have a letter from my current mentor.
Date: 31 Mar 2013 17:16
Number of posts: 5
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I would also love an answer to this question, especially from past or present search committee members. Does it really look bad to not have an LOR from your postdoc advisor? I'm considering not having LORs from my European postdoc advisor when I go on the market in the fall. My situation is almost identical to the OP's: I will have been in the lab (which is in Europe) for less than a year, and my european advisor is very hands off (I'm pretty much just using the equipment in the lab with no mentorship). More generally, I find that my North American graduate school advisors and colleagues write better (more enthusiastic sounding) letters. There is also no tradition here of writing loads of letters for students—that is, most jobs only ask for letters if you make the short list. So I'd feel bad asking my "advisor" for, like, 20 LORs tailored for different North American schools (not to mention that I'm applying to SLACs and they don't exist here). Thoughts?
OP, in your case, if you just explain the situation to your advisor about your mother I'm sure you'll get decent letters. But I'm still not convinced that not having a letter from your postdoc advisor is a big deal, especially if there is an easy explanation.
It's weird to know someone out there in a very similar position as me, especially and American living in Europe as a postdoc! I think it may be potentially hurtful not to have the letter as I know a colleague who went on the market early in his postdoc. In fact, his graduate school adviser, who wrote a letter for him for the position, knew the chair of the search committee. The chair told my colleague's adviser that it looked odd that he did not have the letter. I would prefer to have my adviser's letter if it will help (even if it didn't hinder my search too much), but I worry about potentially ruining our current relationship. Not to mention, is 10+ months enough to really know me? I've known one of my letter writers since 2006 and my other two since 2008.
I think anon_zzz brings up some very good points.
Yes, we are totally in the same situation. I wouldn't worry about it hurting your relationship with your postdoc advisor, as I don't think that will happen. I assume you'll be applying for jobs that start in the summer of 2014, so it's not like your advisor will be losing you immediately, plus you have a very legitimate reason to return. And permanent positions trump temporary positions, all academics understand this. I guess the thing to do is to make the best possible impression on your postdoc advisor in the next 5 months (that's what I plan to do!). Since your position is so independent perhaps you could ask your advisor to comment on your ability to work independently (that's what I plan to do!). I still think I'll get a better LOR from someone in North America—as you point out, 10 months is not a lot of time to get to know someone. But I see your point that it might look strange to not have a letter from your current advisor. Still, I don't think not having this letter would preclude a job interview if your CV is interview worthy.
Well, my CV is getting there… I have 14 pubs and a few under review currently (but I don't think these will be in press by application time). However, I had this whole vision for my research statement that will not be reached just yet if I was to apply this year rather than fall of 2014 as originally planned.
I hope someone can chime in for a more definitive answer.