I am not in a good relationship with my advisor and looking for a new job. I can get other letters but not sure how it would look not to have a letter from my current advisor. On the other, I am afraid that if I do send a letter it would be very tepid and can hurt me. What is the best solution and should I explain why I am lacking a letter in my cover letter? Anyone has experienced a similar situation or on a SC, did anyone think it's a problem?
Date: 03 Aug 2014 12:54
Number of posts: 10
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A tough situation. I had something similar, although I was able to maintain relations cordially enough that I ended up using his letter. Here are some thoughts…
If you are applying for an R1 or research-heavy R2, it might matter. If it is a SLAC, maybe not especially if you have strong letters from others who can speak to the teaching. I teach at a SLAC right now, and was on a search committee, and I doubt any of them would have recognized whether or not the postdoc mentor was writing.
Can you broach the topic with him/her? After all, if you are planning on not using the letter, what do you have to lose? I would hope that your mentor would take that role seriously and not try to kill your chances. Indeed, were he to do so, it would look as bad on him as on you. Generally speaking, if one cannot provide a positive letter, one declines to write, rather than sabotage.
When I did my postdoc, I was at a larger R1 institution, and had other superiors who could have stepped up and written something. If you can explain the situation, that person may be willing. I had one such person who said, "If you absolutely need my letter, ok, but otherwise you would be wise to find someone who knows you better." Seemed fair enough. But sometimes you just need that third letter, and the other two can carry the weight. btw, why is it always three?
If you can patch it up with the mentor, and if he/she agrees, you could also ask to see the letter before sending it out. That seems rough though. Hopefully this would be volunteered, rather than you requesting. Very tricky situation, but something to consider.
If you can't broach the topic and patch things up, then should you discuss the situation in your CL? I would think not. The CL is supposed to be simple and inviting, and that would complicate matters. Certainly it can be something that you discuss in the interview, if it comes up. I would be brief about it, and just say that things were rough. It happens to others, after all.
Anyway, those are my two cents. Wiki-ites, what thinkest thou?
I don't have any advice but I wanted to commiserate and say I'll be following this thread for the advice of others.
I don't have a lot of insight to offer. This is a tough situation. I think one way to think about this is to be sure the 3 (to 4) letters you DO get come from people who have a great deal to say about you. That is, you don't want one of those letters to be from someone whose knowledge of you is pretty marginal because that might raise concerns (this in an R1 context). Also, if you are not requesting a letter from your post doc advisor, it might be a good idea to tell the other letter writers that. Here's why: It is not uncommon for people who are more on the fringe of a young scholar's life to say something like, "I am sure X will be telling you more about Y's recent work, I am going to focus on …."
I would say that at least for the "first cut" of candidates, it is likely that not having a letter from a post doc advisor would not necessarily raise eyebrows. People might assume that you are on the market but that you have not told the post doc advisor about it or they might not even realize this letter is "missing." However, once things get to the next level, and letters are being more seriously vetted and references contacted, etc. it might come up. You might discuss the whole situation with a trusted senior colleague to get his/her sense of things. If you are close with your grad advisor, that would seem like the best person to talk to.
to be honest, when you have to review tons of applicants, you don't really care who are the letter writers. I don't know; at least I don't keep track of this kind of information.
Just wanted to chime in and note I had precisely the same situation as postdoc a year or so ago. I did NOT request a letter and instead opted to go with three others who I felt could write strong endorsements of me. Although I did not get a tt position last year, it is hard to say whether that was a factor in the mix. At any rate, I am now at new post-doc and have a good relationship with my adviser. Hoping things change for the better this year.
I was also in a similar situation. I started a post-doc, and it became clear that things were not going to work out, nearly immediately. During this time, I decided to give the job market a whirl, and since I had just defended my dissertation I went with folks from grad school. Not surprisingly, I got no bites. But, it was early and in my field several years of post-doc is the norm. I was able to start new collaborations and moved into a new position this past fall. I went on the job market again, this time with two letters from grad school and one from my new supervisor. I had known this individual for more than a year which allowed them to write a strong letter, but I don't think not having my first post-doc advisor was an issue (though who knows!). I made one "long-short list" and did a phone interview, though again no bites. The lack of letter may have impacted things, but it also may be that I just don't have enough post-doc time yet. In my phone interview I was asked why I left that initial position so quickly, but I had a response ready and prepared in anticipation of the question and was able to address it reasonably well. I would suggest cultivating collaborations, and keeping in touch with your former letter writers with updates about your accomplishments so they can write you the best letters possible. And, I would echo those above who suggest talking to a trusted mentor, especially if they have recent experience on a search committee in your field to get their input as well. Good luck!
Last year I went on the job market during my first year of my post-doc. I actually liked my post-doc advisor quite a lot, but thought it would be weird to have him write a letter on my behalf since we just started working together. I got several interviews (and an actual job) last year, so I don't think this was a problem at all. Do not know if it's different if you've been post-docing for longer though.
It might matter in a tie-break situation leading to a campus interview invite. But once you make the on-campus interview stage it's almost all about your performance at the interview and your personality (i.e. would you make a good colleague).
I was in a sort of opposite situation when I was applying for TT positions last year (I did end up with a position by the way - actually my first choice). I was worried because all 3 of my letters were from people I met during my postdoc. I personally did not feel like I could ask my graduate advisor or other graduate mentors. My graduate advisor and I had a lot of tension and as soon as I graduated our contact became non-existent. I had two other mentors from grad school who could write me good letters, but one had ruined their reputation in the field and the other is kind of a spaz that forgets and turns everything in late. So in the end I had my postgrad advisor and 2 other PIs that I worked with during my postdoc write my letters. I was waiting for someone to ask me about my grad advisor during interviews, but no one ever did. Honestly, as long as you have legitimate and good letters of rec, I don't think anyone cares. Definitely DO NOT call attention to it. The exception would be if your advisor is well known in the field and the people interviewing you want to know about your experience with such a 'famous' person. They may be curious about why the letter is not there, but hopefully your advisor isn't one of those super well-known people.