Over in FSP a few weeks ago, readers and I obsessed about many different aspects of Cover Letters. And yet, there are still aspects of this topic that remain unexplored. Here is another interesting one from a reader:
I have a letter of reference question that I haven't seen addressed on your blogs, but (to me) seems like a fairly serious, and not uncommon, one. I did not have a particularly close relationship with my thesis advisor, a prominent figure in my discipline. Instead, another a postdoc in his research group was my de facto advisor. While I suspect his reference letters for me are largely positive, I know that there are others who would willingly write letters that more accurately reflect my abilities. I have had minimal communication with my advisor since completing my PhD several years ago.
I am currently in a non-tenure-track research professor job, and am contemplating applying for jobs with a short-track to tenure. My question is: Would my application be discarded or flagged as suspicious if it does NOT include a letter from my thesis advisor? Would it be sufficient to list him as an additional reference?
I think you should list the advisor unless there is some extreme reason not to do so. In that case, you need to try to have another letter writer address why there is no letter from your advisor (not your fault etc.). If your relationship was overall good, just not close, you should still list your advisor as a reference. Even if the advisor's letter is perfunctory, it is better than no letter. A really positive letter from a postdoc won't make up for a missing advisor-letter.
Also, I would make an effort to get back in touch with the advisor, especially if you are going to be asking for letters. Bring him up to date on your work, send him your CV, and explain about your upcoming applications.
Does anyone disagree with this? I did not have a close relationship with my advisor, so I can relate to this issue, but I still asked for a letter from him. Did anyone make the opposite decision, and live to tell the tale?