4 scientists: How to deal with a bad reference

While filling in a job application, you often have an option “contact the referees after the interview”. Don’t be scared to use it, most of the prospective employers only contact the referees after the interview. If you were shortlisted for an interview, you already have good chances to get the job. After the interview the potential employers tend to rely more on a good in person experience, than on a reference from an unknown person with a potential conflict of interests. Just be honest why you don’t want to ask for a reference from your previous supervisor or PI.

Catalysis Research at Argonne

If only all PIs were so hands-on  (Photo credit: Argonne National Laboratory)

Case 1 – PhD student

A  bad  reference is always a problem, but if  you didn’t get along with your PhD supervisor, it is not the end of the world and your nascent career. I know a PhD student (not his real name), who had a huge row with his supervisor at the end of his postgraduate studies. It was something to do with the authors order on a paper, but the details are not important. What is important,  he was able to get a postdoctoral position. After the interview he was asked about the references and told the truth, without getting into the details – that the supervisor is not happy with him, but it is possible to give references from his second supervisor  and his Master Project advisor. The interviewing PI was happy  to accept his explanation and alternative references. The  former student got the job.

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I wonder if as a “mature” (10 years of experience) or as I prefer to call it DEEP (dead-end postdoc) I unwittingly give a false impression to students.

Looking at me they may think –  as I thought while being a PhD student – that it is possible to work as a postdoc for a long time. In fact, I am a product of a long gone, better time, they struggle to find a first postdoc and then struggle to find any job at all.