This question is about the power of PhD advisors on industry job (non-research) applications. I did not get along well with my former PhD advisor. I was able to defend and graduate; however, I have learned that my advisor was giving bad recommendation letters. This is the reason why my postdoctoral applications were all unsuccessful even though I have good academic standing. Since we had several intense arguments in the past, I can conclude with confidence that any reference from my advisor would be damaging.

I am wondering how I can minimize my advisor damage in the recruitment process of industry job applications. I do not know how references work in industry, but I can certainly exclude my advisor in any list throughout a recruitment process. My PhD advisor also has several connections in HR. This can also be damaging if a company background-checks through the university HR department. Also, I can mitigate my advisor influence by working for a short period in places that do no have thorough recruitment process.

  • 5
    Maybe ask on the academic SE. But my first suggestion would be to contact your institution about this person with a formal complaint.
    – user
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 12:01
  • 1
    This has been done here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/150528/… Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 16:07
  • 1
    How big is your research community? Did you work with post docs? did you collaborate with other research groups in and outside your university? Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


I do not know how references work in industry

It can be quite varied. I know people who got hired at banks using a reference from Mom (different last names, so the background check company did not flag it). I got hired in my current job providing 3 names and they did no verification that they had any relation to me. As soon as one replied, I got the offer. Someone I know has repeatedly used his girlfriend as his reference.

I would just put someone other than my advisor. Perhaps a fellow student or another prof you worked alongside.

This can also be damaging if a company background-checks through the university HR department.

HR departments are usually too skittish of potential legal implications to give a bad reference.

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