Lurking on Twitter and ecoevojobs.net, I sometimes see graduate students and postdocs feeling apologetic and even guilty about asking people for lots of reference letters. They worry that they’re asking for a big favor, which will burden their current and former supervisors with a ton of unwanted extra work. And I can see where they’re coming from. Nobody likes making extra work for other people, or asking too many favors of other people.
But speaking for myself, and for every PI I’ve spoken to about this (which obviously isn’t a census or random sample of all PIs, but isn’t a tiny sample either), let me reassure you that you don’t need to worry about this. Your request for a reference letter is not a burden, and fulfilling it is not a huge favor. It’s part of my job to write reference letters for my current and former mentees. As many letters as they want, forever. Further, I’m happy to do it, because I want my current and former mentees to succeed, whether that’s in or out of academia. And it’s not much work for me. Once I’ve written the first letter for you, it’s a trivial amount of additional work to resend it a bunch of times and update it as needed. All this remains true even for PIs who are way more senior and successful than me and so have way more current and former mentees asking them for letters.
Meghan will have advice on how to ask for a reference letter in a future post.