Worries over reference?


I'm just hoping for some general advice here really - especially if anyone else has been in a similar situation.

I'm currently looking for suitable PhDs - but have real concerns about using my masters supervisor as a referee.

Basically I had a classic case of unsupportive supervisor, which turned nastier when the course co-ordinator stepped in on my behalf and arranged for me to have an extension due to my supervisor’s repeated absences. This actually came about after two other students made a complaint about THEIR supervisor not being available and were offered extensions... and the course co-ordinator then offered me an extension as well, as he knew I was in the same situation. I took it but wasn't expecting my supervisor to react so negatively - he made it very clear that he felt that I had no right to the extension and shouldn't have taken it.... and even implied that I was subsequently undeserving of my ultimate project (and therefore degree) grade.....


My fear now is that I will be expected to use my old supervisor as a referee in my PhD applications - but given his previous behaviour, I fear he could give me a fairly negative reference, which could obviously affect my chances.

So... does anyone have any advice on this situation? What are my options in terms of using this guy as a referee, asking to see any reference he supplies and/or explaining the situation to any potential PhD supervisors if the need arises?

Thanks for any and all help!


I had the same kind of thing from my supervisor for my MA, so bad that he was only avalable twice during the whole of the time he was supposed to be supervising, and only read the whole thing once - he had to have his arm twisted to take it on and really I don't think he could have cared less. When I asked him what the deadline was for the submission he just said he didn't know! (mine was out if sync because I was submitting earlier than others in the group)Anyway, my diss supervisor had actually retired when I applied so I gave two other refs. There wasn't any problem with that, and I don't think it would have been a problem if he had still been there.



I don't know if this helps but when I was applying for PhDS I never used my master's project supervisor I used my personal supervisor since he voluntered himself for the job and the other referee was from my undergraduate university which was not from my project supervisor there since they constantly complained about having too much work today and would sometimes ignore reference requests so I had to find a more reliable referee. This seemed to be fine and I was offered 4 PhDs on the basis of these references and my inteview performance so I thnik if you could find someone else from your uni who knows you then you should be fine.

Hope this helps


If I were you I would forget about him. By the sounds of it he is not going to give you a fair reference. You will find that academia in general is a harsh, dog eat dog environment. Supervisor reputations/politics come before students. You have to learn to deal with this kind of shite and learn to stand your ground when it comes to bullies like this.

I recently dropped out of a PhD after first year in Oxbridge. To say my supervisor was unsuportive would be an understatement!!!

I have never asked for any kind of a reference from him. He would probably tell me to F*%K off. I have applied for a number of masters courses in the UK and I used my advisor & college tutor from Oxbridge as well as my Undergraduate supervisor and another lecturer from my course. They were all very understanding of my situation and im sure gave me glowing references.

best of luck with your PhD applications.


The main piece of advice i would give you is: to save yourself the trouble of getting the same kind of supervisor you had before.

at any PhD interview: ask questions to make sure you understand what is expected of you over the three years and the kind of support the supervisor is willing to offer. if you ask straight questions like this i would say most people will give straight answers.

also get in touch with grad students from the group. they should be able to fill you in on the supervisor.