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I think it is very strange that this person would not use interfolio or a dossier service. For $50/year you bother your letter writers just once, for a single letter. I don't know how standard it is to ask for a letter to be tailored to a particular position. If this is done it strikes me as the sort of thing that should be done once or twice per application season. Not 30 times.

I'm in the US, though. Things may be very different in the U.K.


The op's post is kind of confusing. It does sound like he/she is asking the letter writer either to update for each job, or to individually upload the letter. Those on the job market should know this is non-standard and NOT something advised. Indeed, my guess is more than a few letter writers would react this way if asked to do this much.

Now I don't necessarily blame the OP, because one of the problems of academia is lack of mentoring. Many people do not know how these things work. So let me say what I've learned.

Your adviser and maybe other committee members should write two letters, one for research schools and one for teaching schools.

External letter writers should write one letter, and you need to decide what is the best blend of teaching or research to ask them to write

All of these letters should be uploaded to interfolio and that is the only uploading the letter writer should have to do for the year. When you apply to jobs, use interfolio. I was surprised to learn many people do not know how to use interfolio fully. If a school asks to put in your letter writers email address, interfolio has an email address for each letter writer that you put in instead.

It is reasonable to ask your letters writers to update their letters each year. However, I have had mixed results with this. My second year on the market I didn't ask my letter writers for updates. I HATE asking people for things, so I just let it go and used old letters. I made sure people were okay with me using them, but it just felt too much to ask for an update again, and I crossed my fingers using old letters wouldn't hurt me.

Now the only exception to the above rules might be if you are applying to an unusual position that almost requires a special letter. Indeed it is because I did apply to one of those jobs, and had to pester my letter writers again, that I did not feel comfortable enough asking for updates.

As for what the OP should do, I agree with Marcus. I would apologize and say you realized only now how to use interfolio and this will be the last time you ask for his help with this.


I am confused by the person's story. They are two years out after PhD and they are applying for Associate Prof jobs? My sense is that they are not competitive for such positions, neither in Europe or America. Those are usually tenured positions. Is there a misunderstanding (possibly on my part)?


As the person who sent in this OP I want to make the following qualifications:

(1) I have categorically not been asking this particular ref to “update their letter for each individual job”. Quite the opposite in fact - I have always said “your standard letter will suffice”. So there is no sense in which i was asking for the “letter writer to tailor letters to each job”.

(2) I am not particularly familiar with interfolio - this is not something that seems so prevalent in the UK (i’ve been on the market here for two years and no one has ever mentioned it). None of the my other letter writers suggested it, and it is certainly not something that final year Phds over here (at least at my department) are given any real info on. In some cases it also seems particular post-docs (JRFS: Oxford and Cambridge) wouldn’t allow for something like this kind of service (although I’m not certain on this point).

(3) Most jobs in the UK / Europe ask for ref details but not the reference itself in advance (perhaps this contrasts with the way things work in the US?) - as such, the reference is only requested if the candidate or long listed, or in some cases short listed. JRF’s - in contrast always ask for “in advance” references for each applicant.

I hope (1)-(3) provides a bit more info/qualification. In any case I will certainly look into interfolio because this sounds like the best method going forward.


Apologies in the original post should have been 'assistant professor' not associate

Marcus Arvan

UKPHD (OP): Thanks for clarifying, and apologies for the misinterpretation. I wonder whether there could have been a similar misunderstanding on behalf of your letter writer. In the OP you submitted, you noted that you asked them to “once again write a reference.” Not sure if you put it that way to them, but the language there at least gave me (and other readers apparently) the mistaken impression that you were asking for a new letter each time. If it’s at all possible the person you asked misunderstood your request, that might explain their negative reaction. Anyway, hope things work out. If the person has any kindness, I would hope the suggestion to simply upload the letter to Interfolio will work. Since you mentioned some UK schools may not accept Interfolio submissions, perhaps you could also ask them to send their letter to your PhD program placement director or program administrative assistant, who might respond to upload requests on their behalf. I know some people do this here in the states.


No worries on the misinterpretation - I can see how my original phrasing suggested this. Asked to "once again send a reference", would have been clearer. To further clarify, I didn't put it in the former "once again write a reference" way to the ref themselves; I just asked for them to "send a reference in" under the background impression that they would not be writing, and I was not asking for, a bespoke reference.

I can't imagine that they have been writing bespoke refs for each request and not have flagged it much sooner (the academic is a prof so will have experience on whats involved in writing letters). My first impression was that the annoyance was directed at having to send in "the same" letter lots of times to diff emails/systems. As noted I think moving to some interfolio style system (or something with the same effect) would be the best way to move forward.


Although I don't know how things often happen in the UK, I would be kind of surprised if it was common for letter writers to upload letters for each individual job.I mean, if so, and if a letter writes for several students, which is often the case, then that writer easily could be asked to upload 400 plus letters. Also, since the letter writer said no one asked for this many letters, it makes me think others are using a dossier service.

I have used interfolio to apply to both UK jobs and postdocs, and it has worked fine. Indeed, with most systems it would be impossible to know if the applicant was using interfolio or not. So I do not blame the op for not being familiar with interfolio but I highly recommend becoming so familiar.

Anthony Fernandez

To my knowledge, it's fairly common for UK letter writers to upload the letters themselves. For most of the permanent lecturer/assistant professor posts in the UK, they don't ask you to upload letters at the time of application. They simply ask for contact info for 2-3 references. If you land an on-campus interview, then they'll request your letters.

However, as the OP noted, some of the UK postdocs require letters uploaded at the time of application, so if you're applying to a lot of these it can easily become overwhelming for a letter writer.


You can use Interfolio for almost any application nowadays, I think, because Interfolio offers a lot of flexibility in how they can provide the references. For example, if the application asks for the referrer's email address so they can ask them for the letter that way, Interfolio will create an email address for that request to go to, and then send the reference when they get the request. If there's a form the referrer is supposed to manually fill in, someone at Interfolio will fill it in unless they actually lack the necessary information. Interfolio is really very much worth the cost, given how much time and annoyance it spares your references.


FWIW, a couple of my letter writers when I was on the market recently were outside the US, and were able to upload their letters to Interfolio for me. So there's no reason the OP can't request his referees do the same. I assume people outside the US can have interfolio accounts.

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