PhD-flooding into alternative careers

J. Johnson siddo at
Tue Nov 19 21:13:58 EST 1996

Hello Warren,

To clarify my advisor gave me a bad reference; the reference was oral and
not written.  The reason I know this is that after working several months
at my new job, my boss said that she saw no reason why I shouldn't have
gotten my PhD.  She also advised me never to ask for a reference from my
PhD advisor ever again; I asked why and she told me that she couldn't tell
me what she said (confidentiality), but it was a bad reference.  I also
inferred from my interviews that she had given one person a good ref and
one a bad one at separate biotech companies.  

I had no chioce but to ask her for a reference.  As many people leaving
PhD programs know, they depend on that reference.  It would also put up a
red flag to an employer if you had been a student under an advisor and had
not asked for a refernce. I am not going to get into what happened to me
in graduate school (another day), but I believe my advisor had something
personal against me.  I had to retake my orals (several problems her,
mine, committee's), was scooped, and was trying so hard to work hard and
do well, but she grew colder and colder.  I had no input except the 
negativity that drove me out. I felt I needed to explain to you a
predicament that I was in.  Furthermore, when I asked her for a reference,
she obliged readily.  I was nervous though because I knew she would
potentially give me a bad reference; she had done so before with someone
else. To this day, I don't know what went on between us, nor do I care.
The damage was done and she tried to prevent me from getting a job.

I didn't learn until later that giving a bad reference is illegal. It is
illegal to slander, lie and personally attack someone in a written or oral
referece; it is called defamation of character.  I haven't looked up the
specific statutes or common law on this issue, but I would be curious.  At
any rate that is what I meant.  Now quid pro quo:  Why do YOU ask?


On Tue, 19 Nov 1996, Warren Gallin wrote:

> In Article
> <Pine..A32.3.95.961118223853.79339A-100000 at>, "J.
> Johnson" <siddo at> wrote:
> [material deleted]
> >  I have to admit now, that it was one of the best decisions
> >Iever made for myself and for my career.  It was difficult, as I
> >necessarily had to overcome my advisor giving me a bad reference (which IS
> >illegal) and much mental anguish associated with the entire experience.
> [more material deleted]
> If you don't mind, could you clarify this statement a bit?  If giving a bad
> letter of reference is illegal, why ask for letters of reference?  Or are
> you saying that the circumstances of your interaction with your supervisor
> produced a situation in which the supervisor should not have been writing a
> letter?
> Thanks,
> Warren Gallin
> Department of Biological Sciences
> University of Alberta
> Edmonton,  Alberta     T6G 2E9
> Canada
> wgallin at

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