Skip to main content

Referee List

The Referee List is a required component of the promotion/tenure packet for all applicants.

Promotion/tenure candidates never solicit their own reference letters, but they suggest referee names who will be contacted by the department chair or dean's offices to provide an evaluation. The quality of reference letters (prominence, rank, institution) is an important factor in evaluating you for promotion/tenure. Poorly chosen referees may adversely affect the likelihood of promotion/tenure success. 

Download the Candidate's Referee List Form:

  • This document is prepared manually
  • Save your file using this file naming convention: LastName Referee List (e.g., Simpson Referee List)

Guidance for Identifying Referees

Letters of reference are important because they offer an objective assessment of your qualifications for promotion/tenure and demonstrate the breadth of your reputation. You should start to plan several years in advance, making note of people who could be listed as referees and finding ways to keep them informed of your work so that they can one day write a strong letter. Whether you are completing your referee list now or planning for promotion in the future, please review the guidance and frequently asked questions below to increase the likelihood that you receive strong letters.

 How many referee names are required?

The number of referee names a candidate should provide is dependent upon the career track and rank of the promotion. Refer to the Candidate's Referee List Form for details.

 For promotions to the level of Assistant Professor, what criteria should be used to select referees?

At the rank of Assistant Professor (or Clinical Assistant Professor), faculty are not yet expected to have a regional or national reputation, so letters of reference can come from external referees or referees based at Northwestern:
  1. Referees must hold an academic rank that is equivalent to or higher than the rank of the proposed promotion.
  2. At least four reference letters must be received to complete the promotion application. Letters can come from referees based at Northwestern as long as the set of letters received meets these criteria:
    • Two referees may be from within the candidate's primary department
    • The other letters should come from referees who are external to the candidate's primary department, meaning they can come from referees in other departments at Northwestern or from referees who are based outside of Northwestern
  3. If suggesting referees from an institution where you trained, select someone who can comment on your accomplishments since becoming faculty (rather than your accomplishments during the training period).

 For promotions to the levels of Associate Professor and Professor, what criteria should be used to select referees?

Promotions to the levels of Associate Professor and Professor also include the ranks of Clinical Associate Professor, Clinical Professor, Research Associate Professor, and Research Professor.

There are three requirements for referees:

  1. Referees must hold an academic rank that is equivalent to or higher than the rank of the proposed promotion.
  2. Referees must be external to Northwestern.
    • Because the goal is to obtain an objective evaluation of your achievements, refrain from selecting individuals with a training connection to you or current close collaborators.
  3. Referees should come from multiple institutions. 
    • Referees from a diverse set of geographically dispersed institutions demonstrate the breadth of your reputation. If all your referees come from a couple of institutions, that suggests your work has limited impact.
    • On non-tenure-eligible career tracks, promotions to the rank of associate professor require evidence of a regional reputation, and promotions to the rank of professor require evidence of a national/international reputation.
    • On the Investigator track (tenure track), evidence of a national reputation is required by the time of promotion to associate professor.     

Additional common suggestions for identifying strong referees include:

  • Do not ask for letters from someone with whom you trained (former mentor or fellow trainee at training institution) 
  • Do not ask for letters from current close collaborators 
  • It is important that letters come from people who can best evaluate you​
  • Suggest referees based at peer institutions (at least a few letters should come from top 25 medical schools)
  • Be aware that all referees will be asked: "Would the candidate be judged worthy to hold a similar appointment at your institution?"

 What are referees asked to comment on in the reference letter?

Because faculty do not solicit their own letters, faculty should not discuss reference letters with potential referees at any stage. However, knowing how external evaluators are engaged in the process can help you understand what is required for a strong reference letter. 

When you apply for promotion or tenure, your referees are:

  • Contacted by department or school administrators 
  • Provided with your CV and personal statement for review
  • Asked to comment on the following questions: 
    1. What is your relationship, if any, to the candidate? If you have worked with the candidate, briefly summarize this activity and identify the time period you worked together.
    2. How would you assess the quality and importance of the candidate’s contributions in the field?
    3. How does the candidate compare with others in the field who are roughly of the same seniority?
    4. What do you assess to be the potential for achieving leadership in the candidate’s academic discipline?
    5. Would the candidate be judged worthy to hold a similar appointment at your institution?

 Who can serve as an external referee?

Promotions to the rank of Associate Professor and Professor levels require external referees. Potential sources for external referees include (but are not limited to):

  • Co-authors on multi-center publications
  • Colleagues on committees convened by professional organizations
  • Individuals you may meet when invited to present talks at other institutions
  • Editors, or editorial board members you may work with during manuscript submission
  • Co-investigators on multi-site clinical trials or studies
  • Individuals you may meet when attending national or international scientific and clinical meetings
  • Individuals who follow your academic social media accounts
  • Individuals suggested by departmental leadership (it is recommended that you review your referee list with your departmental leadership to obtain advice on the appropriateness of your suggested names)

 Who should not be listed as an external referee?

When identifying external referees for promotion to the levels of Associate Professor or Professor, refrain from suggesting the following individuals:

  • Current and former mentors
  • Current and former mentees
  • Fellow trainees at the institutions where you trained
  • Current close collaborators
  • Faculty colleagues who recently departed your Northwestern department to take a position at another institution (i.e., individuals who know you primarily because they supervised your work or worked as your colleague at Northwestern aren't ideal external referees)
  • If you were recently on the faculty at another institution prior to joining Northwestern, avoid listing your colleagues at that institution (i.e., individuals who know you primarily because they recently supervised your work or worked as your colleague at your prior institution aren't ideal external referees)

 How do I keep potential referees updated about my work?

When interacting with people who may someday make a strong reference, find ways to keep them updated about your research, clinical work, and other accomplishments that make you a strong candidate for promotion. Opportunities for promoting and sharing your accomplishments include:
  • Use social media to your advantage. Develop an academic social media presence and post accomplishments that reach your followers.
  • Polish your public Feinberg Faculty Profile. External referees may find your profile when doing research to compose their evaluations. For guidance on how to update your profile, please refer to the Quick Reference on Feinberg Faculty Profiles.
  • Raise your media profile to increase awareness of your work. View our News, Media, and Communications page for assistance.
  • Recognize that the CV and personal statement you provide as part of your promotion packet will be shared with your referees, so make sure those items provide a comprehensive summary of your accomplishments that enables the referee to evaluate your work.

 Can I learn which referees provided letters on my behalf?

No, information about which referees provided letters, declined, or did not respond is not provided back to you. Sharing that information would compromise the confidentiality of the review process.