Question of the Week: Co-signed Letter of Recommendation

April 15, 2022

Q: I’d like to ask a graduate student I’ve worked with in lab for a letter because I know them better than the professor – is it common for a grad student and faculty member to co-sign a letter? How should I go about asking?

A: It’s common for two writers to collaborate on a single recommendation letter—for example, a course professor + preceptor, Principal Investigator (PI) + direct supervisor (e.g., postdoc, grad student); two PIs that work with you in the same lab. Different faculty/PIs will have different approaches to this type of letter. Some will write the majority of the letter and insert a paragraph or two from the collaborator; some will use “we” throughout the letter to comment on their collective work with you; some will designate different collaborators’ ideas by using their names or initials to clarify what comes from which source. Generally, the more established writer will act as the lead author in the letter (i.e., your grad student wouldn’t write the bulk of the letter and incorporate a paragraph from your professor—rather, the prof would write and incorporate the grad student’s insights). In any case, both writers will sign at the bottom of the letter and their letter will count as one letter within your packet of materials when you apply.

You can approach either the grad student or your professor about the letter, and let them know that you hope to have both of their insights captured in the letter because you’ve gotten to know them in different ways. From there, they can hopefully work with you on the logistics. If they have any questions, you’re welcome to refer them back to us!

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