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Can two people, a professor and a graduate student, sign a recommendation letter? The concern here is that the professor knows little about the student and the graduate student knows all about the student.

My concern here is that if the professor is contacted, he will not be able to provide further information, where as if I was listed as the primary contact: I could.

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Incidentally, unless you have specific reason to think you will be contacted for follow-up, I don't think this is an enormous concern. –  Ben Webster Dec 11 '13 at 15:11
My concern here is that if the professor is contacted, he will not be able to provide further information — Then he can't sign the letter. –  JeffE Dec 11 '13 at 20:07

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Like Noah, I had a situation where two advisors co-signed a letter of recommendation. I should mention that the people reviewing the letter found this an unusual situation—and had claimed that they had not seen that in twenty years of reading recommendation letters. So this is definitely not standard practice. I suspect it would be memorable, but I am not sure it would be actually useful.

However, the difference was that my two co-signers were equal in rank. Your situation has a professor with a graduate student providing most of the insights. I suspect you will need to have the professor adapt the graduate student's comments, and then sign the letter. In the case where feedback is needed, the professor would then need to get the relevant details from the graduate student.

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Please see the slight change I made to the question, about being contacted post-recommendation letter. –  Sean Dec 10 '13 at 22:44

You can have more than one person sign a recommendation letter. I had one letter signed by two people. But it is unusual. My understanding is that the usual approach in your situation would be for the graduate student to help write the letter, but only the professor to sign it.

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(My situation was a teaching letter, and it was a somewhat odd situation where each writer outranked the other under different measures of rank.) –  Noah Snyder Dec 10 '13 at 22:29
My concern here is that if the professor is contacted, he will not be able to provide further information, where as if I was listed as the primary contact. I could. –  Sean Dec 10 '13 at 22:43
@JeffE I understand your point, though sometimes you do just have to write letters for other people to sign or they won't happen. That said, in this situation (which I have been in in the grad student role), I think it's better to say that the grad student can supply the professor with their assessment, and the professor can use that to fill in some details in their letter. If they happen to do some cutting and pasting, that's between them and God. –  Ben Webster Dec 11 '13 at 3:08
@JeffE Broadening from the specific context of recommendation letters, it's ubiquitous for letters to be signed by someone whose subordinates had input into it. The signer is taking responsibility for the content of the letter, not promising that no one else contributed. –  Noah Snyder Dec 11 '13 at 4:49
@aeismail Yes, I'm familiar with official administrative letters from department heads, expressing the Official View of the Department, that are actually written by subordinates; I've written a few of those letters myself. But even then, the department head is expected to have "full knowledge of its content"; that is, they always read and approve the letter before signing it. Also, reference letters for graduate admissions (and for faculty hiring) are not official institutional pronouncements, but statements of personal opinion; having anyone else write them is dishonest. –  JeffE Dec 11 '13 at 20:09

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