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When I apply to a PhD program, may I ask a postdoc who closely supervised me to write a recommendation letter? My supervisor also has written one for me, but I believe the postdoc can comment on my research skills in a more detailed and precise way. Does a postdoc have enough authority to convince admission committee?

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up vote 23 down vote accepted

While it's possible that a postdoc letter (in the absence of further context) might carry less weight, there are good reasons to ask them anyway:

  • the letter is a testimonial about your ability to do research. A postdoc who's worked with you is in a much better position to say something nontrivial about this. Lines like "I closely worked with so and so" carry weight.

  • the postdoc might know faculty at the university you're applying to. In that case the letter carries even more weight (I'm likely to pay more attention to letters from people that I know)

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The second point is also an argument against asking a postdoc. Generally, a postdoc is less likely to have a network that extends to the university you are applying to then a professor, right? – xLeitix May 5 '14 at 10:23
Depends on the postdoc. – JeffE May 5 '14 at 11:03
In my experience a postdoc is also less likely to have negative connections. Among professors there tends to be a lot of petty political arguments that you have no idea about when you're at the PhD level. Not that that is something you should worry about, but it does show that you have a limited level of control over these things... – Peter May 5 '14 at 13:13
You can also sometimes ask the PI to cosign the letter if you have some limited interaction with him/her. – WetLabStudent Mar 19 '15 at 12:17

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