I am going to apply for PhDs. Since I am applying to a large number of programs, one of my referees gave me two options:

  • Reduce the number of programs I apply to (or at least, the number of letters of recommendation that this professor must provide), or
  • List the post-doc who mentored me as the referee, and the professor will only co-sign the letter.

In choosing between these options, I am trying to understand: how much will it weaken the recommendation letters if the postdoc is the referee and the professor only co-signs?

  • 1
    15 is indeed ... a lot. Do you still have time to narrow down your targets?
    – Neuchâtel
    Oct 5, 2022 at 10:10
  • related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/179167/…
    – Sursula
    Oct 5, 2022 at 12:46
  • I consolidated some of the confusion in the comments into an edited version of the question. Please feel free to make further edits if I missed anything.
    – cag51
    Oct 11, 2022 at 20:33
  • One question: I assume two other professors are also writing letters, and they don't mind writing 15 of them for you. Are these others letters very strong? Or is the above professor your primary research supervisor, and the other letters are just writing generic things?
    – cag51
    Oct 11, 2022 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


How it will be perceived is difficult/impossible to say, since it is individuals that receive the letters who will judge. Perhaps not a lot of problems, though. The co-sign will help.

But, your path seems pretty clear. Prioritize your applications, with the professor being the recommender of record on the most important ones and the postdoc on the others.

Note, however, that "most important" doesn't necessarily mean the highest ranking universities, but the ones you think have the best chance of admitting you. It is good to apply to high ranked universities, but sub-optimal if you restrict your applications to just those. Make a wide search.

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