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I am a graduate assistant responsible for teaching a lab. I am in the United States. I received an email from a student explaining a situation that we have to act on. He sent the email to both me and my supervisor (included in the To section). I do have the authority to act on it usually so that's not the issue.

He addressed it this way: Dear <my name> and Dr <supervisor>, Do I go ahead and respond directly to the student? Do I include the supervisor in the "To" the way the student sent it or do I move it the Cc section? Or do I allow the supervisor to respond as he has the higher authority here? He teaches the lecture, I teach the lab.

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    If in doubt about whether or how you should respond, send a note to the supervisor saying "This is what I plan to reply with -- is that OK, or do you want it treated another way, or should I let you reply?" On the other hand, if you're confident you know what the answer should be, reply to the student with copy to the supervisor (and yes, CC is a slightly better way to handle that, to make it clear who you're talking to and who's receiving a courtesy copy). – keshlam Oct 2 '14 at 2:20
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    I would totally upvote this as an answer. – bethlakshmi Oct 2 '14 at 5:14
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If your supervisor has delegated to you the authority and responsibility to respond in his name, then take over and respond while making sure that you cc: your supervisor.

The rule is that if you are addressing your supervisor directly, then you place his name in the "To:" section. If all you're doing is keeping him in the loop and you don't have any expectations of direct action from him, then you cc: him.

If you respond and he wants to add to your response, then he is free to do so as you kept him in the loop.

As a matter of courtesy and accountability (yours), make a point of keeping your supervisor in the loop unless he requests and expects otherwise. For example, if I were your supervisor and I know you well enough that I can trust that you can handle yourself without my input, I'd not be really interested in every detail of what you are doing with the students and I'd limit my involvement to anything that's escalated to me by either you or the student - I have plenty of other fish to fry :)

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The worst thing that can happen is that you both reply to the student with contradicting answers. Talk to each other! Sounds crazy, but it could be that simple.

And if he didn't answer after 5 minutes, it is very likely he won't!

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