Paulie5116

5+ Year Member
Feb 1, 2012
35
4
Status
Psychology Student
Hello all!

I am applying to internship this fall and have been faced with a difficult letter of recommendation situation. My primary advisor is not going to be able to write a letter due to being ill. Aside from the obvious, this is unfortunate because 1) I believe advisors usually write one of the letters, so the absence of mine might be salient and give programs a reason not to offer an interview; 2) my advisor is the only person that can speak to my academic, research, clinical, and teaching skills and experiences; and 3) I feel it would have been a particularly strong letter. My plan is to ask my program's DCT to write a letter in its place. Although he is familiar with my academic, research, and clinical abilities, it is far from the familiarity of my advisor. My questions are: Should I be freaking out about this? How much weight do site's place on the advisor's letter? Have others been in a similar situation? If so, how did you fair? Should I discuss the absence of my advisor's letter in cover letters? Is asking the DCT a good move, as I could also ask a 3rd prac supervisor?

Second, I would like to take a 'tiered approach' to selecting internship sites to apply. That is, I am looking to apply to some more competitive programs, some middle-of-the-road sites, as well as some safety/backup-type sites. How do people determine the competitiveness of programs? Unlike graduate schools, which report GPA and GRE info, I have no idea the caliber of people applying to different sites. I have not found the completed applications:interviewed:spots info particularly helpful, as this does not tell me who is applying and there are mostly only minor differences between programs. Since I am primarily interested in university counseling centers, I have been wondering whether the university's reputation could offer some guide, but maybe it's not necessarily true that this reputation translates to more competitive applicants. Any thoughts? Or do people advise against such tiered approaches?

Thanks in advance!
 
Nov 4, 2015
266
223
Status
Psychologist
My experience with internship applications was that the issue of fit was MUCH more important than the level of prestige of a site (and I feel like "prestige" may apply primarily to sites that bill themselves as very research-oriented). I was a very competitive applicant, ultimately matching to a very prestigious research-focused site, but I didn't even get interviews at some of the college counseling centers I applied to (for location reasons) because I was a terrible fit. It was obvious to them that I wasn't planning on a primarily clinical career, so spending time interviewing me didn't make sense. Even the one very clinically-focused and very non-research-y site I applied to where I did get an interview, they ultimately didn't rank me highly at all. So I would be much more concerned about finding sites that fit your career goals than worrying about the reputation of a site. Ratio of applications to interviews to spots doesn't help much because most sites will interview between 5-10x as many people as they have spots for, so the biggest source of variance in how many interviews are offered is how many ultimate spots they have, not so much competitiveness of the site itself.

RE: advisor letter - that sucks that he or she won't be able to write it due to illness, but these things happen (I know of folks whose advisors actually passed away during their training...awful for so many reasons). I think asking your DCT to write a letter in their place makes sense, and they could potentially ask your advisor for specific points to reference in the letter to be helpful. The DCT also writes a summary blurb for everyone's application that isn't really a letter, but speaks to the fact that you've completed all the requirements to be able to apply, you're in good standing, etc. In that DCT letter, they can mention the circumstances with your advisor and explain why you don't have a letter from him or her. I imagine that most sites aren't going to outright drop you from consideration because your advisor couldn't write you a letter, given the circumstances! As long as it's clear in the application that you're missing that letter due to extenuating circumstances (and not that your advisor just doesn't like you/doesn't want to write you a letter), I imagine it'll be ok. As much as this advice fell on my own deaf ears last year, try your best not to worry about the things you can't control in this process and focus your energy on the things you can control (picking sites that are a good fit for you, writing good essays, finishing up any outstanding projects/papers that might improve your CV, prepping for interviews, not limiting yourself geographically when you apply, etc.).

Good luck, OP!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Doctor-S
Nov 24, 2015
6
3
Status
MD/PhD Student
Hello all!

I am applying to internship this fall and have been faced with a difficult letter of recommendation situation. My primary advisor is not going to be able to write a letter due to being ill. Aside from the obvious, this is unfortunate because 1) I believe advisors usually write one of the letters, so the absence of mine might be salient and give programs a reason not to offer an interview; 2) my advisor is the only person that can speak to my academic, research, clinical, and teaching skills and experiences; and 3) I feel it would have been a particularly strong letter. My plan is to ask my program's DCT to write a letter in its place. Although he is familiar with my academic, research, and clinical abilities, it is far from the familiarity of my advisor. My questions are: Should I be freaking out about this? How much weight do site's place on the advisor's letter? Have others been in a similar situation? If so, how did you fair? Should I discuss the absence of my advisor's letter in cover letters? Is asking the DCT a good move, as I could also ask a 3rd prac supervisor?

Second, I would like to take a 'tiered approach' to selecting internship sites to apply. That is, I am looking to apply to some more competitive programs, some middle-of-the-road sites, as well as some safety/backup-type sites. How do people determine the competitiveness of programs? Unlike graduate schools, which report GPA and GRE info, I have no idea the caliber of people applying to different sites. I have not found the completed applications:interviewed:spots info particularly helpful, as this does not tell me who is applying and there are mostly only minor differences between programs. Since I am primarily interested in university counseling centers, I have been wondering whether the university's reputation could offer some guide, but maybe it's not necessarily true that this reputation translates to more competitive applicants. Any thoughts? Or do people advise against such tiered approaches?

Thanks in advance!

Oh my gosh, I can completely empathize with your anxiety! I had a similar situation happen last year. Less than 1 month before November 1st, one of my letter-writers passed away from an out-of-the-blue heart attack. I had to scramble to get another letter and was insanely anxious for nearly a month after submitting my applications because that letter-writer also my primary clinical supervisor for neuropsych (I was a neuro-track applicant). Neither of my other letter-writers could attest to my skill in assessment and neuro-based case conceptualization! I was convinced I would be passed over, and the anxiety was insane.

I would recommend you first think about what type of sites you are applying to: are they primarily clinical, primarily research, etc.? Then, you should make your letter-writer decision based on the skills these sites are most likely to value. It's my understanding that DCTs have to write a letter for you anyway attesting to your readiness for internship (at least mine did). If that is the case and you are interested in more clinical sites, you could bring your CV to your DCT and familiarize them with your academic/research accomplishments, but have a practicum supervisor write your 3rd letter.

I applied to sites that emphasized a mixture of research and clinical activities. So after my supervisor's death, I was able to scramble together letter from a former advisor who I worked with for 1 year prior to his transfer to another university. Thankfully, I was still fairly close to this person (in fact, he was the minister at my wedding!), and I had written research papers with him even after he left, so I think he was able to write a fairly strong letter. I got fewer interviews than I expected, but I still received interviews at fairly "competitive" neuro sites (UCSD/San Diego VA, Yale, Dartmouth). I matched to my top ranked site. So success is totally possible!!!!

With respect to "competitiveness" of sites, I created a spreadsheet that calculated a ratio of average number of applications received to average number of interviews given. I also looked at the ratio of applications to number of positions available. This gave me a vague estimate of "safety" and "far-reach" sites. However, I agree with temppsych in that "fit" was ultimately a greater predictor of interviews than anything else. If a site looks like it could use an applicant with your particular experiences, and you want the type of training they're offering, then I say go for it! Good luck, and don't panic!!!
 

Kadhir

2+ Year Member
Nov 13, 2015
218
158
Status
Psychology Student
In that DCT letter, they can mention the circumstances with your advisor and explain why you don't have a letter from him or her. I imagine that most sites aren't going to outright drop you from consideration because your advisor couldn't write you a letter, given the circumstances! As long as it's clear in the application that you're missing that letter due to extenuating circumstances (and not that your advisor just doesn't like you/doesn't want to write you a letter), I imagine it'll be ok.
Agree with this. You're right to be concerned that they will wonder why your primary advisor isn't endorsing you, but I think a bit of transparency will go a long way.

Re the tiered approach, I always advocate for this. I didn't have a good idea of where I stood in terms of competitiveness, so I went with this approach as well. As others have said, though, only apply to a site if you see a fit there. I wasn't interviewed at a few sites that I thought were less competitive, but I got interviews at some of the heavy hitters in my field. I did interview at a range of sites, and it was really interesting to see different training models and experiences. Importantly, it was comforting to know I had a lot of good-fit options, even if they weren't all "prestigious." With respect to actually determining which sites are most sought after, I would talk to faculty and former students in your interest area. The programs universally considered competitive typically are the research-oriented sites.
 

PsychPhDStudent

7+ Year Member
Sep 5, 2009
1,041
238
Status
Post Doc
I'm so sorry to hear about your advisor. I agree with the previous suggestion of having your DCT address it in their statement. I think having 3 letters from supervisors plus that is your best bet.

As for the tiers, ask for help from faculty and former students -- they'll be able to help you build a strong list. I opted for a different approach: almost all highly-competitive sites that were great fits (at least in my opinion). There were a couple of "lower competitiveness" sites on my list, but overall, it was just places I wanted to go.