10+ Year Member
Jan 26, 2009
Psychology Student
I have a question about recommendations for graduate school. I go to a big 10 school and my problem is that....the majority of classes are taught by graduate students!!! I literally went through my entire transcript

freshman year had 3 teaching specialists (whatever that means) and 3 professors
sophmore year i had 1 professor
junior year i had 3 professors

I did participate in research which I was really excited about my supervisor was Ph.D student and the a psychology professor was in charge of the student so I thought this is my chance....but alas we only saw the professor once when he came and talked about the research we would be doing :(

I have taken about 30 classes an I have only had 6 professors only 2 have been in Psychology and they taught lecture but not involved in discussion (which is when I would get help with exams) The recommendations that I want to get are from Ph.D students who taught my classes but I'm nervous because people say that is a bad idea but honestly Psychology Professors are not teaching undergrad classes! I don't really know what to do so it's not taken against me because it really isn't fair.


10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 12, 2008
Majority of my courses in undergrad were taught by graduate students. In psychology I had two courses taught by adjuncts, and two taught by professors.

However, I sought out opportunities to work with professors. I worked in a research lab, and asked for meetings with the professor in charge. I wrote an honors thesis, and asked for individual meetings with the members of my committee.

A larger school forces you to put in more effort to making those connections, but it also shows a commitment and interest. If you don't have those connections now, take some time off after undergrad and work on establishing those connections.

I hope you've heard this before, but life isn't fair. And to quote Tom Hanks from A League of Their Own, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great."


Clinical Psychologist
10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Nov 19, 2007
Don't fret, it's likely that the psychology department knows this and they want to encourage you to go to graduate school. Start dropping in on them, ask them their perspective, take their advice. All of these graduate students have professors that they have been working for... they may go to bat for you, but you have to establish that personal connection.

Not all of your recommendations need to come out of the psychology department. Two of my BEST letter writers were outside the psychology department (although she was a psychologist.) One was the assistant dean of the honors college, the other was a very productive sociologist at our school. So reach outside the psychology department as well, but make sure that they are Ph.D.'s, do not rely on graduate students unless you have no other choice.


JP West

7+ Year Member
Jul 26, 2009
Psychology Student
I also went to a huge university so I know where you are coming from.

First, I would suggest talking to the Ph.D. student who supervised your research. It is not uncommon for a professor to cosign a letter of recommendation in these kinds of situations. Perhaps you can visit this professor's office hours so he/she will know a little more about you and be more willing to cosign a letter. Maybe he or she has a project or class you can be involved with in the fall that will help you strengthen your connection to this person.

Also, consider taking a 300-400 level course with a professor you've already had. Get to know them over the semester and they may be a good option for letters. Some of the less "famous/popular" professors may be flattered that you wanted to take a second course with them.

Remember, you have a whole year left at the university and I'm sure that if you make it your mission, you can find a way to get at least one really solid letter, if not in time for applications this year, then for next year.

Best of Luck!


10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 13, 2009
Great White North
Psychology Student
I went to a huge uni and most of my teachers were profs... weird? I maybe only had 2 graduate students in 4 years. Most grad students taught in the summer.

You have to get in there - find the prof you are closest to or somewhat close to and ask tell them you want to gain experience in their field. You may be able to volunteer in their lab and then potentially gain that letter.


10+ Year Member
Feb 19, 2007
Psychology Student
Getting involved in other ways is really the key.

I also rarely had professors for class. I really don't think taking classes with them is that important, and much of the time I feel like people you didn't do anything OTHER than take a class with are probably not a good choice to have write a letter anyways, though I'm amazed how many people do it. Especially if its a lecture-style course, there just can't be much substance to that kind of letter.

Make connections. Work in labs, get involved in department committees, etc. I was debating between 4-5 different people I wanted to have write letters and I never took a class with any of them - I figured I would let my transcript speak to my ability in the classroom and I wanted people who could speak beyond that. Faculty are generally not going to be sitting in the lab entering data at the computer next to you, so its really up to you to make the connection happen. So many undergrads seem afraid to seek faculty out, but if you have ideas to make something more efficient, if you want more responsibilities, if you have a research idea you think might make for an interesting honor's project, etc. just go talk to them. That's what I did, and I felt like it resulted in much better letters than "Jim got an A in class and was the only one who didn't fall asleep while I prattled on about personality theory".
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