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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2007
The Undergraduate Psychology Internship: Benefits, Selection, and Making the Most
of Your Experience

Todd J. Walter, D'Youville College (NY)

The number of baccalaureate graduates in psychology has substantially increased over the last 20 years and so too has the competition for admission into psychology-related graduate programs (Landrum & Clark, 2005). Aside from traditional course requirements and electives in the undergraduate psychology curriculum, fieldwork such as undergraduate internships have been highly regarded by psychology graduates and can significantly impact graduates' vocational or graduate school placements (Grocer & Kohout, 1997; Prerost, 1981). Accordingly, whether internships are required, an elective, or can be developed (e.g., independent study) as part of one's undergraduate study, it is worth considering how an internship can enhance your undergraduate study and preparations for postbaccalaureate placement.
You may perceive participating in an internship with anticipation, ambivalence, or even trepidation. Regarding the latter, uncertainty about what to expect, how the internship will affect you, and whether you are prepared for such paraprofessional opportunities is understandably daunting. In an effort to allay some of these concerns and make your internship an optimal experience, I identify the following benefits and recommendations for obtaining and making the most out of your internship experience.

Personal and Professional Benefits
  • Internships can help you clarify your interests and goals. Given the competitiveness of graduate admissions and the job market, not to mention the considerable investment in time and energy required to apply for these endeavors, an internship can provide you with an experiential opportunity to evaluate and clarify your career interests and goals before embarking on your postbaccalaureate endeavors.
  • Internships can promote skill development. Internships can offer you the opportunity to develop skills that may enhance your professional development including your candidacy to acquire postbaccalaureate job placement at that internship or related settings.
  • Internships can enable you to network. Internships can afford you the opportunity to network with professionals and agency personnel that may be of value in subsequent vocational placement.
  • Internships can enhance the quality of your graduate school candidacy. Landrum and Clark (2005) reported that graduate admissions committees give the highest importance to letters of recommendation and statements of goals and objectives, while some place the highest importance on clinically-related service. The internship can provide you an additional resource for letters of recommendation via your supervisor, can enhance your statement of goals and objectives by relating how your internship experiences may have shaped or clarified your goals, and may provide you a competitive advantage for some graduate programs.
  • Internships can enable you to apply what you have learned. Internships may afford you an opportunity to enrich your classroom learning through real-world application of the information that you have acquired.
  • Internships can enhance your awareness of your attributes. The challenges and responsibilities associated with internship may enhance your awareness of and enable you to better evaluate your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses in need of further development.
Strategies for Obtaining Internship Placements
While your undergraduate psychology program may have a list of prospective internship placements, you should play an active role in identifying and securing placements. Many students underestimate this responsibility, yet given the benefits of internship, it is vital that students be selective of placements that are in keeping with their interests and goals.
  • Begin your internship search at least 2-3 months in advance. Many students underestimate how time consuming obtaining an internship can be. Faculty may need to contact prospective internship sites to confirm availability for placement, you may need to apply for placement and be required to interview and submit letters of recommendation, and contractual agreements between your institution and the internship placement may need to be processed.
  • Consult with faculty about your goals and interests. Faculty may be able to help you clarify your interests, they may be aware of appropriate agencies from previous internship placements, and they may be able to make recommendations per your abilities, interests, and goals.
  • Consult with your institution's Career Services and/or Alumni Relations office. The Career Services office may keep a record of not only potential employers, but also potential fieldwork and volunteer opportunities. The Alumni Relations office may have contact information for alumni in your field of interest who may be helpful in facilitating internship placements in the settings in which they work or with which they are familiar.
  • Consult former interns. Previous interns at your institution can offer information about what to expect, what internships to avoid if there have been problems, and advice for making the most out of the internship.
  • Investigate settings in which you may want to work or study. Consider internships in agencies that may offer you subsequent employment, or opportunities that may be available at graduate schools that you are considering. The latter may offer internships with professionals of interest to you in clinics or on projects related to your goals in graduate study.
  • Search the Internet. Numerous websites (see Additional Resources for Identifying Internships) provide resources and links to undergraduate internship opportunities in psychology and related fields, both domestic and abroad.
  • Investigate "nontraditional" internship placements. Mental health, medical/hospital, and human/social service agencies are traditionally common internship placements for psychology undergraduates (VandeCreek & Fleischer, 1984). However, internship placements in forensic (e.g., correctional settings, judicial settings), business, advertising and marketing, public relations, education, human resources, and administrative settings may be available to you and in keeping with your goals and interests.
  • Be assertive in pursuing internships. Exhibiting initiative in contacting prospective internship placements can make a favorable impression on your faculty as well as the prospective internship personnel/supervisor.
  • Anticipate meeting with the prospective internship's staff. Internships may require you to meet with them in advance (e.g., an interview). This meeting can be vital in your securing placement at that site and you should dress in a professionally appropriate manner. You should also be prepared to answer questions about your education and goals, comment on how you may be able to assist that particular internship placement, and ask questions about the internship including its functions and the role that you may play.
  • Discern your need for appropriate insurance coverage before starting internship. Illness or injury sustained on internship may not qualify for coverage via workman's compensation or via your educational institution. If not already required of you, obtain your own health insurance coverage to provide you peace of mind and security in the unlikely event that you should need it. Likewise, because malpractice claims may not be covered under the umbrella of standard university insurance coverage, you should consult with your internship supervisor or faculty coordinator/sponsor regarding the need for and availability of liability insurance coverage through your institution. Individual student liability coverage is available for APA student-affiliates at www.apait.org for a nominal fee.
Tips for Making the Most of the Internship
The following recommendations may enable you to maximize the benefits and minimize problems associated with your internship.
  • Complete as many hours as possible. Participating for a minimum amount of time on internship can compromise the breadth of educational and networking opportunities that could be of benefit to you. Greater participation can enable you to acquire a better understanding for how the internship placement operates, the roles of its staff, the training and attributes that are necessary for such roles, and the staff's familiarity with you.
  • Participate in multiple internships. Participating in different internships across semesters/quarters, as opposed to completing just one, can afford you greater opportunities to test your personal hypotheses of careers that are in keeping with your interests and abilities.
  • Get actively involved. As an undergraduate student there may be limits to what activities you can participate in during internship. Nevertheless, the internship represents a shift from being a consumer of education in the classroom to active learning via providing service to others. You should avoid being relegated to mere observation and discuss with your supervisor the most meaningful ways you can participate in the internship.
  • Identify your goals, expectations, and responsibilities at the start. Mutually agreed upon written expectations, goals, and responsibilities with your supervisor can minimize misunderstandings and dissatisfaction, can provide a focus and a reminder throughout the internship of your goals to be accomplished, and can be a basis for your supervisor to evaluate you upon its completion (Wrobel & Ogilvy, 2003).
  • Establish the parameters of supervision. Your supervisor may have little formal training or experience in supervision (especially to undergraduate interns). At the onset of your internship, you should meet with your supervisor to clarify your expectations for supervision including where, when, and how it will be conducted. Formally structured and ongoing supervision has been associated with more positive student outcomes (Kantrowitz, Mitchell, & Davidson, 1982; Morris & Haas, 1984).
  • Utilize supervision effectively. Supervision is your opportunity to ask questions not only about the functions of the internship and its staff, but also about your progress. Assertively seeking constructive feedback is often regarded as a sign of maturity and can be instrumental in your personal and professional development.
  • Avoid being "sidelined" and consult with your faculty sponsor/coordinator as necessary. Your supervisor may have work-related priorities that overshadow your educational needs and limit his or her availability to you. While often inevitable, you should discuss your concerns with your supervisor as well as the possibility of identifying "alternate supervisors" (e.g., other staff) that you can go to for supervision, and/or consult with faculty for assistance if your supervisor's lack of availability persists (Murray, 2003).
  • Plan in advance to terminate your internship. Because most internship placements do not operate on semester or quarterly periods, supervisors may lose track of when your internship will end. Discussing the imminent completion of your internship with your supervisor, preferably a few weeks in advance, can serve as a reminder to review what internship goals you have and have not accomplished and what you can meaningfully accomplish in the remaining time, help your supervisor and internship placement prepare for the transition of your absence, allow you timely guidance on how to terminate with your clients appropriately (if applicable), prompt you to request letters of recommendation from them (if applicable), and provide you with a more satisfactory and professionally appropriate termination with your supervisor and other personnel.
Regardless of whether the undergraduate internship is a requirement or an elective of your program's curriculum, participating in such experiences can be especially valuable to you. If your program does not offer fieldwork opportunities, strongly consider volunteering at a setting that is of interest to you and consider the preceding recommendations when establishing and making the most out of your volunteer opportunity.

Additional Resources for Identifying Internships

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Undergraduate research opportunities & internships. Retrieved November 1, 2006, from http://www.apa.org/science/undergradopps.html
North Carolina A & T State University. (n.d.). Directory of international internships. Retrieved November 2, 2006, from the Office of International Programs Website: http://www.ncat.edu/~oip/directory_internships.htm
Pennsylvania State College. (n.d.). Locating an internship—print resources. Retrieved November 5, 2006, from the College of Liberal Arts Website: http://www.la.psu.edu/CLA-Internships/print_resources.shtml
References
Grocer, S., & Kohout, J. (1997). The 1995 APA survey of 1992 baccalaureate recipients. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Kantrowitz, R., Mitchell, C., & Davidson, W.S., II. (1982). Varying formats of teaching undergraduate field courses: An experimental examination. Teaching of Psychology, 9, 186-188.
Landrum, R. E., & Clark, J. (2005). Graduate admissions criteria in psychology: An update. Psychological Reports, 97, 481-484.
Morris, S. B., & Haas, L. J. (1984). Evaluating undergraduate field placements: An empirical approach. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 166-168.
Murray, B. (2003). Making supervision work for you. gradPSYCH, 1, 24-25.
Prerost, F. J. (1981). Post-graduation educational and occupational choices of psychology undergraduate internship participants: Issues for the psychology profession. Teaching of Psychology, 8, 221-223.
VandeCreek, L., & Fleischer, M. (1984). The role of internship in the undergraduate psychology curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 9-15.
Wrobel, T. A., & Ogilvy, J. P. (2003, August). Undergraduate internship contracts: Issues to consider. Poster session presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada.

Todd J. Walter, PhD, received a BA in psychology from Niagara University (NY), an MA in psychology from SUNY at Buffalo, and his PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Florida. His diverse clinical and research interests include publications and presentations at regional and international conferences on self-prediction and depression, family therapy and codependency, earwitness accuracy, cultural sensitivity and patient satisfaction in health care, and administrating undergraduate fieldwork in psychology. Dr. Walter is currently in his sixth year at D'Youville College. In addition to clinically related courses, he teaches the seminars on psychology as a profession and serves as the Psychology Undergraduate Internship coordinator. His current research interests involve studying the parameters of administrating and supervising undergraduate fieldwork in psychology and enhancing student outcomes.

Copyright 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



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