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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2012

Eye on Psi Chi

Spring 2012 | Volume 16 | Issue 3

Questions (and Answers) About Graduate School

Mitchell M. Handelsman, PhD, University of Colorado Denver
Scott W. VanderStoep, PhD, Hope College (MI)
R. Eric Landrum, PhD, Boise State University (ID)

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

From University of La Verne (CA)

The University of La Verne Psi Chi Chapter was chartered in 1990 and has been one of the most active and prominent student clubs on the campus. The chapter has active undergraduate and graduate student members who participate in events and who have won a variety of awards for leadership and scholarship. The chapter offers academic, professional, and personal development workshops on a variety of issues and topics, as well as engages in monthly philanthropic activities with the local community, including promoting Mental Health Awareness, sending care packages to troops overseas, writing supporting letters to terminally ill children, and fund-raising for nonprofit charities, like Project Sister Family Services. The chapter has also won Psi Chi’s Best Web Site award and model chapter awards in the past, and their advisor recently was honored with the 2012 Psi Chi/Florence Denmark Advisor Award.

I have my bachelor’s of science in psychology. What entry level job positions are available for me to apply to?

Landrum: How I wish there were a short answer to this complex question. It might be just as easy to ask the question this way—what entry level job positions are not available for me to apply to? The bachelor’s degree in psychology is so applicable and so broad that those characteristics are both a blessing and a curse at times. If you had majored in engineering, teacher education, nursing, or accounting, you would have a good idea about the exact type of entry level position. In any case, I recommend that you begin your networking as an undergraduate and work toward designing the entry-level job that you would like—being proactive and making connections now may smooth the later transition from college to career.

Handelsman: I agree that opportunities are wide open, because you have learned a variety of skills that are widely applicable. One thing I’d recommend is to visit your campus career center. Their job is to help you in this process.

VanderStoep: I tell students that psychology trains someone to do potentially many things but not one thing in particular. Everyone always asks a psychology major "what are you going to do with a psychology degree?” but people never ask a nursing major that question. I tell students to focus on their passions and their skills. Where does that combination lead? A psychology major might end up working in a museum, hospital, lab, bank, or vineyard. Tell potential employers about your skills: SPSS, writing/proofreading skills that you learned as a research assistant, listening and group skills you learned on your internship, knowledge of personnel/ hiring from your industrial psychology course. And tell potential employers about your passions: commitment to understanding and serving those with addiction, solving intellectual problems, discovery, collaboration, understanding other cultures. A selfassessment of your own skills and passions will lead you to many career choices, and the skills you’ve learned through rigorous study in psychology will assist you. When you’ve done that, you’ll move from getting a job to embodying a vocation. To paraphrase the theologian/philosopher Frederick Buechner, your vocation is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.

What kind of financial aid is offered to those who are in graduate school?

Landrum: Many of the same types of federal financial aid programs will still be available to you in graduate school, often with increased amounts of annual loan limits. Additionally, be sure to check into the options available at the school level. Some of the financial aid programs may not be available for you to apply to until you are admitted as a graduate student (departmental or university-wide opportunities). Also, be sure that you are careful to differentiate an assistantship from a fellowship. Generally speaking, an assistantship (such as a teaching or research assistantship) may require a weekly work commitment to the department or to a particular faculty member and may not technically be financial aid—although work study monies may come into play. Typically, a fellowship is a financial grant that does not require any type of work as reciprocation. So be sure you explore all of your options on both the federal and school-specific levels. One last tip: many of those that offer assistantships and fellowships to prospective recipients have instituted a "social media” search prior to making the award. Make sure that nothing posted by you or about you on Facebook could be potentially damaging or embarrassing to the granting agency.

Handelsman: The work required in assistantships can be quite beneficial. For example, my assistantships gave me a publication or two and some invaluable teaching experience. In general, do not let a lack of money, or lack of perceived financial aid opportunities, stop you from applying. I say this because (a) the range of aid, including grants, assistantships, and fellowships, is huge; (b) aid comes from agencies, the school, the department, and the program; and (c) aid is sometimes awarded after acceptance. And, of course, there are always state lotteries.

VanderStoep: Most doctoral programs in nonclinical areas come with tuition reduction and a research or teaching assistantship. Doctoral clinical programs that award the PhD degree usually have this financial aid as well. PsyD programs are less likely to have such assistance. Doctoral programs at professional schools offer assistance less often. These programs are often stand-alone programs that are not connected to a university and therefore do not have teaching opportunities. Also, the professors at these schools are less likely to have research grants than faculty at major research universities. Finally, my students who have been admitted to master’s programs less often receive tuition reduction or opportunities for research or teaching. It’s not impossible, but there are fewer available.

What are the do’s and don’ts of graduate school interviews?

Landrum: My answer to this addresses two sides of the same coin—DO be yourself and DON’T try to be someone you are not. If you are to the point that you are being interviewed (telephone, Skype, or in-person), that means that you qualify for admissioncongratulations! The interview is usually all about match and fit: will you fit in with other students in a faculty member’s lab group, does the professor think you’ll work hard, be able to balance multiple demands, be personable under pressure, and so forth. Make sure that you are yourself. Remember, you are interviewing THEM as much as they are interviewing YOU. By being yourself, you can gauge whether your future colleagues will be good to work with. Two additional DON’Ts for your graduate school interview: First, do not continuously check your cell phone; make sure you demonstrate that you can be "in the moment” and that you can concentrate on one task (rather than having a continuous distraction in checking for missed calls, text messages, Facebook updates, etc.). Second, if there is an opportunity during the interview process to consume alcohol, decline to do so. Even if you do enjoy alcohol, do not consume it during an interview—you are being evaluated, everyone around you is not. Take the high road and avoid a potentially embarrassing misstep. One last tip: From the moment you make your first contact with someone on campus to the very last moment, you are being interviewed. The graduate student picking you up at the airport will most certainly be reporting back about your interactions to graduate faculty members. So, remember that you are being interviewed throughout the entire visit.

Handelsman: DO develop lists of questions you want to ask of faculty, students, and others at the interview. They will probably ask you questions about your weaknesses. I think it’s a good idea to ask programs about theirs—in a nice way. "What do you see as the next improvement you can make in your program?” "If you had an extra $50,000 in your budget, what’s the next priority?” You get the idea.

VanderStoep: DO your homework on the faculty in the program. Read at least one research article from two of the faculty members with whom you’d like to work. Ask a lot of questions. And most importantly—find the right balance between humility and confidence. If you enter an interview appearing like you already know everything, you’ll get eliminated. On the other hand, if you’re quiet and detached, you’ll also get bounced. How to strike that balance? It’s hard. I would recommend framing yourself as a willing collaborator who is eager to learn from more experienced peers and mentors.

What are the types of graduate programs to become a therapist besides clinical psychology?

Landrum: This is a good question, and the answer actually spans beyond psychology, and the specific answer may vary depending on where you live. As for conducting psychotherapy with individuals or groups and being able to secure third-party payments (i.e., insurance companies) for such services, individual states have differing laws on licensing. So the answer may not be as much about the type of graduate program, but the type of license the graduate program can lead you to in your state. Generically speaking, in addition to a clinical psychology program leading to the ability to be a therapist, so could counseling psychology, school psychology, school counseling, counseling education, social work, and so on.

Handelsman: An additional strategy: Find people who are doing the kind of work you want to do, and talk to them about (a) the type of training they had, and (b) what they’d recommend.

VanderStoep: People with master’s degrees can do some level of therapy, provided they are supervised by a doctoral level psychologist or psychiatrist. This supervision won’t be full-time babysitting, but simply checking in with your supervisor approximately once a week to go over your caseload. However, that means you will need to be employed in a setting where such a relationship can occur, perhaps a college counseling center or hospital. Degrees that would qualify someone to do this work would be an MSW (with the clinical licensing to be designated LCSW) and a master’s in marriage and family therapy (with certification from AAMFT).

Is there a way to get dual doctorates in both psychology and psychiatry at the same time?

Landrum: Just to lay the foundation, a doctorate in psychology would be either the PsyD or the PhD, and the psychiatric route requires a first pass through medical school and the MD. Specialized psychiatric training follows the awarding of a MD, so doing both at the same time would be arduous as well as take quite a bit of time. So my best answer is "I don’t know.” But my question to you would be "Why would you want to do that?”

Handelsman: Another way to phrase that question: "What do you want to do, and what’s the best (e.g., most efficient) way to train for what you want to do?” The dual-degree MD/PhD programs I’m aware of are not in clinical, but prepare physicians to do medical research.

VanderStoep: The only way I can think of is through a joint MD/ PhD program. This usually involves going the first two years of medical school, then beginning a doctoral program. Most students in these programs pursue doctorates in biochemistry or molecular biology. Psychology is possible, provided the medical school had such an arrangement with the psychology department and the department accepted you. I would not recommend this, but I think it’s theoretically possible. As Mitch said, MD/PhD programs are medical science training programs, designed to prepare students for medical research (e.g., genetics) rather than psychotherapy or clinical medicine.

Mitch Handelsman, PhD, is currently professor of psychology and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Denver, where he has been on the faculty since 1982. In 2003–04, he was president of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association. He is a licensed psychologist and a fellow of APA. He currently writes the quarterly column Ethics Matters for Eye on Psi Chi. His blog, "The Ethical Professor,” can be found at

R. Eric Landrum, PhD, is a former Psi Chi Rocky Mountain Regional Vice- President (2009–11). A professor at Boise State University (ID) and the chapter’s faculty advisor, Dr. Landrum often give talks about issues such as graduate school admissions. He has over 225 professional presentations at conferences and published over 20 books or book chapters, and has published over 65 professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.

Scott VanderStoep, PhD, previously served as Psi Chi Midwest Regional Vice-President from 2002–06 and President from 2008-09. His educational journey began in the same place where he currently works—Hope College (MI)—and where he is associate professor and department chair. In his 18 years of college teaching, he has taught introductory, developmental, social, cognitive, industrial/organizational, research lab, psychology of religion, and advanced data analysis.

Copyright 2012 (Vol. 16, Iss. 3) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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