It is almost April! At this time, most of you have found out about graduate school offers, debated about which program to go to, and many of you have accepted an offer. Congratulations!!
Although you may be tempted to sing “I made it, I made it!”, it is important to remember that the journey is just beginning. By all means, celebrate your offer and the many years of hard work that went into getting this offer, but remember that it is going to take a lot of effort and time to “make it” in this field. With that in mind, I thought I would offer some suggestions that have been passed on to me on how to plan your graduate school years to maximize your chances of “making it.” Please do remember that I am still a student, so take all of this with a grain of salt!
Figure out What your Goals Are
It is important to know what you want to get out of graduate school. Now is the time to think about what you want to do after graduation so you can tailor your graduate school appropriately. Do you want to be a professor? If so, do you want to work at an R1 school or at a Liberal Arts College? Do you want to work at an Academic Medical Center? A VA? Do you want to set up your own practice? Your graduate school goals will be somewhat different if you want to do research at an R1 school than if you want to set up your own practice. This book has a great basic overview of some possible career paths.
It will be much easier to know what to do in graduate school if you know where you want to do after graduate school. Once you know what your goal is, you can work backwards to figure out what you need to be focusing on in graduate school.
Start Thinking of Internship Applications
One of the biggest hurdles between you and your degree is the internship. Start thinking now on how you are going to make your internship application competitive so that you can get an APA internship. Work particularly hard if you foresee having geographical limitations when you apply for internship. Although the purpose of graduate school is to start your career (and not to land a clinical internship), it is important to make sure you have what it takes to land an APA approved clinical internship. If you are interested in research, aim to land a prestigious research internship (ei – Brown, Yale).
Publish or Perish
If you want to be a researcher, you want to have at 4-8 publications by the time you graduate, and hopefully more. The rule of thumb is to aim to get one publication per year of graduate school. It would be particularly helpful if at least one of these publications is a first-author paper, and even better if it is in a high impact journal.
Go to Conferences
You should also be going to conferences and presenting – although most people would take one publication over 10 conference posters. One of the biggest benefits of conferences is the networking.
Get Some Teaching Experience
If you are interested in academia (and particularly if you are interested in a Liberal Arts College), get some teaching experience. TA at least one course and teach a course if you can. At the same, remember that teaching has diminishing returns. If you can avoid it, do not TA every semester in graduate school. Create a teaching portfolio.
Whether you want to go into academia or clinical practice, it is important to specialize. Initially, it is important to get a solid generalist base training, but you will have to develop a niche as you become a senior graduate student. Do you want to work with children or adults? Are you interested in treating sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders? Are you interested in Forensic Psychology? Health Psychology? Neuro? Specialization will make it easier to get good jobs and a higher paycheck.
Cultivate Your Own Line of Research
If you are interested in academia, cultivate your own line of research. It is okay to have similar research interests to your mentor, but do not be a chameleon. Start thinking of that job talk your first day of graduate school. This will make it much easier to have a story after graduation, and to get prestigious grants like an F31 a few years into graduate school.
You will need to have a certain number of hours to be competitive for internship application (the consensus seems to be at least 400 face-to-face treatment hours and a 100 assessment hours). You also want to make sure that you not only get enough hours, but get solid clinical training. Remember to keep track of your hours from the very beginning (Time2Track is a great tool for this)
The Icing on Top of the Cake
- Get your own funding! One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd when searching for academic jobs is to have your own funding. Some of the more prestigious grants include the NSF, the Ford, the Soros Fellowship, an NIH F31, an NRSA, and an APA Minority Training Grant. You can apply for some of these funding sources early as a first year graduate student, so now may be the time to start thinking of how you are going to make your application competitive. In fact, some are only limited to 1st and 2nd year students (ei-the NSF), so it would be to your advantage to start thinking of applying for one of these fellowships now. Check out some other funding sources here, advice on applying for the NSF here and a very helpful book on what it takes to get a prestigious fellowship (Ex-the Soros) in this book.
- The Complete Academic
- Guide to Effective Grant Writing
- How the NIH Can Help You Get Funded: An Insider’s Guide to Grant Strategy