One of the most important parts of a good Clinical Psychology PhD application is research experience. Most competitive applicants do all three of the following:
- Volunteer as a part-time research assistant as an undergraduate
- Write an honors thesis
- Work for 1-2 years as a full-time research assistant after graduation
Volunteer Research Assistant Positions
Volunteer research assistant positions are relatively easy to get. The best way to find these positions is to look for professors at your university that do research you are interested in, and email them to volunteer with them. You may also be able to get class credit for volunteering as a research assistant.
This goes without saying, but remember that it is important to act professional when you volunteer in order to get more responsibilities. Show up early, stay late, and show a lot of eagerness and attention to detail. With the right attitude, you will get increased responsibilities, which will eventually enable you to write an honors thesis and get a full-time research assistant position. Your hard work may even be rewarded through authorship on a publication or a conference presentation! Also it is worth noting that the world of Clinical Psychology is very small, so do everything you can to protect your reputation (it is very likely that your future potential mentors for graduate school will know many people you have worked with in the past)
Writing an Honors Thesis
If you perform well as a volunteer research assistant, you can ask your adviser to mentor an honors thesis. Writing an honors thesis is an invaluable experience for graduate school applications as it allows you to work on your own research project from start to finish. You can make yourself a particularly competitive candidate if present your honors thesis at a conference or publish it.
Full-Time Research Assistant Jobs
With a lot of applicants working as full-time research assistants after graduation, it has become increasingly competitive to secure full-time research assistant jobs. Nonetheless, this process is much less competitive than graduate school applications, and is a great practice for the graduate school application process.
When to start looking for full-time research assistant positions?
The best time to start looking for full-time research assistant positions is in the Spring before the Summer you want to start working. The reason for this is that many research assistants quit in the Spring, as they find out about graduate admissions. With that being said, positions are available year round (I found my job in the Fall and started working in the Winter)
How to find Full-Time Research Assistant Positions:
Unfortunately there are not many formal places to look for research assistant positions. The best way to find positions is through places you volunteered at as an undergrad, asking current professors at your university, and through word of mouth.
Some people have been successful by finding people they want to work with on the internet and emailing them. Another idea is to find projects you are interested in through projectreporter.nih.gov and emailing the Primary Investigator.
I have included some websites that have research coordinator/assistant postings below. There are many more out there. I have found the jobs search on www.linkedin.com surprisingly useful as well.
Potential Resources for Finding Full-Time Research Assistant Jobs:
- Hofstra Research Opportunities
- Hofstra Job Opportunities
- Social Psychology Job Postings
- Harvard Post-Graduate Job Listings
- Princeton Health Professions Job Listings
- Columbia Postbac Job Postings
- University of North Carolina Newsletter (often has advertisements for research jobs)
What about a Master’s?
Unless your GPA is low (<3.3) I would suggest skipping a Master’s to save $. If you absolutely have to do a Master’s, please look for funded programs.