Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part V

I have written extensively on applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program in this blog. See previous posts in Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. In today’s post, I am planning to discuss the research proposal. 

Research Idea:

In order to write a research proposal, you first need to think of a research idea. I suggest you narrow down a topic area before you even start this process. However, you must be careful that your topic area is supported by the NSF. Below is what the NSF does not support:

“Clinical study that is ineligible includes patient-oriented research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, outcomes research and health services research. For example, clinical study that is ineligible includes investigations to provide evidence leading to a scientific basis for consideration of a change in health policy or standard of care, and includes pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy. Community and other population-based intervention trials are also ineligible.”

“Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis or treatment-related goals, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities also is eligible.”

Once You Narrow Down Your Topic Area…

Once you narrow down your topic area, it’s time to start thinking of research ideas. I suggest you schedule a meeting with your graduate mentor and let him/her know that you are interested in pursuing an NSF, and that you are thinking of a particular area. Ask your mentor to send you articles/etc in this topic area, and look for some on your own. When you read the articles, pay attention to gaps in the research literature. Specifically, pay attention to the sections that elaborate on further research that needs to be conducted in the field.

Make a list of any potential research ideas that come to mind. You can think broadly at this point, and they don’t need to be perfect. After you make a list of topics, you can elaborate on at them a bit. Elaborate on 1) Why it is important to study this topic and 2) What potential study you could conduct.

Run them by your mentor and get his/her thoughts on the topics (note – this is VERY important. Do not skip this step). At this point, you are likely going to be able to narrow down on a topic.

Writing the Proposal

Once you have specific research question, you must work on what methods you are planning to use. Read past literature in the field to see what methods have been used by other researchers, and certainly consult with your mentor.

After you know your methodological approach, you can begin writing. Your essay should include:

  • Methodology: You must have a clear overview of your research methodology. This includes:
    • Detailed explanation on the methods, and why they are appropriate
    • Timeline
    • Progress monitoring
    • Ethical issues
    • Contingencies
  • Resources:  What resources does your university have that will enable you to conduct your research? Be sure to include your mentor as a resource, and why he/she would be a good resource to you.
  • Skills: Explain what skills you have that will allow you to conduct this project successfully. If you lack the skills, explain how you will acquire them. Also, elaborate on what new skills you will acquire by conducting this research topic.
  • Intellectual Merit:  How is your topic innovative and trans formative? How will your research question inform your particular field and scientific understanding in general? Are you planning to publish findings and present them at a research conference?
  • Broader Impact: Explain how your research will benefit society as a whole. How will diverse populations benefit from your research? How will you inform people inside and outside of academia about your research?
  • A strong ending.  State how this research topic will be related to your dissertation and long-term research, if applicable. End strongly by re-iterating why the NSF should invest in you.

 

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Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part IV

One of the biggest pieces of the NSF GRFP application is the personal essay, also known as the personal, relevant background, and future goals statement. 

What should this essay accomplish?

In this essay, you should:

  • Elaborate on what motivated you to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology
    • Elaborate on why you chose Clinical Psychology and your particular program specifically
    • Highlight teaching/leadership/research experience/etc that motivated you to pursue a PhD, and elaborate on why it motivated you to do so
    • Be sure to mention any hardships or how you would be adding diversity to the STEM fields
  • Review your past research experience and other relevant activities
    • Be concise. Briefly summarize the research, the results, and what you did
    • You should mention how the findings fit into the wider arena of science as well as your field in particular
    • You should mention how your past projects inspired your future research plans/career goals
    • Elaborate on your role. How long did you work on this project? Did you work individually or as part of a team? How did your work relate to the larger research project?
    • If any research experience is related to your graduate topic, be sure to mention it and elaborate on it.
    • There should be some sort of flow from one experience to the next
    • Highlight your publications / posters in scholarly journals as well as how you presented your research to the mass audience
    • Be sure to mention any research and professional skills you gained, and how you plan to use them in the future
    • Describe the contributions of your activities to broader societal impact
    • You should make a point about how exciting research is to you
  • Elaborate on your career goals
  • Make sure to address the Broader Impact and Intellectual Merit criteria

How can you address the Broader Impact and Intellectual Merit Criteria?

You can address these criteria by:

  • When elaborating on how you decided to pursue a PhD, mention any work with diverse populations/teaching/study abroad that may have inspired you
  • Be sure to mention any leadership or outreach experiences you have had
  • Include any volunteer work you may have done, particularly if it is related to your research area
  • When elaborating on your career goals, elaborate on how graduate school will prepare you for an academic career that will expand on scientific knowledge and benefit our society
  • Specifying who will benefit from your research, and elaborating on how they will benefit

What is the world limit?

The world limit is 3 pages. 

Applying for a NSF GRFP while in a Clinical Psychology Program – Part I

Are you interested in writing a Clinical Psychology NSF? If so, this is the time to start thinking about it, as in the past deadlines have been in early November. I will be writing a six part series on applying for the NSF GRFP as a Clinical Psychology student.

Part I – The Unique Aspects of Applying as a Clinical Psychology Student

Part II – Basic Outline of Application Process and Award

Part III – Review Criteria

Part IV – The Personal Essay

Part V – The Research Proposal

Part VI – Looking at Past Winners – What Did they Do Right?

So moving on today’s topic, The Unique Aspects of Applying as a Clinical Psychology Student

But.. can Clinical Psychology Students Even Apply?

There has been lots of back and forth on whether Clinical Psychology student can apply for NSF GRFP grants. As of right now, the NSF is funding Clinical Psychology students. However, Clinical applications are still pretty uncommon – you will notice when you apply that you will have to choose  your field as “Psychology (other)” and write in Clinical.

There are, however, some limitations on what you can and cannot do as a Clinical Psychology applicant. On the NSF website, it says that “Clinical study that is ineligible includes patient-oriented research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, outcomes research and health services research. For example, clinical study that is ineligible includes investigations to provide evidence leading to a scientific basis for consideration of a change in health policy or standard of care, and includes pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy. Community and other population-based intervention trials are also ineligible.”

 Last years program solicitation further elaborates, stating the following, Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis or treatment-related goals, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities also is eligible.” Once the program solicitation is updated, it will likely contain an update.

So to summarize, clinical/patient related research, outcomes research, epidemiological and behavioral studies, interventions, and any research directly related to disease (etiology, assessment, treatment) are not allowed.

What kind of studies can Clinical Psychology students do?

Your study cannot be related to a disordered part of the population. So, with that in mind, you will have to think of a research topic that is connected to your work but broader in nature and more involved with basic sciences.

For example, if you currently research overeating, you will have to think of health behaviors in general. If you research substance abuse, you will have to look at risk taking. If you research eating disorders, you will have to think of a topic in eating behaviors, etc.

 What are some past funded NSF GRFP topics in Clinical Psychology?

After a lot of web searching and looking at past 2014 winners and their research, I found that these are some broad and specific Psychology topics that the NSF has funded:

  • False memory, age-related differences in cognitive processes, and the assessment of cognitive decline
  • Neurobiological basis of addiction
  • Neurobiological underpinnings of undergoing obesity prevention program
  • Neurocognition of maladaptive eating behavior
  • Effect of chronically elevated levels of serotonin, using an Anorexia Nervosa sample, and their effects on cognitive processes and anxiety
  • Neuroimaging methods to examine reward processing in depression and bipolar disorder
  • PTSD and Decision Making
  • How brain networks involved in executive function develop in young children, using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)
  • Bodily contributions to emotion and in how conceptual complexity contributes to emotion experience and perceptions
  • Impact of Exercise on Stress Response Both With & Without Psychological & Physical Stress.
  • Whether and how engaging with food-related blogs and other social media influences parental feeding decisions

How to Get into a Clinical Psychology PhD Program

So you want to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology?

Some people in the field think I should stop you. But if you really know this is exactly what you want to do, I will teach you how to do it in a few (hard) steps.

1. Understand the game

2. Craft your story

3. Write a killer CV

4. Ace your Interviews

 

1. Understand the Game

First, understand that graduate school admissions are very different from undergraduate admissions.  Graduate schools care about GPA/GRE scores to an extent but the #1 thing that will get you in is your research experience.

PhD programs have a strong preference for candidates with well-defined research interests and lots of research experience. They also prefer to hire people with presentations and hopefully a publication. And they would love to hire someone who has worked with a well-known investigator.

2. Craft your Story

One of the most important part of your graduate school applications is your story (also known as your statement of purpose). Your SOP needs to convince faculty that you will excel as a graduate student and that you will be a much better student than anyone else.

You need to craft your story around 5 points:

1.  The “Beginning”: what made you interested in Psychology and your particular research area. Do not even think of mentioning any history of mental illness

2. Your growing interest: how did your interest grow and/or change throughout your lifetime

3. Your research experience: you should mentioned the research you worked on, your particular tasks, and what you learned from them

4. Why you are applying to graduate school: for most programs, you should say that you are interested in being an academic at an R1 school 

5. What you want to accomplish in graduate school:  what do you want to research in graduate school and why this program/mentor is THE perfect one for you

3. Write a Killer CV

Now that you have gotten your story straight, you will need a CV. I have made this easy for you with a CV template

You need to make sure you lay out anything and everything research related that you worked on. Mention any grant writing, budget, IRB experience. Graduate school mentors are looking for people who have been involved in all aspects of the research process. 

4. Ace your Interviews

If you are lucky enough to get interviews, you are close to the prize. These are the most important traits that you need to demonstrate in your interviews.

1. You have thought through why you want to go to a PhD program and you want to be an academic more than anything else

2. You have a very close research match to your mentor

3. You understand the research process and you are familiar with your research area

 

How to Succeed in Graduate School – The #1 Piece of Advice

My mentor once told me that his #1 piece of advice for success in graduate school in Clinical Psychology is to read and write a lot (of scholarly work, of course). This makes sense to me.

To be an expert in your particular field, it is important to have read every book chapter and journal article on your topic of research. You should be aware of the latest and greatest in your literature topic. It is hard to create something without first becoming a master of the topic. By taking the time to understand the latest and greatest literature in your subject area, you will be best positioned to make significant contributions to your field.

Of course, this is incredibly hard. It probably involved reading at least 50 pages of scholarly literature a day, and at least 2-3 hours of extra daily work (and hard work – the kind of work where you can’t have any distractions). Most people don’t do this. However, if you can accomplish this early on, you will have a major advantage over everyone else.

Getting a Clinical Psychology Job – What Factors Predict Success?

Obtaining employment after a PhD in Clinical Psychology is (or should be) the #1 goal of every Clinical Psychology PhD student. But the number of available jobs is lower than the number of eligible candidates. Who gets Psychology jobs? What factors predict success? How important is school ranking, department ranking, and individual accomplishments?

In a study published in 2013, Stenstrom et al. attempted to answer this questions. Stenstrom et al. sent out a survey to 551 graduate students who were seeking employment that asked questions regarding individual accomplishments (ei – publications, conferences, TA/RA experience, etc) and obtained the name of the institution the students were at as well as the type of program it was (ei – are of specialization). Participants were also asked  if they had obtained a job, and if so, what kind of job.

I will summarize the results below. 

What percentage of PhD Students obtained a job?

37.2% obtained an academic job, 35.2% a non-academic job, and 27.6% did not find employment.

What are the average qualifications that predict success (ei – getting a faculty job at an R1 institution)?

  • 5-6 publications (with 2-3 first author ones) 
  • 1-2 “in submission” publications
  • 2-3 “in preparation” publications
  • 7-8 conference presentations
  • 4 semesters of TA work
  • Primary instructor 2-3 semesters

The number of publications plays a role in securing jobs at a PhD-Granting R1 institution; but beyond securing a job at this type of institution, the number of publications appears to be unrelated with the forms of job placement!

Do department and school rankings predict employment?

Yes – both department and school rankings predict employment. On a more interesting note, school-level reputation provided unique predictive power separate from the reputation of the psychology department within the school, and vice versa. In other words it is important to go to a well-known school with a well-regarded psychology department if possible.

Department rankings are particularly apartment for academic jobs (less so for non-academic jobs). Better department rankings increased chances of obtaining a job at an R1 school

Which aspects of program ranking predicts employment?

Only the research productivity (the average number of publications per allocated faculty, average citations per publication,
percentage of faculty with grants, and awards per allocated faculty member) of the department predicts employment. In particular, faculty number of citations predicted employment. That is, it is is more important to work with a highly cited department (or mentor) than one that just publishes a lot.

Do department rankings predict employment after controlling for individual accomplishments?

Yes. In fact, department reputation is more important than individual accomplishment or school ranking!

What are the take home messages?

REFERENCE:

Stenstrom, D. M., Curtis, M., & Iyer, R. (2013). School Rankings, Department Rankings, and Individual Accomplishments What Factors Predict Obtaining Employment After the PhD? Perspectives on Psychological Science8(2), 208–217. 

Must Read Psychology Books

As you are thinking of your Summer reading list, I thought I would suggest some must read psychology books.

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

2. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jaminson

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

4. Drive by Daniel Pink

5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

6. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

7. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

8. David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell

9. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

10. The Woman in the Mirror by Cynthia Bulik

11. Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop It by Cynthia Bulik

12. Midlife Eating Disorders by Cynthia Bulik

13. Runaway Eating by Cynthia Bulik

14. Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

15. Flow by Michael Csikszentmihalyi

16. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

17. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

18. Madness by Marya Honbacher

19. Wasted by Marya Honbacher

20. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

21. Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

22. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & The Biology of Belief by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aduili, and Vince Rause

23. The Mismeasure of Man by S. J. Gould

24. Cognitive Behavior Therapy by Judith Beck

25. Cognitive Therapy and Emotional Disorders by Aaron Beck

26. Love is Not Enough by Aaron Beck

27. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey

28. The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel

29. Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow

30. On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers

31. Letters to a Young Therapist by Mary Pipher

32. Making Contact: Uses of Language in Psychotherapy by Leston Havens

33. Love’s Executioner by Irvin Yalom

34. What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Successful Self Improvement by Martin Seligman

35. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman

36. Power in the Helping Professions by Adolpf Guggenbuhl

37. Personality Theories by Albert Ellis and M. Abrams (2008)

38. Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin Seligman

39. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson

40. Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood by Lenore Terr

41. Interpersonal Process in Psychotherapy: A Relational Approach by Edward Teyber

42. The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom

43. The Story of Psychology byMorton Hunt

44. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson

45. The Golden Cage by Hilde Brusch

46. Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers

47. The Portable Jung by C.S. Jung

48. Why People Die by Suicide by Thomas Joiner

49. Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It by Jane M. Healy

50. The Working Brain: An Introduction to Neuropsychology by A. R. Luria

51. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders: A Comprehensive Treatment Guide by Glen Waller

52. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

53. What Makes Marriage Succeed or Fail by John Gottman

54. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman

55. How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

56. Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Dr. Robert Karen

57. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

58. Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson

59. How to Talk So Kids will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

60. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Gets Hard by Chip Health

61. On Being a Therapist by Jeffrey Kottler

62. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

63. Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel

64. Health Behavior Change: A Guide for Practitioners by Rollnick, S., Mason, P., & Butler, C.

65. The Automaticity of Everyday Life by Robert Wyer

66. Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Lauren Slater

67. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner

68. Beyond Freedom & Dignity by B.F. Skinner

69. About Behaviorism by B.F. Skinner

70. Science and Human Behavior by B.F. Skinner

71. Motivational Interviewing by William Miller and Stephen Rolnick

72. The Sage Handbook of Health Psychology by Stephen Sutton, Andrew Baum, and Marie Johnson.

73. Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn

74. Critical Thinking About Research: Psychology and Related Fields by Julian Meltzof