How to Succeed When You Lead

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

Serving as the Chair of APAGS was an incredibly formative professional development experience. In reflecting on the year, with its successes and challenges, several leadership lessons emerge that I will take with me. I hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for me in learning what it means to be a leader, and to lead.

Be Principled

Leaders often face an array of complex, difficult, and even controversial decisions. A guiding framework for making decisions – especially difficult ones – is to align with both your individual principles and the values of the group you represent. You are more likely to make good decisions when you can clearly articulate the principles and the rationale behind them.

Say No

We create strategic plans and mission statements to give us direction and help us decide what we hope to achieve and how to get there. Equally important, they also should help you decide what not to do. Your group will function best when it sets clear priorities and engages in activities that are in alignment with those goals. This means learning to be comfortable saying “no” to opportunities or projects that detract from your ability to realize your vision.

Embrace Disagreement

Disagreement can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage. Yet disagreement is a critically important part of group process. Disagreement usually means that you are discussing something important. Groups can move forward constructively in the absence of consensus. In fact, if you wait for everyone to agree, you may never get anything done. Leading means being willing to move the group forward towards a solution everyone can live with. And working through disagreement to find common ground results in the best and most thoughtful outcomes.

Be Willing to be Unpopular

Being a leader means being willing to be both loved and hated. Leaders make difficult decisions, and receive both praise and criticism for their actions. At times, the right (principled) decision may not be a popular one, or may cause friction with other groups. Leaders need to find the courage to fight for what they believe in, even when there is some risk involved. Stand by – and share – your principles and what you believe is right and why. This is the definition of good leadership.

Communicate & Collaborate

The importance of communication and collaboration cannot be underestimated. Groups in power are most often criticized for a lack of transparency in their actions and decision-making. Decisions will be tough, and decisions will be unpopular. Communicating openly and clearly with your constituents is your greatest protection against mistrust and criticism. When difficult decisions are made, explain your thought process and your rationale (and yes, sometimes even your struggles in making the choice). Transparency and a collaborative style will go a long way towards earning trust, even when you make decisions that may at times be controversial.

I hope these reflections are helpful, and that you will consider embarking on your own leadership journeys. Being involved in the field is a professional responsibility, and being a leader is a great way to contribute and use your skills. Leadership can be challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding and meaningful work. We can only make change happen when we sit at the table, and our voices are powerful – if we choose to use them.

Visit the APAGS Governance webpage for more information on leadership opportunities.



Being an Undergrad Isn’t Like Being a Grad Student

Posted in Advice, Graduate School, Self Care, Training Issues
Do you know what to expect as you  transition from college to graduate school in psychology?

Do you know what to expect as you transition from college to graduate school in psychology? (Source: “Graduate School of Social Service Diploma Ceremony” by Bruce Gilbert on Flickr. Some rights reserved. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

There is a lot of advice out there about the transition from high school to college. What I have rarely seen is any discussion about the many changes students face when they transition from college to a Master’s or Doctoral program in psychology. Here, I provide some personal reflections on some of those changes.

Commuter life
Living on campus as an undergrad, I had the opportunity to become involved in many extracurricular activities, stay out late around campus, get out of bed just in time for classes – and with luck, still be an “A” student. As a graduate commuter, there seemed to be less of an opportunity to feel as connected to individuals and even the college as a whole. I had to really put in effort to get to know people outside of class. It was easier then to just grab a cup of coffee with someone after class or possibly run into them in the residence hall. While my graduate school cohort made a conscious effort to get together throughout the year, it many times took a lot of planning!

Program Size
As a graduate student, there was also a feeling of being such a small presence on campus. In college, I attended a large state school with over 20,000 students. Later, I had to get used to only about 60 people total in my program or only 7 in my cohort. I was no longer one of thousands of undergraduate students. I’m not saying that one is better or worse but it was definitely a shift!

My undergrad schedule consisted of mostly large classes where we completed many readings, took multiple choice exams, wrote 2-3 page papers, and had the very rare group project. Conversely, I like to think of most of my graduate school classes consisting of the 3 P’s: papers, projects, and presentations. I have had greater opportunity to collaborate with others which can be hard to coordinate due to vastly different schedules. In terms of papers, if your writing skills aren’t up to par before you start graduate school, they will definitely be developed by the end! Writing a 10-15 page paper doesn’t feel like such a daunting task as it once did. Graduate school isn’t about being able to memorize rote facts towards an exam anymore. Being in graduate school is one step closer to being in the profession: So much of what is learned in the classroom is directly applicable to the future.

Being in graduate school is one step closer to being in the profession: So much of what is learned in the classroom is directly applicable to the future.

Work-Life Balance
In grad school, I’ve struggled the most with work-life balance and maintaining relationships. Trying to juggle 2-3 days of externship, working part-time as an adjunct at a local college, taking 4-5 classes per semester, and conducting research really made it difficult to even begin to have any type of social life! When I was in the earlier years of my program, my friends would always invite me out and most of the times I had to decline. As the years progressed, the invitations came less frequently, which was a bit disheartening. Having social support is really important and I’ve come to learn other ways to keep in touch with friends while also getting my work done.

As a minority student
One of the interesting aspects I’ve gotten used to is being more of a racial and ethnic minority in school. Although in my head I knew the statistics about the representation of students of color within graduate psychology programs, it still felt surprising to me how salient my minority status has become to me. Being a Black graduate student, it has become more important for me to get involved with issues of diversity than it did as an undergrad. While I had been involved in diverse student groups, I felt more compelled to become active in groups such as the Association of Black Psychologists and APA Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race) in order to receive support, network, and develop both personally and professionally.

Overall Advice
My suggestion is to put in the effort to maintain your relationships, hobbies, spirituality, and your sense of self in graduate school. While getting into a program is a great achievement and deserves your best, you can only give your best when you feel at your best so it’s important to do whatever needs to be done to stay on top of your game!

Allyson Regis

Editor’s note: Allyson Regis is a fifth-year counseling psychology doctoral student at Fordham University.  For more on the leap from undergraduate and graduate training, read this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. To participate in a November 6, 2014 webinar with APAGS on finding and evaluating the right graduate program for you, sign up here

Be the First Student Voting Member on this Professional Practice Committee

Posted in Graduate School

CAPP, the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice is the main governance group over the Practice Directorate and the management of the APA Practice Organization, a 501(c)(6) organization that advocates on behalf of professional psychology. APAGS has typically appointed a liaison to attend CAPP meetings as a student representative. However, some structural changes were made to CAPP that will begin in January 2015, including the opportunity for APAGS to elect a graduate student member to serve and vote on CAPP.

This is an exciting opportunity for students interested in advocacy at the federal level, and this is the first time ever that an APAGS member has been invited to be a member of CAPP. This opportunity is to serve as a full member of CAPP, with voting privileges.

Responsibilities for serving on CAPP include the following:

  • Attendance at 3-4 business meetings per year, typically held at the APA building in DC or in a hotel in DC. Room, board, and ground transportation will be funded. Meetings are typically Friday/Saturday.
  • Attendance at State Leadership Conference, a 4 day conference in March, culminating with visits to your state’s Congressional delegation to advocate on professional issues in psychology.
  • Participation on the CAPP listserv, where business discussions occur between meetings.
  • Participation on conference calls that are scheduled on an as-needed basis.
  • Preference is for a two year term on CAPP. Term would begin January 2015.


  • Requirements for applicants:
    • Must be currently enrolled in a doctoral program in clinical, counseling, school, or combined/integrated psychology (a program that will allow the student to be eligible for a license in psychology).
    • Must graduate no sooner than May 2015.
  • Preferences for applicants:
    • Applicants from APA accredited doctoral programs.
    • Experience with advocacy in psychology (through APAGS Advocacy Coordinating Team, State/Provincial/Territorial Psychological Association, APA Division, or other group).
    • Interested in promoting professional issues in psychology.
    • Experience in leadership in psychology organizations.
    • Ability to speak comfortably/confidently among groups of mid- and late-career professionals.

Application Process

  • Please provide the following information in one file (Word document or a PDF):
    • Cover letter expressing interest in the position, eligibility and qualifications for the position, leadership experience, ability to commit to the responsibilities, your student status (when you anticipate graduating), and any other information you feel is important (750 words maximum).
    • Condensed two page curriculum vita, highlighting goodness of fit for this position.
  • Submit your application to Jessica Andrade,
  • Deadline for applications is NOON eastern standard time, October 22, 2014.

Selection Process

  • A group of 5 members of the APAGS Committee will review applications and provide up to three applications to the full APAGS Committee to vote on.
  • The 9 members of the APAGS Committee will elect one of the applicants at its Fall Business Meeting, October 31-November 2.
  • Notification of decisions will occur on or before November 7, 2014.


What’s in a Name? An Inclusive Name for an Inclusive Committee

Posted in Advocacy, APA, Graduate School
A few members of the committee formerly known as CLGBTC strike a pose at APA's 2014 Convention in DC, from left: Natalie Alizaga, Nick Grant, and Julia Benjamin.

A few members of the committee formerly known as CLGBTC strike a pose at APA’s 2014 Convention in DC, from left: Natalie Alizaga, Nick Grant, and Julia Benjamin. (Source: the author).

The APAGS Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns disagrees with Juliet’s assertion in Romeo and Juliet that “a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” Research indicates names do have the power to affect the way we perceive and interact with reality and the way we see ourselves and those around us.

Our committee believes in the importance of names—which is why we changed ours.

  • Our name started as the “Task Force on Sexual Minority Concerns,” which then changed to the “Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns.”
  • In 2001, we became the “Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns.”
  • Over the past few years, the committee has become aware that individuals are increasingly using labels beyond “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “transgender” to describe themselves. We contemplated incorporating additional specific identities to our name, but felt the “alphabet soup” created by the acronym used to represent those identities would be increasingly unwieldy and confusing.
  • After much discussion regarding how to shift our committee name to represent the diversity of our student members, we decided to change our name in September 2014 to the “Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

This mirrors what’s happening outside of APAGS. Some groups have begun shifting away from adding more letters to their acronyms and toward using more inclusive phrases like “Gender and Sexual Diversity.” This can be seen elsewhere in APA; in March 2014, APA Division 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues) launched a new quarterly peer-reviewed publication titled Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

When we introduced the idea of our own name change to the full APAGS committee, it was unanimously and enthusiastically approved. Thus, as the new Chair of this committee, I am very excited to present to you the “Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity!”

I am very excited to present to you the Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity!

Since its foundation 22 years ago, this group has worked to support graduate students who identify within the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender diversity by advocating for their concerns and providing educational, personal, and professional development opportunities. That hasn’t changed, but our name has.

Our website will show our new name soon, but we wanted to let you all know even quicker! Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in getting involved with the committee or if there are ways we can support you in your graduate training. We are here for you.

Overcoming 3 Common Dissertation Pitfalls

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

Most students find writing the dissertation to be the most daunting aspect of graduate school. When it comes to the dissertation, they feel overwhelmed and ill equipped, they doubt their abilities, and many give up before finishing. So challenging is the dissertation, that some have estimated that as many as 50% of graduate students are ABD (“all but dissertation”), which means students leave graduate school having met all requirements except the dissertation.

But it does not have to be this way!
Based on my many years of experience or working with doctoral students, I have discovered that there are some very common pitfalls and misconceptions about the dissertation that cut across nearly all graduate students and block their dissertation progress. The good news is that these problems are all fixable! Due to space limitations, in the rest of this blog, I briefly highlight 3 problems students frequently encounter and provide tips on overcoming them. For more detailed information on these and other common problems and tips, or for individualized assistance, contact me (
Problem 1: “I’m too busy to write.”

Graduate students are notoriously busy! In addition to working on their dissertations, students in the PhD clinical psychology program where I teach also have to juggle taking classes, studying, teaching classes, seeing clients, conducting other research, writing journal articles, preparing conference presentations, and their personal interests and responsibilities. It’s a tall order; who has time to write! Actually there is more time than you might think. Graduate students (like everyone else) waste a lot of time that could be spent writing. Some time wasters are obvious such as time spent on facebook or checking email. But some time wasters are not as obvious.

  • Examples given by graduate students I talked to are time spent organizing articles, organizing one’s workspace, and preparing to write. Getting organized is important, but spending too much time on it leaves very little, if any, time for actual writing. A solution is to first create a daily grid and keep track of how you spend your time so that you become aware of what your time wasters are and how much time you waste.
  • Next, get rid of the obvious time wasters such as email and facebook by making their use contingent upon meeting your writing goals. Get rid of the subtle time wasters by scheduling organization time into your calendar as separate from your scheduled writing time. This ensures you devote adequate time to organizing, but when it’s time to write, organizing ends. If you lapse into your favorite time wasters when you are supposed to be writing, stop yourself! Remember that you have other places in your schedule for those activities so carefully guard your writing time and only do writing during writing time.

Problem 2: Many graduate students mistakenly believe that they cannot begin writing until they are able to have an extended period (say 2 hours) of uninterrupted time to devote to writing.

Since they rarely have such large blocks of time in their schedules, the result is that weeks (and months) go by and students never begin writing, believing that they did not have enough time. Research shows that those who write in shorter spurts of time are more productive than those who write in binges and they tend to find writing more enjoyable. The solution is to change your thinking and start writing in 30-minute blocks of time. Why 30 minutes?

  • Because most people can find 30-minute blocks in their schedules. Decide in advance which specific section of your project you will work on so that when the time for writing comes, you can get started right away (rather than spending your 30-minute writing time getting organized). Write as much as you can and when the time is up, stop writing. If you write for 30 minutes every day, by the end of a week, you will have spent 3 hours writing! If you wait for a 3-hour block of time to appear in your schedule, by the end of a week, you will have spent 0 hours writing!

Problem 3: Mismanagement of negative emotions. Working on the dissertation is often associated with negative thoughts (e.g., “I am incompetent,” “they made a mistake admitting me into this program”) and negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety).

These thoughts and feelings, if not managed properly, feed on one another and result in behaviors that are self-sabotaging. Take procrastination as an example. I had a student with lots of negative thoughts and emotions associated with his dissertation that would overwhelm him every time he tried to work on it, so rather than work on his dissertation he would over commit to other activities (e.g., teaching, taking on more clients, household chores). These activities allowed him to avoid his fears and insecurities while still feeling like he was busy doing important work that had to get done. While procrastination provides temporary relief from unwanted thoughts and feelings, the problem is these avoidance tactics prevent students from making progress on their dissertations, and that lack of progress fuels even more negative thoughts and feelings which lead to more procrastination; a vicious cycle. A solution is to recognize how your behaviors, especially those that interfere with your dissertation, are influenced by your thoughts and feelings. Applying principles of cognitive and cognitive-behavioral theory are helpful in this regard.
These are just 3 of the most common pitfalls graduate students experience while trying to complete their dissertations. There are others that are common and some that are unique to particular situations. Regardless of the problem you are having, the solution is to get active in figuring out the problem and what to do about it. If you have tried to do that and it is not working, there are other options such as seeking the assistance of a dissertation coach. Dissertation coaches can be particularly helpful if you have spent an inordinate amount of time spinning your wheels on your dissertation rather than making real progress, if your dissertation chairperson is not providing the guidance and support you need, or if you are at the beginning of your dissertation and you want someone to help you get set up for the road ahead. A dissertation coach can help you devise strategies and step-by-step plans to keep you making steady progress.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Tamara L. Brown, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Psychology; University of Kentucky. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.