Year-by-Year Self-Care for Graduate Students: Part 2 of 4

Posted in Advice, Graduate School, Self Care

For Second-Year Students: One year into graduate school, you are likely to meet feelings of adjustment with recognition that you are (somehow) only getting busier. Here are some tips on how to manage your new-found groove while facing even newer challenges and tasks–you can do it! (View Part 1 of this series, dedicated to the first-year graduate school experience.)

Change up where you work.

Studying may not sound like it has much to do with self-care, but after a year in a doctoral program it is as important to continue to stay diligent as it is to make time to play and have fun—this means it is it’s a good idea to match your growing focus with an occasional new discovery, such as a new place to hit the books! There are several gains associated with finding new study spots.

Many students like to find new and interesting places to hit the books (Source: Neo II on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Many students like to find new and interesting places to hit the books. Studying in various locations can help with focus and recall. (Source: Neo II on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Research has begun to consistently point to evidence that switching where you work or study can be helpful for your memory, concentration, and performance habits.  In addition, finding different places to work familiarizes you with where you live, and can build in organic breaks to your work (for example, a coffee shop closing, the proximity of your local library to a friend’s house or movie theater).

It’s of course important to have a good work space at home and at school, but having other options may allow you to perceive working as less of an inevitable chore and as more of a chance to explore where you live while you develop more flexibility and resilience in your work style. An important disclaimer to this, however, is to be mindful of privacy issues in relation to data, clinical work, and teaching courses!

Begin to shift your focus from “student” to “trainee.”

You are not only a student but a professional in training--don't be afraid to own it! (Source: University of Exeter on Flickr; Some rights reserved).

You are not only a student but a professional in training–don’t be afraid to own it! (Source: University of Exeter on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Whether training to become an academic, a public servant, or to work as a clinician, your passion and commitment to your training is your first priority in graduate school. For first year students, this commitment can be daunting to focus on with such primacy amidst moving to a new place, meeting new people, and forging new professional relationships, all while managing a course load.  It can feel counter-intuitive (and ultimately can be counterproductive) to try and immediately fully align your priorities to your research, clinical work, or other professional training opportunities during you first year. It may be wise to acquaint yourself with the level of difficulty and expectations around coursework in your doctoral program.

Once you have two terms worth of grades under your belt, however, it is time to make the sometimes awkward shift from over-achieving student to ambitious scholar. This means that caring for yourself while in training will mean caring about what you are there to be trained in.

Let go of perfectionism. Embrace the stumbles, risks, and uncertain steps forward.


By the time you are a doctoral student, it is likely that you are already a high-achieving student, and consequently the tendency may be for doctoral students to initially care more about their performances in their courses than anything else. You should find, however, that your advisors, supervisors, and mentors care about your professional development and scholarship more than they do about your grades. This means it will be up to you to manage coursework with your other responsibilities.A part of this management will mean letting go of the perfectionism common to aspiring graduate students and embracing the stumbles, risks, and uncertain steps forward affiliated with training on the doctoral level.

Uncertainty will not always make you feel good right away but it is far from your enemy. With your sense of self on one side and social support in the other, lean into your training and allow yourself some distance between you and your image of what it means to be the best student—you have bigger fish to fry.

My Journey through Outrage

Posted in Advocacy, APA, Graduate School

Jennifer M. Doran, M.A.

Like so many of you, my reactions to the Hoffman Report ranged from shock, to disgust, to outrage. I couldn’t wrap my head around the report and its findings – that some senior leaders at APA colluded with the Department of Defense in order to allow psychologists’ involvement in settings where detainees were being tortured. As someone who has spent the past 5 years involved in the leadership of APA, I questioned my own judgment, sense of respect for the organization, and passion for engaging in its work. My outrage gave way to embarrassment and sadness. What I previously viewed as a professional achievement now felt like something to hide and run away from.

To make matters worse, the formal responses by APA felt hollow and woefully insufficient. I didn’t see my outrage reflected by the organization, and felt anger in response to what appeared to be “managed” communications. Such was my mindset as I traveled to the 2015 Annual Convention – with a heavy heart, and a suitcase full of disappointment.

But then I arrived. I sat in APA’s Council meeting among many colleagues and friends. And what I saw surprised me. Despite the stress and horror of everything that had transpired, I witnessed the most civil and respectful Council meeting that I had seen over the past three years. I heard passionate pleas for action, personal stories and perspectives on the underlying thread of racism in what had transpired, a range of emotions, and a general will to do good and correct the course of APA. When resolution NBI 23B passed (instituting a policy that clarifies the definition of torture and preventing psychologists from participating in interrogations where detainees are not afforded Constitutional protections), via a verbal roll call, I watched the room erupt in excitement. In a flurry of emotion hugs, cheers, and tears followed. This moved me.

Throughout the convention I witnessed a similar constructive and emotional tone. I heard graduate students share and process their reactions in the APAGS town hall, and the views of the larger membership in the general APA town hall. I watched leaders reflect, listen, feel, and (most importantly) truly show remorse and apologize. Through these events, I felt inspired by the genuine desire to take strong action, correct the problems in APA, and address the horrific transgressions that were perpetrated.

I am still outraged. But that outrage is now blended with small glimmers of hope. I believe that there is much work to be done. “Fixing” what transpired goes far beyond the torture issue alone; rather, such a task necessitates addressing larger cultural problems deeply embedded in the organization. Issues of transparency, collaboration, power and privilege, checks and balances, and the disconnect from the voices of the membership must be addressed. This is no small feat.

But I can see a better APA. An APA that is truly a members-first organization; an APA that prioritizes its values and human rights above other interests, such as prestige and profit; an APA that strives to be a force of good in the world above all else.

And building that APA will take time. It will take strong, dedicated, impassioned leaders to help steer the ship back on course, to rebuild the foundation that has fallen. When I first read the report, I (like many) considered leaving APA. Did I really want to be part of an organization where such things occurred? No, I could not stay.

But then I realized that I had to. Change can only be made by those who are outraged, by those who wish for change to occur. If you choose to leave the table (via your membership or your activity in leadership), you give something up – your voice, which is worth holding on to. For if the most outraged among us – if those who truly value social justice and human rights – choose to leave, change will not occur. We need to stay, and stay loudly.

APA needs the perspectives of graduate students and ECPs to help shape what it will become. It is our future at stake, and our voices must be part of the dialogue. Our outrage can be productive, particularly when combined with passion, hope, and a vision that we can heal. This is why I am choosing to remain a part of the organization. For only with our collective voices can we advocate for a better future – for APA – and, more importantly, for psychology.

To keep up to date on the Independent Review and the actions of APA and APAGS, see:


The Gift of They!

Posted in Advocacy, Graduate School, Training Issues

As a second-year practicum student in clinical psychology in San Francisco, California, I was honored to encounter people from diverse backgrounds. The location greatly enriched my experiences in multicultural counseling—but it only went so far. I very quickly became aware of the lack of onsite training and the failure of the English language in providing appropriate services to the transgender population in our clinic.

One particular incident with a client opened my eyes to the bias that not only exists in popular culture but also in the therapeutic world. During my last two months at the practicum, I received a referral for psychological assessment from a therapist who was working with a person who identified as genderqueer.

In our first session, the client told me that they prefer the neutral gender pronoun. The client told me that they don’t like to be referred to as “he” or ”she.” After our initial interview, I went to see my supervisor to ask her for guidance regarding creating a proper battery of assessments and writing a report with gender-neutral pronouns. My supervisor looked at me with surprise and told me she needed to consult with her mentor.

I was surprised that this lack of clear guidelines related to language had not come up before in her experience with clients. I consulted further by talking with an assessment professor who informed me that she, too, had never experienced a client who preferred gender neutral pronouns. This made me feel lost and in a very ambiguous, uncomfortable situation.

I deeply believe that clients are the masters of their experience. I realized that the field of psychology has largely ignored the needs of gender-variant and gender-nonconforming clients, and that, like homosexuality, the biases that exist in pop culture dominate our clinical work.

“The biases that exist in pop culture dominate our clinical work.”

With the help of my clinical supervisor and with my client’s generous offer to connect me with available resources on gender nonconformity, I was able to write my first psychological assessment, fully using the they, them, their pronouns as a singular neutral pronoun.

During my last session with the client, I gave the client their report. As part of my training in therapeutic assessment, I wrote the report using a format that non-clinicians and clinicians could understand. I saw tears on the face of the client as they read the report. They told me that it was the first time they had felt understood and respected regarding their gender identity by a clinician.

To this date, I remain very grateful for the client’s kind words, and for the wonderful insight I was given into the power of language, through the gift of they.

Editor’s Note: Khashayar Farhadi-Langroudi is a student at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University – San Francisco Bay Area. Khashayar is also a member of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.         

Addressing the Need for Mentoring Among LGBTQ Graduate Students

Posted in Advice, APA, Graduate School, Training Issues

How are the mentoring needs of LGBTQ graduate students unique?

For LGBTQ graduate students, challenges such as program climate, coming out, establishing a support system, confronting microagressions and heterocentric attitudes in coursework, advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ issues in ones program, and conducting LGBTQ-related research can uniquely influence the graduate school experience (“Proud and Prepared…”, 2015). Studies looking specifically at mentoring relationships and needs among LGBTQ graduate students highlight a plethora of societal, environmental, and contextual factors which influence LGBTQ graduate students’ academic and professional development, and emphasize the specific need for LGBTQ mentors (Matheney, 1998).

Become a mentor or a mentee this August. (Source: User John-Morgan on Flickr. Some rights reserved).

Become a mentor or a mentee this August. (Source: User John-Morgan on Flickr. Some rights reserved).

Social support, such as that found in a mentoring relationship, is one key factor shown to positively influence the career development of lesbian women and gay men (Morrow, Gore, & Campbell, 1996). Lin (2001) found that gay and lesbian protégés found more perceived support from gay or lesbian mentors than heterosexual mentors. Nearly all of the LGBTQ+ graduate student participants in a study by Lark and Croteau (1998) reported pursuing a LGB-affirming mentoring relationship but having difficulty finding one, which participants expressed as a serious disappointment. Participants cited wanting the expertise of mentors concerning LGB perspectives in clinic work, LGB research strategies, LGB professional advocacy, LGB career planning concerns such as identity management and disclosure on resumes or in interviews, providing models of successful out LGB professionals, and having someone with similar experiences with whom to disclose situations of discrimination (Lark & Croteau, 1998). Although these needs can, and certainly should, be addressed by faculty and practitioners of any sexual orientation or gender identity, the need for LGBTQ graduate students to have a mentor who also identifies as LGBTQ—and the tendency to seek mentors of similar sexual orientation or gender identity—shouldn’t be overlooked (Nauta, Saucier, & Woodard, 2001; Russell & Horne, 2009).

How does APAGS help address the needs of LGBTQ graduate students?

The APAGS LGBT Graduate Student Mentoring Program is designed to address the needs of LGBTQ graduate students in psychology by matching them with an LGBTQ-identified advanced graduate student or professor who shares similar interests, experiences, and goals. Mentors and mentees are provided monthly discussion prompts, a closed listserv to create a venue for dialogue, access to resources (such as webinars) relevant to LGBTQ graduate students, and opportunities to connect at APA Convention. As one mentor in the program reported:

“…I have felt very grateful to be part of the APAGS LGBT mentoring program. My PhD program has no open or out faculty members and I am one of two openly gay students. As a result, the sense of aloneness and isolation as an LGBTQ student and practitioner has periodically overshadowed my training and education process. Through this mentoring program, I was able to receive professional guidance and genuine relational support from a seasoned LGBTQ psychologist…who could also relate very personally to the social pressures and professional challenges of being a minority graduate student, as well as working as an openly gay psychologist.” –Brian

Interested in becoming a member of the 2015-2016 APAGS LGBT mentoring program—either as a mentee or mentor? Applications for the program are now available through the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity website, and should be submitted electronically by August 15, 2015. Pairs will be formed on or around September 1, 2015.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mary T. Guerrant, M.S., a doctoral student at North Carolina State University and member of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. It originally appeared in “Perspectives on Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns,” a newsletter publication of APA Division 35 (Psychology of Women) Section IV (LBT Concerns). It is reposted here with generous permission.

Me…A professional?

Posted in Graduate School, Training Issues

AEP Colorado - poklarI just returned from a professional conference…not a big national one like the APA Convention, but a great statewide (Colorado) effort to build communication and increase collaboration and shared vision between a variety of different service providers (teachers, mental health counselors, the juvenile justice system, case workers, and academics) working with children and adolescents. I had the unique opportunity to provide a 90 minute workshop on managing vicarious trauma–best defined—at least in my eyes—by Figley (1982) as the cost of caring.

I was excited to have my proposal accepted, mostly because it gave me a reason to travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, but also because it allowed me the opportunity to engage in presenting a workshop on something I have come to be increasingly passionate about.

What I didn’t really consider, until after the conference, was how this was yet another step I have taken that leads me further down the road of becoming a “professional”.

I was struck with so many feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and pressure AFTER the presentation.

“What gave me the right to give this talk?”

“What did I really know?”

“Could I really be effecting change on some grander level by sharing these ideas and interventions?”

“Could this possibly lead to the type of work and systemic change I so desperately want to engage in post-degree?”

“Could I engage in it pre-degree…or am I really already at THAT point? Am I already a professional to some degree?”

That idea is scary to me.

The idea that I may actually already be able to bring something to the table is terrifying. With this idea comes some level of responsibility for my engaging in professional activities, for sharing and disseminating useful knowledge.  I want to laugh at myself and shake it off, but it is such a valid point.  At what point are we, as professionals in training, supposed to step up and do something with our vast level of knowledge, with our privilege of being in a place of educated power?

Who else feels this level of responsibility?

As you grow in whatever vocational field you chose, as you become a professional or an expert, what level of responsibility do you feel? Am I an overachiever–feeling a responsibility and need to act that may not necessarily be expected? Am I setting myself up for failure, or worse, putting myself in a position where I may be imparting knowledge in a non-helpful manner to others?

Have you felt this pull? This need to do something meaningful with your new found ‘title’ of “professional” or “expert”? If so, how did you reconcile the feeling? What did you do to meet your feeling of responsibility?


Editor’s Note: Ashley Poklar, MEd, is a doctoral student at Cleveland State University. For more information about Ashley, visit her blog: 3 Under 3 AND a PhD.