Applying to graduate school? Ask these 15 questions

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

Getting in to graduate school is hard. I know this. And like many of you, I obsessed over the “Will I be liked?” question as I waited for any offer to come in. I now see that focusing on that question obscures another equally important one: “Do I really like the programs I am applying to?”

In my role, I sometimes hear students recount how different their program is compared to the slick marketing they’ve received from schools attracting candidates. While I can offer no advice on which institutions should be on someone’s list, I do want to shift the power dynamic in your favor. Let’s get thinking about how to find the graduate programs that will help you meet your professional goals and provide you with the highest quality training experiences possible in the field of psychology. Sound good?

Last month, I co-presented (with Dr. Nabil El-Ghoroury) a workshop at APA’s Annual Convention. The workshop was centered around 15 questions that “smart shoppers” should ask of the programs on their list, but it also included some information about different types of degrees and subfields, and the cost of education.

To learn what you should be asking, view the slideshow below or download the slides directly:

Download the PDF file .

Please also check out the resource page on our website for more tools from APAGS and our colleagues in the Education Directorate. If you want to hear a live version of this presentation, we’ll be in Los Angeles on September 20 and Berkeley on September 21. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for announcements of future webinars, live workshops, and more tutorials.

May you make this decision with eyes wide open to the objective and subjective factors that will make your future graduate school the right fit for you. Best wishes.

Speak Up: Giving a Memorable Presentation

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

Business-MeetingGrowing up, I dreaded public speaking. Despite my efforts to keep a safe distance in the back of the classroom, presentation day would eventually rear its ugly head.

Heart racing. Palms sweating. Butterflies fluttering.

Head down, I would make my way to the front and read my presentation verbatim from a stack of meticulously crafted index cards. I didn’t dare make eye contact with my peers. I got through my presentation as quickly as possible and hurried back to my seat.

Over the years, I have learned to quiet my inner teenager and trust myself. With age and experience, I’ve become less afraid of making mistakes. I’m by no means an “expert” speaker. My presentation style and delivery is under a constant state of construction. Like any skill, public speaking takes time and practice.

I don’t think my story is unique. I know many people who also fear public speaking. However, effective interpersonal and public communication is vital in our field. In graduate school, I encourage you to seek opportunities to enhance your communication skills. Challenge yourself to engage the audience beyond the podium (not behind it), experiment with different visual aids, seek feedback, or present a poster at a conference. Small steps can make a big difference. My belief is graduate school is inevitably shaping us into the practitioners, researchers, and psychologists we will become.

Below you will find some tips and resources that have helped ease my fear of public speaking. This is certainly not an exhaustive list so please comment on this post with any additional ideas. Cheers!

1. Make it a Conversation
I find it easier to talk with a friend over coffee than speak in front of a group. I like to apply this concept to presentations. I pretend I’m conversing with a friend. This results in a more natural, extemporaneous, and genuine delivery.

2. Speak with Intent
If you exude interest in your topic, your enthusiasm will come across to the audience. When planning, I like to think about what kind of presentation I would want to experience as an audience member.

3. Step away from the PowerPoint
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE PowerPoint. Designing a PowerPoint or other visual aid allows me to express my creativity. Too often, however, I see presenters rely on their visual aid by reading directly from text-heavy slides.

My recommendation is to keep bullet points short and sweet. There are several formulas out there for the number of words each slide should have and the number of minutes you should spend on each slide. Personally, I don’t ascribe to these rules. I see memorable presentations as being more fluid and less black-and-white.

Ask questions of your audience, incorporate interesting pictures into your slides, and demonstrate appropriate eye contact. Have fun with your presentation. Remember, a visual aid should complement–not substitute for–a good presentation.

4. Seek Feedback
Our hard-earned graduate degrees will be made of blood, sweat, and feedback. Graduate school is teaching me to embrace constructive feedback from my peers and professors. Practice your presentation in front of a trusted friend, colleague, or family member and seek their feedback openly. If you’re feeling especially daring, ask them to record your presentation and then watch yourself. This can be one of the best ways of identifying verbal and nonverbal habits you may be unaware of.


Presentation Zen

TED Talks

JMU Communication Center

Talking the Talk: Tips on Giving a Successful Conference Presentation (Abby Adler), APA

How to Give a Great Presentation: Timeless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981 (Maria Popova), Brain Pickings

10 Things You Can Do Now to Make Public Speaking Effortless (Robert Locke), Lifehack

Editor’s Note: Melissa Foster is a second year doctoral student from Virginia Beach, VA. She is studying counseling psychology at West Virginia University.

Enough is enough

Posted in Uncategorized
Justice for Mike Brown Anti-Police Brutality Silent Protest in front of the White House on Saturday, August 16. (Source: Elvert Barnes on Flicker. Some rights reserved.)

Justice for Mike Brown: Anti-Police Brutality Silent Protest, in front of the White House on Saturday, August 16. (Source: Elvert Barnes on Flicker. Some rights reserved.)

I am 17 years old and I know that I have a bright future ahead of me. The only thing I don’t know is if it’ll be taken away from me by authority figures such as the police.

Oscar Grant was in the midst of changing his life around but the new future he had was stripped by BART police.

Eric Garner was a loving dad who lost his life in a chokehold performed by a group of NYPD officers.

Ezell Ford had a promising future but was shot down by LAPD officers.

We all know about Rodney King and his beating.

Michael Brown would have been educating himself at college this week but he didn’t get to take a single class.

At some point our nation needs to really think about the bigger picture at hand. The race issue is indeed an issue but the bigger issue is not white against black; the bigger issue is right against wrong. I feel that the world that we live in is very wicked if we cannot feel protected by those who are supposed to “serve and protect us.” How many more people have to be killed for us to see that injustice exists? How many tears have to be shed for us to see that something is wrong?

 How many more people have to be killed for us to see that injustice exists?

Beautiful lives have been taken away by ugly spirits and to add insult to injury, little consequences have been ordered for those responsible. In fact, officers receive administrative leave for killing innocent souls. That’s the scariest thing to me.

But we must not act out of emotion — that’s exactly when we see our opinions ignored. It seems to me that the only way to get something changed in America is through litigation. We must come up with laws that allow us to hold the murderers of innocent lives accountable.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ring deeply true to me: “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.”

We have been asking for justice since 1619 when slavery came to America.  All I’m asking for is peace and harmony for ethnic minorities.

Editor’s note: Damani Jasper’s opinion piece is a powerful example of how young men of color are affected by Michael Brown’s shooting. APAGS readers might find these links helpful:

APAGS High School Fellow Damani Jasper outside of a Senate hearing on student debt. Damani aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon. He completed a fellowship at APA and previously blogged about student debt.


How to Ace Your Internship Essays

Posted in Graduate School, Training Issues

If you are a clinical, counseling, or school psychology doc student and you’re at bat for the internship application process this fall, you naturally want to knock your AAPIC essays out of the park. Great — we’re here to help!

Set aside 25 minutes and watch this narrated friendly-professor webisode from Dr. Mitch Prinstein, co-author of the APAGS internship workbook Internships in Psychology Hot on the heels of our annual Internship Workshop at APA Convention, this video will walk you through the DO’s and DON’Ts for each of your four essays.

Also, be sure to see #internship on this blog for more videos, articles, and other resources.

Dear me, future psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Robert Sternberg

Posted in Advice, Graduate School, Humor

If I knew then what I know now… If I could do it again… If I could go back in time…

We’ve all had these thoughts: What we’d do differently if given the opportunity. Would we have spent our time the same way? Would we have entered/ended that relationship? Would we have studied psychology? Would we have gone to graduate school?

If you could send a letter to your 16-year-old self, what would you say? What advice would you give yourself to prepare for the future? To my fellow nerds out there: Yes, we’re talking about parallel universes and warping the space-time continuum.

Dear me, future psychologist is a new feature exclusively on our blog. We will periodically publish a letter written by a prominent psychologist to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.

sternbergOur first letter is from Robert J. Sternberg, PhD. Dr. Sternberg received his PhD from Stanford University in 1975 and spent most of his career as a Professor at Yale University. More recently, he served as a Dean at Tufts University, Provost at Oklahoma State University, and President at the University of Wyoming. He also is a Past President of the American Psychological Association. He is currently Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. He is best known for his research on intelligence, creativity, wisdom, thinking styles, leadership, ethics, love, and hate. He is the founder of the triarchic theory of intelligence and the triangular theory of love, as well as co-creator of the investment theory of creativity. For more info, please visit Dr. Sternberg’s Wikipedia page.



Dear Me at 16,

I am not sure whether you will receive this letter, at least in a timely fashion, but I thought I would give it a try anyway. Here are three pieces of advice I hope you will find useful, ideally, sooner rather than later.

1. You will underestimate the importance of family and friends. You soon will come to believe that, through your work, you can achieve immortality, and that the shot at immortality is the meaning of your life.  Wrong.  First, very few psychologists achieve immortality through their work—perhaps Freud, James, Skinner, Piaget, and a few more.  But most psychologists are forgotten quickly starting with the day they announce their plans to retire. You will watch many of your famous Yale colleagues retire and see that what is left to them is not their work, which is quickly forgotten, or even their friends from work, most of whom are busy advancing their careers.  Rather, what remains is their family and true friends, if they have any.  You will discover that your meaning in life is making the world a better place, and that the main way you will do that is through your family, especially your five beautiful children and their children and onward through the generations.

2. You will overestimate people’s willingness to change.  You will enter a field, intelligence research, in which many people believe that traits are relatively fixed.  You will argue, correctly, that people are far more modifiable than many intelligence theorists give them credit for.  But what you will not realize until much later is that the main problem is not people’s inability to change, but rather, their unwillingness to do so.  People, including you, will make all kinds of excuses to stay just as they are.  They cling to their weaknesses, often inventing stories to justify doing so, and for them, their stories are their reality.  Institutions are the same way:  Mediocre ones desperately cling to their mediocrity, often inventing stories about their unappreciated excellence, and excellent ones cling to what they have done before in the hope that what once made them great will continue to do so, despite the rapid pace of change in the world.  Creativity often is appreciated in word, but not in deed.  The problem for psychologists is not so much increasing people’s ability to change as increasing their willingness and courage to do so.

3. Intelligence is not the invaluable commodity you think it is.  You, like most of our society, believe in the great importance of intelligence, although at least you realize it is much broader than just IQ.  But what most is lacking in the world is not intelligence, but rather, creativity, common sense, wisdom, and high ethical standards.  So please, do your work on intelligence, but remember that what the world needs most are motivated, creative, wise, and ethical people, not just smart ones.

Hoping you get this letter soon,

Me at 64

Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for curating these.