Taking Care of Yourself in Graduate School

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

MPj04330550000[1]Congratulations – you are accepted into graduate school! Whew! It is such hard work to get into a graduate program that it is sometimes hard to remember to take care of yourself once you get there. There are so many things to be involved in, so many things you have to do and learn. And you want to give your absolute best to everything you do.

It is easy to become so engaged in all of this that you forget to take the time to nurture your whole self –the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. It is important to find a way to balance all these aspects of your life and maintain that balance throughout your graduate school years. You will spend many hours, reading, going to class, doing research, and seeing clients; however, to be truly successful you also have to make sure to keep your life in balance. This may actually be one of the hardest things you have to learn and, as someone who learned much of this the hard way, I offer a few suggestions that were helpful to me. I hope they can be useful to you.

First, keep in mind why it is you are in graduate school. What drew you to psychology? What does it mean to you to become a psychologist? What do you really see yourself doing in the future?

It is important to be really specific about answering these questions because you will need the motivation that comes from that specific vision often during your graduate school career.

  • If your answer is something non-specific like, “I want to help people”, it may help you to work on a more specific answer. Which people? Adults? Children? People with specific characteristics, issues, experiences? Try to really picture what you will be doing as a psychologist, who you will be working with, and the setting you will work in. When things get tough and you wonder if you made the right choice in pursuing a Ph.D., when you wonder if you should commit five years of your life, when you wonder if it should be these five years, when you wonder if you can really do this – what will sustain you is remembering the reasons you thought becoming a psychologist was important. It is not a bad idea to write these reasons down, represent them with a picture, videotape yourself talking about them, or engage in any other things that will help you remember exactly why becoming a psychologist was important to you.

Second, make sure that you are always doing something that you really love.

If what you love is clinical work, make sure you have something you are doing in that area in the midst of a semester heavy on research or theory. Even if your courses are arranged in such a way that you have a semester lacking in clinical focus, you can watch videos of psychotherapy, shadow a colleague’s case, or read just ten pages a day on clinical techniques. If research is your passion and you feel that all your time is being taken by practica and clinical work, make sure you give yourself the time to read the latest study in your favorite journal, attend a colloquia, or just talk to a colleague about their research. The point is that going a whole semester with no attention to the things that really make you happy can make you forget why you are doing this. Sometimes you get so buried that you cannot even remember the things that make you happy. That is the time to get out your writing, your picture, your videotape or whatever you did to document why this was all important for you to do at this time in your life.

  • You will always be busy, and if you are doing what you love, that busy-ness should bring you joy. If it is all just about what has to be done, if there is no joy, you need to find a way to reconnect. You might feel that you are so busy that you cannot fit another single thing in your day or your week. But if you think about the time that it takes when you do not want to get out of bed, when you watch a TV show you do not even really care about just so you can avoid doing what you are “supposed” to be doing, or the “just one more” video game you engage in before you get to work on your thesis – you will probably be able to find the time. If you are not sure what it is that you really love, think back to why you started this. In that, you will likely find the seed of what you love to do.

Finally, one of the most important things I have learned is how important it is to have something in my life that allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment.

When I was in graduate school, I was starting a placement at an emergency youth shelter for children and adolescents who had been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. My supervisor invited us over to his house for a BBQ. When we were all there, he said he wanted to show us something important and took us to his garage. Inside, was an amazing array of handmade furniture, in every phase of being cut out, built, finished, and polished. He told us that in our work, we very often do not get to see the outcomes. If people are doing well, they do not come in to see us. Often, working with children, they get sent off to placements, return home, or run away and we never know what happened to them. If we are going to survive in this profession, we have to give ourselves something that we can stand back and say, “I did that. It is finished.” For my supervisor, it was building his furniture. I have never forgotten this lesson and it has come back to me in many ways over the years since.

  • If you find yourself feeling strangely gratified by sweeping the floor — watching the pile of dirt come together, getting it all into the pan, and then throwing it away — you probably have a need for a sense of accomplishment in your life. Theses and dissertations, preliminary exams, and internship applications are wonderful sources of accomplishment but they are few and far between. We need something more concrete, frequent, and often visible. Our work does not often present us with a pile in an “In basket” that will all get transferred by the end of the day to an “Out basket”. We need to find something that can give us as much pleasure as taking an empty box, filling it with objects, taping it up, writing the contents on the side and piling it in an ever-growing stack. Even though it is annoying to realize that everything you need is in one of those boxes, it is an amazing sense of accomplishment to see the stack of boxes piling up. What can you give yourself that gives you that sense of accomplishment. And when you tell yourself you do not have the time for it, remember that you cannot afford not to. You have to nourish your spirit as much as your mind.

Remember that it is all about balance. Graduate school will build your mind and your skills. Don’t forget about your joy, your passion, your friends and loved ones, your spiritual life. These are the parts of your life that will get you through the long run of graduate study, will guide you in your work, and allow you to give the best of what you have to the work you choose to do.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Beth Boyd, PhD, Professor; University of South Dakota. 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.

 

Searching for Academic Employment After Your Doctorate

Posted in Advice, Graduate School

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hunger Games Trilogy books and movies, the Hunger Games are set in the dystopian future of the United States where adolescent male and female participants from each of the 12 districts (states) must compete in a televised battle where they fight to the death.

While this may sound very different from graduate school, there are some similarities that can be drawn and you may feel yourself as a competitor in a battle arena trying to find that perfect post-doctoral employment opportunity.

There is growing evidence that there are not enough tenure track positions for the number of doctorates being awarded, including those with degrees in psychology. According to an article in The Atlantic, less than 20% of those graduating with life sciences PhDs in 2011 had direct employment lined up. While the vast majority obtains postdoctoral training (44%), 37% do not have postdoctoral fellowships or employment positions and are essentially un/underemployed.

For comparison, the unemployment rate in 2013 for those without a high school diploma was 29%. These “unemployed” doctoral recipients may not in fact be unemployed, but rather “underemployed” where they cannot find an adequate full-time position that reflects their educational training.

There is also increasing evidence that the number of full-time tenure track positions have been steadily decreasing, with the majority of college faculty being part-time employees. At public four-year colleges in 2009, 46% of professors were employed part-time. Within private colleges, the split between full- and part-time was closer to 50/50. With the increase in demand for professors since the mid-20th century due to college enrollment increases, there has been an increase in adjunct faculty by 300%—without the same increase for tenure-track positions.

So what can you do as a graduate student in order to increase the odds in your favor? A recent gradPSYCH blog post by Nabil El-Ghoroury, paraphrased below, offers four helpful tips that graduate students in all disciplines can benefit from:

  1. Ally with your colleagues. Build alliances during graduate school by developing collaborative projects with fellow students. Funding agencies prefer collaborative grants, and you may be able to generate more publications through these collaborations.
  2. Learn helpful skills. Think about what you need to land your academic dream job, and pursue opportunities to gain these skills. Departments are always looking for professors who can teach statistics or research methods, or you may want to gain experience with cutting-edge techniques such as fMRI to make you a more appealing job candidate.
  3. Advocate for more resources. Advocacy for increased funding for science research at the federal and state levels could lead to increases in research faculty positions. Instead of deleting those emails calling for advocacy to your representatives, take the time to respond.
  4. Create an alternative path to victory. You may discover in graduate school that academia isn’t for you. With a psychology doctorate you have a skill set that can translate to many nontraditional careers. Take the time to search for alternative career opportunities and seek guidance and insight from someone currently in a nontraditional career.

Alexa Lopez headshotEditor’s note: This post originally appeared in near-identical form in the November 2014 newsletter for APA Division 28, Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse. Alexa Lopez is 2013-2015 Chair of the APAGS Science Committee, doctoral graduate from the University of Vermont, and current postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution Using Psychology and Harry Potter

Posted in Advice, Self Care

Check out the first episode of The Psych Show where Ali Mattu, PhD, walks viewers through the psychology of sticking to your New Year’s resolution using Harry Potter.

Dr. Ali Mattu is a former APAGS Chair and is currently a clinical psychologist at Columbia University. He hosts The Psych Show, which launched in January 2015 and aims to make psychology, the brain, and behavioral sciences fun and easy to understand.

Gone Fishing: Making Sense of Your Options for Graduate Study

Posted in Advice, Graduate School, Training Issues

If you’re fishing for a graduate program in psychology, the sea is plentiful. But how do you know which one you want?

At times, it is not clear how programs differentiate themselves from each other. Many applicants are not provided the tools to evaluate programs based on data that is available. Applicants might not know what makes one program a great fit for their professional goals, and another a not-so-great one.

APAGS understands that the choice to go to graduate school in psychology is very significant. We’re trying to take the guesswork out of helping you find your own ideal, high quality training. We’ve blogged about it before and presented about it locally and at regional psychological conferences. (In 2015, we’ll be presenting at EPA in March and RMPA in April.) Now we’re upping our game and making it even easier for you to get on-demand access to our best resources and professional perspectives on the graduate school selection process!

Recorded in November 2014 with the support of Psi Chi and our colleagues in the Education Directorate, the following APA webinar workshop helps you navigate the process of applying to graduate school in psychology as an informed consumer. You will learn (1) the similarities and differences between various degrees and psychology subfields; (2) how to evaluate schools based on several objective and subjective criteria; and (3) how to potentially afford and repay the cost of your graduate education in psychology. Questions and answers follow the formal presentation.

You can also view just the slides (PDF, 2MB) of this workshop, or slides and workshop transcript together (PDF, 1MB). For more resources on applying to, affording, and eventually repaying your graduate education in psychology — including some of the worksheets referenced in the recording —  please visit our APAGS resource page.

Happy fishing!