Tag Archives: doctorate

Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Thomas Plante

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter 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.Thomas Plante

This letter is from Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP. Dr.  Plante is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. University Professor and directs the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University. He is also an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He recently served as vice-chair of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is past-president of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36) of the American Psychological Association. He has authored or edited 21 books including, Graduating with Honor: Best Practices to Promote Ethics Development in College Students (2016, Praeger), Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012 (2011, Praeger), and Spiritual Practices in Psychotherapy: Thirteen Tools for Enhancing Psychological Health (2009, APA).  He teaches courses in abnormal, clinical, health, and general psychology as well as ethics and maintains a private clinical practice as a licensed psychologist in Menlo Park, CA.






Dear Tommy at 16,Thomas Plante, 16-years-old

This is your 56-year-old self now sending a letter to you (the 16-year-old version).

No matter how thoughtful or wise, advice is so hard to receive since most people need to discover things on their own and often want to do things in their own way and in their own time. Yet, I hope that you will listen to your older, and perhaps wiser self, and consider the following 5 items of advice for your reflection.

  1. Treat everyone, even those you don’t agree with or even don’t like very much, with great kindness and respect. The adult world, even in areas like psychology, higher education, and health care, can be competitive, mean-spirited, and unkind at times. Don’t falter from your efforts to be respectful and compassionate to everyone (even when you are tempted to do otherwise). It will serve you well, you’ll sleep better at night, and it is the just the right thing to do as an ethical human being. In a nutshell, treat others as you wish to be treated and try to see the good and sacred in all. Always remember the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
  2. Try your best to surround yourself with people who are ethical, gracious, and are trying to make the world a better place. Our society seems to be getting more and more selfish and narcissistic with an attitude that “it’s all about me.” It isn’t! It’s about “us” and the common good. Stay close to others who are working hard to make the world a more humane, just, and compassionate place and with people who are not too full of themselves. Don’t be afraid to give corrective feedback to those who act entitled, demanding, and narcissistic. And always stand up to people who are bullying and disrespecting others.
  3. Keep up with the rapid changes in society and remember that no matter how fast the world spins, for good or for bad, it is evolving in ways that are often unpredictable and sometimes scary. Hold on for the ride, keep on top of things, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, and don’t get too nostalgic for the “old days.” Remember that we live in the world that we live in and not necessarily in the world that we’d like to live in. Adapt!
  4. Be quick to compliment, thank, and appreciate others. Be grateful. Laugh a lot. And give hugs freely and often.
  5. And finally, in the words of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, “Go set the world on fire!” In other words, go out there and try your very best to make the world a better place! Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. The world so desperately needs humble helpers of good will and kindness focused on the common good. Be that person!

May life be kind to you and may you be blessed with good health, healthy loving relationships, hearty laughter, and a vocation that gives you great meaning, purpose, and joy.

Your older (and perhaps a bit wiser) self,


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 creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series from Dr. Howard Gardner, Dr. Robert Sternberg, Dr. Mitchell Prinstein, and Dr. Phil Zimbardo.

Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours Truly, Dr. Phil Zimbardo

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter 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.

This letter is from Dr. Philip G.  Zimbardo. Dr. Zimbardo is the Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University, two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association and past president of the American Psychological Association. He became known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment and has since authored numerous psychology books, text books and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.




FROM THE DESK OF Phil Zimbardo:

Greetings to my youth-filled, 16-year old, skinny Phil!

From my ripe, old vantage point of 83 years of age, I want to share with you some psychological wisdom I have gathered over many decades of teaching, conducting a variety of research studies, writing books of all kinds, and  making educational videos.

First, I recall that you still live in the South Bronx of New York City, where you were born and bred, and now you are attending James Monroe High School, after returning there from a year’s journey with your family to North Hollywood, California. One of your most interesting classmates is Stanley Milgram, who was voted the smartest kid in the senior class, while you were voted the most popular boy. Nice award, especially recalling that you were the least popular student last year at North Hollywood High School!  In fact, you were openly shunned by everyone because they thought you had Mafia connections, because you were a Sicilian from New York, and therefore potentially dangerous.

But what changed in going from most undesirable kid to most desirable kid in a short time? In your discussions with little Stanley, he suggested that it was the “situation” and not your personality that had changed. You were the same inner person, but that was defined differently in those two different situations. So keep an eye on that kid – when Stanley grows up, he might have something significant to say about situational forces dominating individual dispositions.

Continue reading

Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Mitchell Prinstein

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter 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.

mitchThis letter is from Mitchell Prinstein, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Prinstein is the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mitch’s research examines interpersonal models of internalizing symptoms and health risk behaviors among adolescents, with a specific focus on the unique role of peer relationships in the developmental psychopathology of depression and self-injury. He is the PI on several past and active grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child and Human Development, and several private foundations. He serves as the Editor for the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and is an editorial board member for several developmental psychopathology journals.






Dear 16-Year-Old Me,

Hey! I’m you thirty years from now!  I know you must have a million questions, and I’ll try to tell you everything you want to know, but first things first:  yes, you will be over five feet tall.  Not by much, but you finally will start growing any day now!  Great job hanging in there for so long!

Guess what! You’re also going to be wildly ecstatic about your career choice!  It’s going to take a little time and struggle to get to that point too, however.  When you get to college, you’ll get wrapped up in all kind of questions about psychology vs. advertising vs. law, and you’ll end up sending in applications for law school and clinical psychology Ph.D. programs at the same time.  It will be tough.  Everyone will have an opinion on what is best for you – what seems most prestigious, what will earn you the most money, etc.  Don’t worry – the choice becomes pretty obvious just a few minutes into your first interview at doctoral programs.  You end up picking what you genuinely love, and that ends up more important than anything else.

For real – if you choose your path to make someone else happy, you will have a job, but if you choose what makes you truly happy, you will have a passion for life.

On internship, it will start all over again. You’ll start debating whether you want to stay in a med school environment or pursue your dream of a traditional arts and sciences job.  Even after you get tenure, you’ll fret over how much time to invest in your research versus university administration, or even service to the profession.  Your career will be filled with these kinds of decisions and questions.  But that’s the great thing about the path we’ve chosen, I think.  There are so many options, and so many ways to make a difference.  Clinical psychologists can do a ton, and there are many paths that lead to helping others.  Over the next thirty years you will hear so many of your friends in other fields complain that they feel stuck in their jobs, or bored with their careers.  But in psychology we pick what we love, and we can even change over time.  It really is the best job in the world!

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that most of your research will focus on relationships. But it turns out that this isn’t only an important area of study for you.  Professional relationships also will be where you find the energy to keep your career going for the next three decades.  It starts with the two most amazing mentors you can have – Annette La Greca and Tony Spirito.  They will teach you how to work with students, how to give back to the field, and how to meet trainees where they are while encouraging them to reach for more.  You will spend your entire career trying to be half the mentor that they were for you.  Relationships will also be the feature that makes you happiest in your department.  No one wakes up to look at their pay stub, and no one is addressed by their fancy title every day.  What gets you out of bed every morning is the excitement that comes from being part of a team that shares common goals and values each other.  It’s really quite simple, but so often forgotten in too many settings, and by too many applicants who make decisions based on factors ultimately far less important, in my opinion.

Last, you will find that the relationships you create with your own trainees will give you the greatest joy in your career. You will learn from them, you will care for them, and you will find their successes far more sweet than anything that happens to you.  This is what makes you happy at work.

Can I mention just a few more things you should keep a look out for while in graduate school and beyond?

  1. Don’t work too hard. You only get to be in your twenties once in your life, and it’s important you learn to balance your personal and professional demands. You’ll hear this a lot from people along the way, but it will seem harder to execute than you realize. Here’s the key – just commit to yourself. You won’t find it hard to commit four years of your life to graduate school just to fuel your career – let yourself commit a few hours each week for just for you too. Just block it off on your calendar and stick to it. Check out a few improv and acting classes while you are in South Florida – you will like those. Hit the gym a little too while you are at it. You could stand to gain a little weight.
  2. Learn how long it takes to accomplish a task well, and schedule only that amount of time to do it.
  3. You will learn way more about clinical work in one full-time internship year than you will in little bits and pieces throughout grad school, so don’t expect yourself to be so competent until then.
  4. As you finish grad school, the internship application process will stress the hell out of you. But it will give you a chance to reflect on your career and your unique identity as a psychologist like you never had before, and for that you will be grateful.
  5. You are a bit perfectionistic and pretty determined. That’s what helped you keep a perfect attendance record from kindergarten until high school graduation, and it will serve you well in other ways over the next thirty years too. But be warned: you will be surrounded by people who are amazingly productive, accomplished, impactful, and even “famous.” It will be intimidating at times, and inspiring at others. Let me let you off the hook now: you will never be one of them. And that’s OK. It’s not about you. And it’s not about the number of your pubs, or citations, or how many people know your name. It’s about the whole field working together, helping each other, and using science to learn the truth based on each other’s discoveries.
  6. In about 25 years, there will be something called Twitter. Resist it. It is the devil.
  7. There is no one way to be successful in this career. And even for every outcome you may hope for, there is no single way to get there. Don’t get too fixated on any dream. Drift with the tide a little and you may find options that you didn’t even know existed. Not only is this a good way to stay open-minded, but it also takes the pressure off big time.
  8. You will love clinical work, research, teaching, and service. Each takes time and dedication to do well. Pick two you want to focus on. Add a third 10 years later.
  9. Every day during your pre-tenure years, you will repeat the following mantra: Have learning goals, not performance goals. In other words, expect imperfections, and take every failure as an opportunity to learn something new. The pre-tenure years are your faculty-in-training years. You’re not supposed to know how to do it yet. So expect that you will stumble more often than not, and by the time you get to tenure, you may be starting to figure it out.
  10. Related, much of what it takes to succeed as a faculty member is based on skills that are not taught in grad school. Start reading books on management, accounting, mentoring, small business skills, and negotiation now!
  11. Last but not least, you will find that our field kind of stinks at sharing what it knows with the world. This is a shame because there is no scientific discipline that has greater potential to change the lives of humanity as many times a day as does psychology. Think about whether you can help make a difference by helping encourage folks towards public education.

I hope this is helpful advice for you, Mitch! Good luck with the next thirty years, and make sure you take mental snapshots along the way!  Meanwhile, I’m going to go check email (you’ll learn what that is in about five years) and see if there’s a letter from me when I am 76!  I sure would love to learn how the second half turns out!

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 creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series from Dr. Howard Gardner and Dr. Robert Sternberg.

What rights can psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Graduate Students Have Rights. APAGS Just Spelled Them Out.

What rights should psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

What rights should psychology graduate students expect no matter where or what they study? (Image source: Julia Manzerova on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a graduate student in psychology discuss aspects of their training or education that seemed inequitable, I could pay back all my loans.

Too often in graduate school, students come across situations in which they believe their rights have been infringed upon in some way. When this occurs, many students feel at a loss for how to advocate for themselves and what they can or should be able to reasonably advocate for. The result for many students is dissatisfaction, frustration, and occasionally leaving a training program or experience.

The APAGS Committee has honed in on this student concern over the past year and opted to move forward with creating a student “bill of rights.” This was a very detailed process that included a literature review of various student right documents from across the world, drafting lists of rights based on this literature and our own experiences, and completing many revisions with input from APAGS leaders and many outside resources.

At long last, the APAGS Committee voted in December to approve a document titled, “Position Statement on the Rights of Psychology Graduate Students.” The Committee is planning to distribute these rights across various platforms and to a variety of constituents. The Committee is even considering bringing the document to APA’s Council of Representatives for consideration as an official policy document! That’s a huge step, and we will keep you posted.

In the meantime, we hope that students, programs, and other interested parties can use this document to their benefit. Use it to advocate for your own rights and thereby create a program or training experience of the highest caliber. If you have other ideas and reactions, we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!

Here now is the text of our position statement, which is also available on our website.

Position Statement on the Rights of Psychology Graduate Students


The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) deems the rights described in this document to be indispensable to the fair, equitable and respectful treatment of every psychology graduate student throughout their education and training. The protection of these rights fosters the highest quality graduate training experience. APAGS considers these rights essential, not aspirational, and we urge graduate programs to implement these rights in their unique settings and training environments. We encourage current and prospective students to utilize these rights in making informed graduate program selections and in advocating for themselves as issues arise.

1. Institutional Environment

1.1 Right to respectful treatment by faculty members, colleagues, staff, and peers.

1.2 Right to have professional and personal information handled in a sensitive and respectful manner such that personal information is only disclosed when it is deemed necessary for educational or training purposes, and that students are informed prior to any such disclosure (See Ethical Standard 7.04).

1.3 Right to affordable insurance inclusive of health, vision, dental, and mental health care coverage.

2. Program Policies

2.1 Right to publicly available, accurate, and up-to-date descriptions of costs, the availability of financial support, and the likelihood of ongoing support throughout training (e.g., percent of students with full and partial financial support during year one, year two, etc.; available funding options), to be provided prior to or immediately following the program’s interviews for prospective students (See Ethical Standard 7.02).

2.2 Right to accurate and up-to-date information from research advisors and thesis/dissertation committee members on professional factors that could impact student training, career development, and timely program completion.

2.3 Right to access and exercise formal written policies regarding leave and accommodations as they pertain to pregnancy, parenting/caregiving, bereavement, medical or mental illness, and disability.

2.4 Right to access and exercise formal written policies and procedures regarding academic and placement/internship requirements, administrative procedures, evaluation, advisement, retention, average “time to degree,” and termination (See Ethical Standard 7.02).

2.5 Right to express opinions and have representation on campus committees relevant to professional development, with voting privileges where appropriate.

2.6 Right to exemption from new graduation or program requirements, developed after admission, that might result in a delay of graduation.

3. Professional and Educational Training Opportunities

3.1 Right to appropriate professional training (e.g., teaching, research, clinical practice) in the current standards and practices of the discipline and specialty area (See Ethical Standard 7.01).

3.2 Right to be evaluated by faculty consistent with current ethical practices in employment, progression through the program, and grading, solely on the basis of academic performance, professional qualifications, and/or conduct (See Ethical Standard 7.06).

3.3 Right to quality mentorship.

3.4 Right to change advisors and committee members for professional and personal needs.

3.5 Right to receive timely, ongoing feedback on all areas of trainee competency and the opportunity to address growth areas with support from faculty.

3.6 Right to co-authorship in publications when the student has made significant contributions of ideas or research work (See Ethical Standards 8.11 and 8.12 a-c).

3.7 Right to freely communicate and collaborate with other academic colleagues.

3.8 Right to lead, assemble, and participate in organizations and activities outside the academic program.

3.9 Right to engage in self care as a routine practice throughout training (See Ethical Standards 3.05 and 3.06).

4. Work Environment

4.1 Right to fair compensation for services provided during training (e.g., graduate, teaching, and research assistantships).

4.2 Right for students providing services during training (e.g., teaching, research, clinical, and administrative graduate assistantships) to enjoy the recognitions, rights, privileges, and protections afforded to employees under state, provincial, territorial, and national labor laws.

4.3 Right to study and work in an environment free of exploitation, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination based on one’s student status, race, ethnicity, skin color, national origin, religion, political beliefs, economic status, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy or parental status, disability, medical or mental health conditions, ancestry, citizenship, military veteran status, or any other identity salient to the individual in admissions and throughout education, employment, and placement (See Principle E and Ethical Standards 3.01, 3.02, 3.03, 3.08).

4.4 Right to work under clearly expressed and mutually agreed-upon job descriptions and work or training conditions.

4.5 Right to perform only those tasks that relate to academic program requirements, professional development, and/or job duties.

4.6 Right to provide constructive and professional feedback to supervisors, directors, administrators, and staff concerning the quality and content of supervision

5. Appeals and Grievances

5.1 Right to clearly defined official grievance procedures and informal complaint procedures.

5.2 Right to whistleblower protection for exposing professional, ethical, or legal violations (See Ethical Standard 1.08).

5.3 Right to due process for any accusation of violation or infraction.

5.4 Right to be free of reprisals for exercising the rights contained in this document (See Ethical Standard 1.08).

Repost: I thought there would be a parade…Life after doctoral study

From PSYCH LEARNING CURVE – Where Psychology and Education Connect, a new blog by the APA Education Directorate.

January 25, 2016 * by Daniel Michalski, PhD

After nearly five years of hard work, frustration, setbacks, and anxiety, I completed the final requirement to earning my PhD by defending my dissertation in July 2014. The moment I had been simultaneously anticipating and dreading played out in less than an hour as I confidently presented my research and addressed questions from my committee and the attendees. Beyond the obvious realization that the journey was over, I was struck by how solitary the experience truly was at that moment; what had consumed my life for several years transpired while life went on for others and my achievement was mine alone. I suppose I thought that life would pause for everyone and there would be a parade in my honor. Unfortunately, there was no parade (not even balloons) and I was now faced with moving on and identifying new opportunities and learning experiences.

For me, the primary attraction of pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology was its versatility and utility in work settings outside of academe. In 2009, approximately one in five recent psychology doctoral recipients was working in a non-academic or non-direct human service position. As one of those individuals neither pursuing an academic job nor a career requiring postdoctoral training for licensure, there was an abruptness to the end of graduate study and entry to the professional world inspired anxiety demanding the development of skills to manage the transition. With fewer  psychology tenure-track positions available and growing breadth of options for non-academic careers, my story and experience is one most likely shared by other recent psychology doctorate recipients.

Continue reading to find out Dr. Michalski’s top 5 recommendations for transition from doctoral study to career.