Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Alexa Lopez headshot

Searching for Academic Employment After Your Doctorate

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

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.

5 Lessons from Harry Potter to Deal with an Advisor who is Like Voldemort

Mattu, 2012

Mattu, 2011

So what do you do if your advisor is as evil as Voldemort?

Graduate school is full of enough challenges and hoops to deal with a toxic advisor. But just as Harry Potter was able to overcome Voldemort, you can graduate with your degree, if you think about the allies that Harry developed over the course of the series. These allies all taught him something important, and you can too by discovering people who are like them in your life.

1)     Get Hermione on your side – You need a smart peer on your side who can give you feedback on drafts of your proposal, or challenge you with tough questions before your defense. You want someone who can give you truly constructive criticism, without being mean about it.

2)     Find Ron – Everyone needs a best friend, with whom you can commiserate after a tough test or a difficult meeting with your advisor. Social support is so important on the journey to earning your degree! Find someone whom you trust.

El-Ghoroury, 2012

El-Ghoroury, 2012

3)     Seek Dumbledore – As the headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore often went out of his way to protect Harry (even if Harry didn’t know it). It helps to have an ally among the faculty in your department, particularly someone with some power, such as the department chair or the director of training. An ally who is well connected can be a buffer for you in your interactions with your advisor, particularly on committees.

4)     Discover Remus Lupin – While Remus Lupin was Harry’s teacher for one year, the most important thing he taught Harry (the “expect patronus” spell) was something he taught outside of class. Find a mentor who is not at your school who can be a source of support as well as instruction. Perhaps you can find a mentor from your undergraduate institution, or from a conference.

5)     Reach out to Sirius Black – Although his parents were deceased, Harry had a godfather, Sirius, who played an important role of loving Harry. Reach out to your parents or family for support in grad school, even if all they do is empathize with you and tell you it will get better.

If you can find these types of allies, you will be well on your way to handling a tough advisor.

There is just one last question to consider: Is your advisor Voldemort, or is he really Snape?

El-Ghoroury, 2012

El-Ghoroury, 2012

In the books, Harry is convinced that Snape is a bad guy and out to get him, but he learns in the final book that Snape had been protecting him the whole time he was at Hogwarts. Is your advisor really trying to harm you, or are the challenges he’s giving you merely lessons to make you a stronger psychologist?

If these allies don’t help, you may need to learn some spells. Expelliarmus!