Faculty Advice

Advice Guidance

Faculty Advice

Tips from faculty...

We support you in your preparation for graduate school and professional programs. We know you have many questions, and we encourage you to talk to as many people as possible about your future career and graduate school plans. To support you in figuring out your next steps, see the menu of questions below to see our faculty's advice on each aspect! (Check back often as we continue to add faculty advice)

Get as much research experience as you can! Ideally try at least 2 different labs. Try to get actively involved as soon as possible so you can experience different types of research and learn what you like (and equally as important - what you do not like). - Associate Professor of Practice

I think research experience is one of the most important learning experiences we have to offer in our department. We are a top-notch research place and, in every lab, there is so much exciting research going on. Getting research experience via a Directed Research or Independent Study course gets you "right in there" with a chance to witness -- and participate in -- how the science is made. This is important for practical reasons (e.g., completing your credits, finding a mentor for your thesis, obtaining letters of recommendation for graduate school, "building" your CV/resume), but it is also important just for your life. Even if you don't see yourself doing research down the road -- which is effectively the situation most of our students are in --, it gives you a unique chance to understand how the science you hear and read about gets done, in our case in the field of Psychology. - Professor, Social Psychology

In clinical psychology, you definitely need research experience and ideally it will be in the topic area you want to research in graduate school. This is not always possible, since no program has expertise in every topic. The more specific research experience you can get the better in general. Most successful clinical psychology graduate applicants have also gotten 2+ years of post-bac research experience working as a research assistant, project coordinator, and/or a masters in experimental or psychological clinical science. Clinical experience is less important for the research focused programs, but may be useful for the more clinically focused programs. - Professor, Clinical Psychology

Try to start early (freshman year) gathering research experiences as your letters and research training will be much richer if you stay in a lab for a number of years. I have published with my undergraduates, but none of my single year students. It's just too short of a time to become part of the process. - Associate Professor, Psychology

Many schools are putting less weight on GRE scores, so look at your top schools and see if its a requirement. If you are planning to take the exam, spend more time studying than you think you need. Ideally, you should space out your studying - an hour per weekday for 3-4 months prior to the exam. If you can afford it, take a GRE-prep course. If you can't afford the prep classes, buy a used GRE-prep book online and do a self-study at home. Take practice tests multiple times and study questions you answered incorrectly to learn the correct responses. Make flashcards of GRE words (physical or digital) and test yourself when you're riding public transportation, while waiting for appointments/meetings/classes, etc. - Associate Professor of Practice

I recommend interning for at least a semester, preferably in an area where you hope to one day work. When I was an undergrad, I did this and ended up HATING the work. This was hugely helpful information to have early on in my schooling, and definitely let me know what to avoid. - Associate Professor of Practice

At the undergraduate level, seek out experiences that build who you are as a growing professional. These experiences are essential for refining your next steps. For example, say you volunteer in an ER and you find you are unhappy all the time. You didn't anticipate that, but you learned a lot from that experience. You can't tell how a job will feel by sitting in a classroom. - Associate Professor, Psychology

Start forging relationships with potential letter-writers early. The best letter writers will be those who work with you in a research or internship setting (not an instructor you only had for 1-2 classes). Give your letter writers lots of time, ideally a month, before application deadlines. Meet with your letter writers early and be willing to provide them with information (e.g., resume, cover letter, list of schools where you plan to apply, along with due dates, etc.) - Associate Professor of Practice

Ask early and provide as much information as you can to your letter writers. - Associate Professor, Clinical Health Psychology

It is difficult to get a strong letter of recommendation from someone you have only taken a class or two with. Your letter writers need to have worked with you in more contexts and preferably in a research context. - Professor, Clinical Psychology

Your letters will not be competitive if you send in one from a professor that taught you 1 semester. That suggests you weren't engaged enough in your undergraduate research or volunteer work to get a letter with depth. After serving on grad admissions for 6 years, I can tell you that we rarely see successful candidates with those sorts of letters. - Associate Professor, Psychology

Do some research on what makes a good personal statement and read other personal statements to get an idea of what a strong statement looks like. Once you've written yours, ask a mentor to read and review it. This could be a graduate student, professor, lab member, etc. You want to have a strong, compelling narrative, without disclosing inappropriate or too personal information. - Associate Professor of Practice

You should be telling your "professional story". Describe the meaning of your experiences and how they led you to have your professional interests in graduate school and a specific research domain. - Associate Professor, Clinical Health Psychology

Edit Edit Edit! The statement is one of the most important parts of your application. You need to tailor the statement to the department's research, and you need to make a case for why you are an ideal applicant for a professor to admit. For instance, if someone wants to work with me who says they are generally interested in Memory and Neuroimaging, they would be much less likely to get an interview than if they are interested in sleep, memory and development. Be specific and match yourself to the interests of department Faculty. - Associate Professor, Psychology

It's often an important opportunity to gain more research experience as well as refining your priorities for graduate applications. You may be able to secure a paid research associate/coordinator position. You may also be eligible for post-bacc programs that pay a stipend while providing graduate coursework and mentored research opportunities. Check out: https://nigms.nih.gov/training/PREP/Pages/prep-grads.aspx. - Associate Professor, Clinical Health Psychology

Personally, I think that there is often too much "automaticity" between finishing college and going to graduate school. Often, it seems like it is "what I am supposed to do next". While I certainly deeply agree that graduate school offers very important professional training, I also know that the decision process for students tends to be not easy. They are in their junior year and they stand in front of an ocean of possibilities and potential programs. It's not easy to narrow down what one wants and what the best path in terms of graduate school is. It is for that reason that I think it can be valuable to take some time off between college and graduate school. I did that. And it very much helped me clarify what I want and what I did not want, and also what I am good at and what may not be so much my thing. From that more mature (in the sense of experienced) position, then, it was much easier to narrow down the degree and programs and would likely suit me best. Having said that, I am a big proponent of finding a way to take time off that (a) pays the bills and (b) expands the horizon. If you are interested in research-oriented graduate school, applying for post-bac project/lab manager positions can be a great option. - Professor, Social Psychology

I know of professors who will not write a letter of recommendation for a student until they have completed at least 2 years postbac work as a research assistant or project coordinator. - Professor, Clinical Psychology

Don't be afraid to take off time to work. Admissions to grad school are getting harder all of the time. It's not enough to have a 1 year lab experience, and you need to have produced some academic products these days (i.e., poster, talks, and ideally papers). If you do take off years, try to land a job relevant to your next steps or stay engaged in research or teaching. - Associate Professor, Psychology

Any writing you can do, including honors thesis, that is directly in line with the research you want to do in graduate school or the mentors you would like to work with, is important. - Professor, Clinical Psychology

If you do work on an honors thesis, you will need to know the ins and outs of your thesis for grad school interviews. Be prepared to talk about the hypotheses, methods, etc. - Associate Professor, Psychology

I absolutely recommend students interested in pursuing graduate education to take a course like PSY 396C. This type of course will help equip students with everything they need to successfully apply to graduate programs. I did not have a class like this when I was an undergrad, and I wish I would have. We had a class like this when I was in graduate school (tailored to helping people with career application materials rather than graduate application materials) and it was IMMENSELY helpful when I was going on the job market. - Associate Professor of Practice

Definitely! I don't remember taking a course like this, but it would have been helpful. - Associate Professor, Clinical Health Psychology

Yes, most definitely. The time you invest into this course, you invest directly into your career and life. There is so much to know about how to prepare for graduate school; a course like this makes the complex process so much more graspable and manageable. - Professor, Social Psychology

I did not have a class like PSY 396C and think it is essential. - Professor, Clinical Psychology

Create a spreadsheet of schools where you are interested in applying. Include columns with websites, application deadlines, contacts, and other important notes. Track when you've submitted materials and when you hear back, etc. Being organized in your search will help save time down the road. - Associate Professor of Practice

If you are interested in clinical our counseling Ph.D. programs, buying and closely reading the book "Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology" is essential. Were it not for this book, I am confident I would not have made it into graduate school. - Professor, Clinical Psychology