Help me prepare for a PhD in Counseling Psychology
July 15, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

My program begins in the fall of this year and I was hoping for any tips, suggestions, do's and don'ts, or anything that you wish someone would have told you before beginning a program. The advice could be personal or professional. I'm open to anything.

Some background on me:
I am almost 30 and married for 7 years. My wife and I do not have any kids but we would like to have one sooner than later. She works full time and I will work part time for the school. The school pays my tuition and a small stipend. It's the same midwest school I earned my masters in counseling and is APA accredited. I am really interested in domestic violence (particularly with LGB couples) and how childhood sexual abuse affects the partner of the survivor. The program will take 5-6 years with a year long internship at the end.

Some fleeting thoughts that might be an issue:
Money could get tight
I could be consumed with school work and neglect my family
I could be consumed with my family and neglect school
I could get burned out
Coping with a year internship somewhere in the US

Any thought's, comments, or experiences are appreciated. I just want to be prepared and get the most out of this opportunity.

posted by WhiteWhale to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I've only gone through Master's level work, but perhaps this will still be of some help.

Get to know your cohort. If you have a good group, your cohort can be a great source of support (and fun).

I have been told that if you treat your PhD work as a 9-5 job, meaning you come in at 9, work til 5 (or whichever hours you can set) and leave your work at the university as much as possible, you'll often have your work well in hand and will be less likely to have problems with being consumed by school work and/or burnout.

Good luck!
posted by wiskunde at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2010

Well, for starters, it seems like you will need to learn to focus on the real and present and not on the what-ifs. Your question is so broad that I think it will be difficult for people to address. Yes, a lot of things could happen. But if you don't have any evidence that things are headed in that direction, don't worry too much about it.

Remember to take care of your home life. Wife and family matter. Don't neglect them.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2010

I can only speak of personal advice, having dated someone who went back to school and promptly shut off every other aspect of his life. My tip: don't do that! Your wife will understand that your PhD is important, and it will no doubt be a lot of hard work, but don't let it become your life. Try your best to schedule time to both do work and to have fun. Your work will improve after breaks and without all the stress. Your wife will also appreciate it!

Also, be easy on yourself. PhD work is difficult. Not many people make it that far in their educational career! So don't beat yourself up over too much time spent on difficult work, or over not understanding something immediately. Always work to the best of your ability, but be fair to yourself in knowing that NO ONE is perfect. Keeping stress down will make it easier to balance personal and professional tasks. Take your time and ask questions. Learn to relax.
posted by breccia at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2010

Being a grad student is tremendously hard on your relationship. Being a parent while in grad school is also tough.

Start figuring out your plan (academic or clinical) ASAP and spend time figuring out what you need to do to succeed.

Find an advisor and a topic early.

Take on as little debt as possible. You won't finish until your late 30s. That leaves you less time to pay off the debt and start saving for retirement.

It is probably too late, but make sure that doing this PhD will result in such a salary increase that makes leaving the real world for 6 years worth it.
posted by k8t at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Read Getting What You Came For and similar books to get an overview of the phd process and listen to that advice. There are a ton of ways that people get waylaid and disconnected during grad school, and some of them are really easily avoided.

Equally, don't be afraid to bail if it turns out to be the wrong thing for you. It doesn't make you a huge failure, even though it might feel like that at the time.

Prioritize your relationship -- that might mean treating being a student more like a 9-5 job, or maybe capitalizing on the flexibility and control of your time that you will have. It's not the worst time to have a kid, at all, because you will have a lot more flexibility than you will in most jobs.

Don't get overly worried when you see your friends getting ahead financially -- careers that value the phd (eg academia, research labs, etc) assume that you will be making a late start. That said, the financial implications are probably negative, compared to making a career with your masters degree, and your partner needs to be on board with that.
posted by Forktine at 4:11 PM on July 15, 2010

Only you know your working style best, and you're already acquainted with your department and perhaps the politics thereof, but my best advice to entering students is to see everyone in their program (teachers and students) and being a friendly helpful person who is interested in the same topics. It's easy for grad students to feel isolated, because there's a sense of competition (fighting to get into the program, and anticipating fighting for jobs afterwards) but one of the best things I did in grad school (sciences) was to work with other students, talk about the things we were learning at length, solve problems together, socialize together (along with their spouses and roommates) etc. It made for better learning and better attitudes, and honing those social skills and being conversant in science ideas gave me a lot more confidence in talking with the professors (and now bosses, important people, etc).
posted by aimedwander at 8:45 AM on July 16, 2010

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