I'd like to start a clinical psychology doctoral program in 2012. I wasn't a Psych major. How do I prepare?
March 18, 2011 4:00 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to start a clinical psychology doctoral program in 2012. I wasn't a Psych major. How do I prepare?

How can I overcome the following barriers... I know that some of these are a web search away, but I'd like to hear answers from real people.

1. I haven't done research or worked in a clinic!
Should I do one of these? How would one go about it outside of college?

2. A friend says that in the medical world there are "bridging programs." Any thing like that for clinical psychology?

3. I've heard a lot about matching my interests to individual professors. I have NO idea how to do that. How does that even work? Is there an article that explains all of this?

4. How can I keep up with what's happening in the field?
I keep up on only the most mainstream happenings in psychology - the types of things that appear in Psychology Today or a Malcolm Gladwell article. Is there a free/cheap clinical psychology research journal? A trusted blog?

5. In the real world of practitioners, what is the difference between a Psy. D and a Ph. D?

Possibly Relevant Details:
My GRE score and undergraduate GPA is comparable to the average at most clinical psychology programs I've seen.
Since leaving my alma mater, I've taught in underprivileged schools and coached teachers for a few years.
I have a minor in psychology, but no real research experience.
I have experience manipulating large pools of data.
posted by jander03 to Education (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
3. I've heard a lot about matching my interests to individual professors. I have NO idea how to do that. How does that even work? Is there an article that explains all of this?

Hey! I can help with this one. Go to the psychology websites of the school(s) you're interested in. Look through the faculty pages for the clinical psychologists and see what their areas of interest are. Then match that to what you want to study. Lets pick a program. How about UofA. Let's look at this guy. Read his bio, but especially look at the current research interests part, which reads
"Aging and the neuropsychology of consciousness (particualrly self-awareness), the nature of brain systems subserving different aspects of emotion, and aging effects upon the different roles of frontal and hippocampal brain systems in memory."
Now, does that overlap with your interests? Are you interested in these things? Can you fashion a path of study out of your interests that would make him a good mentor for you?

Because basically what you would be doing is "working in their lab". Here the person is listing their areas of inquiry. You go with someone whose interests match yours because they can mentor you and teach you what they know. This is a person you will be writing papers with and who will be training you (and several other students).

The program and professor I picked were random but damn that sounds interesting as hell.
posted by cashman at 5:15 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. I haven't done research or worked in a clinic!
Should I do one of these? How would one go about it outside of college?

Speaking from the perspective of one of the top US clinical programs: you have to have at least some research experience. Ideally, you should have publications, but not everyone here does. They know that practice experience is harder to find, so I think that's a little less necessary, but that's just my impression. That's not an arbitrary rule. They want you to really (really) know what you're getting yourself into for the next 5-7 years of 50-70 hours a week.

To get experience, be willing to move anywhere. Look for paid research assistant positions. Or, email faculty you'd be willing to work with, explain your goals, and offer to volunteer. I moved to Ann Arbor one summer to do the latter.

If you're hoping to enter in Fall 2012, you will have to apply by this December. I would think seriously about taking an extra year to build up your CV before you apply- 6-9 months of experience may not be enough.

2. A friend says that in the medical world there are "bridging programs." Any thing like that for clinical psychology?

I don't think so...I don't know anyone who did anything like that.
posted by quiet coyote at 6:44 AM on March 18, 2011

I'm not in clinical psych, but in terms of a program that meets your desires --

go to your local university library and spend time on Google Scholar searching for keywords about your topic and through days/weeks of searching, you'll likely have a list of the top scholars for that area. Then go to their university webpages and read all of their recent and early stuff.

Make a list of those that you want to work with.

Email them and say that you're hoping to apply and ask for a reading list on your topic.

Keep reading.

Keep making your scholar list.

Meanwhile, do what quiet coyote says about getting research experience.

Then talk to your research advisors about your interests and get names and reading lists from them too.

THEN email your scholar list and ask if they're taking new students.
posted by k8t at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2011

Your teaching experience, by the way, might be a little helpful versus someone with no experience, but it will not allow you to overcome the other barriers.
posted by k8t at 6:50 AM on March 18, 2011

And, sorry for all the comments, but maybe your phenomenon is looked at in other fields that aren't quite as hard to get into without research experience?

Social psych? Education? Sociology? Communication?
posted by k8t at 6:50 AM on March 18, 2011

What do you want to do with your degree?

The studentdoctor forums (comb through old posts) are very helpful.

There are bridging programs (post bacchalaureate, or postbac) programs in psychology -- you may not even need to complete one, but you may need to take certain undergrad courses. Enrolling in such a program may also be a good excuse to meet faculty and/or their graduate students who need research assistance. Your experience manipulating large pools of data is helpful, but you need more. You need to get enough research experience to get good recommendations from faculty. Actually, you may want to go ahead, look up professors in psychology departments nearby who are doing things in areas that interest you. Contact them and see if they need research assistance--you can if you like explain your situation. You may want to get on that immediately.

Matching interests to professors is doing exactly the above process with respect to applications. Look up schools you're interested in, find professors researching what you're interested in researching. The closer the match between the two, the closer the "fit" you have.

A Ph.D. program will require research experience, usually will pay you a stipend, and the program itself will involve more of a research emphasis.

A Psy.D. program will requires less research experience, usually will require you to pay it, and will involve more of a clinical experience.

Ph.D. programs are harder to get into.

Also keep in mind that different programs have different therapeutic orientations (psychodynamic, CBT, etc.). That could be very important in choosing between places.

To keep up with what's happening in the field broadly is too much to ask. I actually think looking for specialty psychology blogs (including some of the Psychology Today blogs) in your areas of interest is the way to go. If you can get access via a library to Psychological Bulletin, American Psychologist, and the Annual Review of Psychology, those may be good to read too.
posted by shivohum at 8:00 AM on March 18, 2011

Given my partner's experience-linguistics degree in 2000, starting M.S. program in fall 2011 in Economics-I cannot emphasize enough contacting prospective departments and asking them directly what they look for in a candidate.

You may need to take extra classes. Or, you may need to do more research, although unless you're applying to top programs, I'd be surprised if you do. Some undergrads will be on a paper or two, but there are plenty of students entering PhD programs fresh with little research experience. You'll be at a disadvantage, but if you make up for it in other areas, I'm sure you can find a good program for you.

But the point is, asking us isn't very useful. Pick a school you want to go to, go to their website, and find the faculty listing. Find the graduate student advisor, or someone on the application committee, or if that information's not available, e-mail the main departmental secretary and get them to put you in contact with the appropriate person. Tell them your background, and ask them what you should focus on.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:25 AM on March 18, 2011

This book, Graduate Study in Psychology is a great resource for checking out individual programs. You can see which schools have programs in different areas of psychology, along with how many applicants they had to the program, how many were accepted, what the cost/funding is like, and even what sorts of interest are represented by their faculty. A new edition comes out in August of each year based on the previous year's data.

If you aren't able to move, at least temporarily for research experience, you may also be able to work with someone at a college based close to your home. Even at non-research universities you often find people collecting data on various projects, and the process of learning about research is often the same. You might also consider taking a couple of courses in a research sequence at a nearby college or university. College libraries will have access to academic journals that you can then browse through. Personally I like to suggest Psychological Science for newbies, because it encompasses a wide variety of areas (interdisciplinary work is highly valued nowadays -- so knowing other areas is good) and the articles are pretty brief and very current.

At some point and to some people PsyD programs have had a fair amount of stigma attached to them, but I think that can be unfair as there are good programs out there that people find decent jobs with. I do think that you want to consider a PsyD program that is attached to a brick and mortar university and that considers research as the basis for informing its treatments and clinical work.
posted by bizzyb at 8:55 AM on March 18, 2011

Two of my best friends are in clinical psychology doctoral programs - one is in a PsyD program and the other in PhD. Just so we're clear, I am not in their field, but thought I'd throw in anyway to give you an idea what you're in for. We're in Canada, so YMMV.

For the friend in the PhD program, when she applied to her program, she already had a BSc (honours) and MSc in psychology (4.0 GPA in both), a ton of conference presentations, a couple of prestigious grants, peer-reviewed publications (including a couple as first author), a kickass GRE score, boatloads of research experience, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. And she still didn't get into every school she applied to.

Both friends have remarked that both of their programs are extremely competitive, not only in terms of admissions, but for the duration of the program as well. PhD friend's program will sometimes admit people without a masters on a fast-track MSc-to-PhD route, but she said those people struggle like crazy to keep up since they're lacking the research experience and stats courses their peers already have. They are two of the most intelligent, hardworking, and competent people I have ever met and they still work their asses off to keep up. quiet coyote's guess of 50-70 hours a week for 5-7 years sounds just about right.

Where we're all from, they don't really care if you have a PsyD or a PhD in clinical in the "real world" because we are absolutely desperate for clinical psychologists. They will both have jobs waiting for them when they finish.

It's not that I don't think this is a possibility for you somewhere along the line, but applying for Fall 2012 will probably not give you enough time to prepare a competitive application. quiet coyote and k8t have given excellent advice above on how you might want to proceed.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2011

I just want to emphasize what Tooty said upthread: You should contact any department you're interested in and ask them, specifically, what they'll require of you for entry. Some departments will even have it listed on their website, but I'd contact them anyway, for confirmation (these things change, and sometimes the website doesn't change fast enough).

It does not hurt you to call them and ask to talk to whoever is in charge of graduate admissions. This is their job, and they're generally happy to advise you. Ask them, specifically, what classes you need, at what GPA, to qualify for admission. Ask them what research experience is the minimum required, and how you can boost your chances of acceptance. They may list classes at their school. If they do that, find classes that seem equivalent at another school and call the department again to ask them if those classes will work.

We can all sit around and speculate all day, but different programs are going to have different expectations and requirements, and the only way you can really know is to ask.

You can, definitely, change fields like this, but you will probably need to take a few classes to prepare. Just be sure, before you do, that you're taking the right classes at the right place.

(I am starting an econ program in the fall, and my undergrad was in linguistics. I have taken so much math and statistics in the past few years, at both a tech college and a regular university.)
posted by hought20 at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2011

Sorry, "at another school" should have been "at another school, if it is more convenient to you."
posted by hought20 at 10:24 AM on March 18, 2011

This is really helpful - I have some clear next steps and some new understandings - thank you all!
posted by jander03 at 10:36 AM on March 19, 2011

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