So You’re Back In School

Summer vacation is over, at least for me. This week I began my predoctoral internship and my countdown to graduation (in case you were wondering, it’s 361 days). As I get adjusted to my new schedule, I may miss a week or two on my blog. No offense to my devoted readers, but finishing reports on time is priority #1 unless you can find a way to convince APA to count this blog towards my graduation.

Orientation has been a whirlwind of information overload. I know just about everything there is to know about the consortium, and my brain is absolutely fried. Tonight I am relaxing at a hotel near the main site so that I do not have to make the 90 minute drive in the morning.

I apologize for yet another short post, but I am exhausted, and my week isn’t over yet. Just a reminder, I am accepting questions/suggestions for posts. I am also open to guest posts from fellow graduate students if there is an area of expertise you would like to share. Thank you and good night!

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So Your Significant Other Is Visiting

The past two weeks my blog posts have focused on things that have been wrong with the world. This week, I get to be more positive because I have a visiter. My partner came to see me, and we were able to extend the visit by a week. Unfortunately this was because neither of us knows when we will be able to see each other again (I am breaking my rule about always having a countdown from my Valentine’s Day post), thanks to some overly-busy schedules in the next few months. As such, I’m cutting this week’s post short so that we can enjoy our time together. Today we are feeding tigers. Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, it’s ok to be jealous.

On another note, because the purpose of this blog is to educate and help people through the process of getting a doctorate, I want to start taking specific questions. In addition to my regular rants about my experience, I would like to take submissions from readers about what specifically you want to know. So put it in the comments or send me a message, and I’ll feature you in one of my posts.

To my friends and neighbors living in the American South right now, stay cool!

So You’re Volunteering For A Medical Study

I moved for my internship almost three months before my placement started, and initially I had planned to secure a summer job. The market in small-town Arkansas had other plans. I have been getting involved in the community and volunteering, which is incredibly rewarding on a personal level, but unfortunately my landlady doesn’t accept a sense of personal fulfillment as payment for rent. So when I saw a commercial offering $300 for participants in a medical trial, I signed on and got an appointment for a qualifying physical.

The thing no one tells you about that physical is that they plan on only half of the physicals showing up, so they end up with more people than they will accomodate. Fortunately I overestimated my tendency to get lost any time I go anywhere, and I arrived an hour early. Chatting with the people in line ahead of me (because apparently an hour early was still cutting it close), I learned this is pretty typical, especially with studies that pay several thousand dollars.

I also learned that we had to sit outside in the sun on sharp rocks until they were ready to take us. This organization does nothing other than conduct these studies, and their method is to encourage people to show up hours before the scheduled time, and yet they don’t allow participants inside until the scheduled time. I would think they would at least set up something to provide shade (especially since sunburn was an automatic rule-out for this particular study), and possibly some chairs. But they know we need the money badly enough to keep coming back no matter how we are treated, so they don’t seem in a hurry to change their system.

Anyway, I passed the physical and was accepted into the actual study. I was told to arrive between four and five AM for the actual study, because germs never sleep so apparently neither do I. I arrived at exactly 4:00 just in case there was another line. A group of us stood outside for forty-five minutes waiting to be let in. As it turns out, we could be disqualified and kicked out of the study without pay if we were late, but the people in charge aren’t held to the same standards. There were employees inside during the entire time we were waiting, people who saw us but avoided eye contact, who answered the phone when we finally called to ask what was going on, pretended to have a bad connection, and hung up. All the while we stood outside with the mosquitos (the trial involved the use of ointment, so we weren’t allowed to use bug spray). When we were finally let in, we were told “There’s been a scheduling issue.” No further explanation, no apology.

Then we were each assigned a number and told to answer to that number for the duration of the study (I asked and was told that we are easier to keep track of that way). We then proceeded to eat, sleep, and be medicated on a rotating schedule that didn’t allow for anything more than a series of 2 hour naps. We could have had longer stretches to sleep, but the study “required” that we be fed on a different schedule than the application of ointment, as well as the monitoring of our response after the cream had been removed, so we had to keep waking up. I asked why the schedule wasn’t more logical, and an employee said that the people running the study frankly don’t see the participants as human beings with biological needs but as blips of data on a computer screen. I had been awake for about twenty hours on three hours of sleep, so I responded that we’re all just blips of data on that great cosmic computer screen we call life.

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As the study went on, I bonded with my fellow participants. We laughed together and over-shared personal stories. At some point we managed to get some sleep. For some reason we spent almost a solid 24 hours watching a Law & Order: SVU marathon. It was a nice excuse to mess around on my laptop for almost 2 full days and still feel productive – I was being paid for my time, after all.

Overall, if you can get past the dehumanization and can function with continuous interruptions to your sleep, it is an easy way to make money. The recliners they made us sleep in, all lined up with no privacy, were surprisingly comfortable. I think I will stick to studies lasting 2 days or less for the sake of my mental health. I did make some notes for next time, which I will share in case you are considering a similar venue for easy money. And it is seriously easy money, Including my first-time bonus, I made more than a month’s rent, and all I had to do was put ointment on my arms and watch TV for two days.

  1. Bring a pillow and blanket. They ran out of blankets, and some people were left without. Besides, the few they did have were gross.
  2. Bring socks. You do not want to walk around barefoot, and wearing sandals all the time gets uncomfortable.
  3. Get lots of sleep the night before. You never know what conditions you will be trying to sleep in, so assume you’ll be awake for most of the study.
  4. Make friends. The other participants are just as uncomfortable as you are, and being uncomfortable in solidarity is kind of fun.
  5. Wear sweatpants and a comfortable t-shirt. Seriously, this isn’t a pick-up scene. Comfort is your only priority.
  6. Shower as often as you can. For this particular study we weren’t allowed to bathe, and in these close quarters everyone around you will thank you to minimize your BO.
  7. Bring a power strip. I guarantee there will be more iPhones, laptops, and tablets than there are outlets. Everyone will thank you.
  8. Bring ear plugs and a sleep mask. Trust me.

I do think the pharmaceutical testing industry needs to seriously reconsider how it treats its participants. Without us, you wouldn’t be able to push medications through the FDA for general use. We would appreciate some consideration.

So You Matched!

When I underwent Phase II for the second time, I was completely emotionally wiped out. I have talked before about my strategy of applying to every site that had an opening. Faced with the prospect of a third round of applications, I was burning out fast. Then something amazing happened – sites were offering me more interviews than I had time to schedule them. (I do not care how stressed out you are, this is the best possible “problem” you can have while applying for internship. Complaints about finding time for all of your interviews will be met with hostility and being punched in the face, and no one will feel sorry for you.) My point is, I went all in on this phase. I was like someone running away from a serial killer who sees a ravine a head. You take the last bit of energy you have and throw yourself forward, knowing you will either fall to your death or be safe from harm on the other side. (In this scenario the serial killer is not very good at jumping.) I made comments to friends and family after my second Match Day that, if I didn’t get an internship in Phase II, I did not think I had it in me to apply a third time. It was this or dropping out of my program. And now that I am on the verge of starting my internship, I honestly do not know what I would have done had I been put in the position of making good on that promise.

I essentially coasted into the Phase II match on fumes with no energy left for anything else. Then, after the celebration ended, I realized that the journey was far from over. I had to move and figure out how to adjust to a new town. The transition takes energy – save some. Maybe you will be fortunate enough to not have to move for your internship. For a lot of people this is the most feasible option for completing their degree, but if you have the flexibility to relocate, I do recommend considering trying a new place. Having spent my entire life in Minnesota, four years of schooling in Connecticut pulled me out of my shell in a way that staying put never would. For my internship I headed South and am excited for another unique experience. However, moving is stressful.

When I was researching my move, the easiest and most affordable option was to ship my belongings and drive myself and my cats. Side note, cats do NOT like long car rides. I also suggest, if finances allow, taking a trip to apartment hunt prior to the move. Knowing exactly where you are going, and being able to see a place in person prior to signing a lease, is a huge stress relief.

As far as engaging in your new community, it is hard to make friends in adulthood! As someone who has been a full-time student since I was five, I have never had to actually go outside and meet new people. Social situations and friends have always been provided for me by my school. For the first week that I was in Arkansas, I barely left my apartment. Where was I supposed to go? Enter Facebook, of all things. I found a couple of local groups focused on some of my interests, met a couple of people, was introduced to more people,  and now I’m not sure how I will work my internship into my busy social schedule. 🙂

So, thank you for bearing with me as I rambled through my expertise on the internship process. This concludes my series for now, unless someone points out something that I missed. Good luck!

So You’re Doing Phase II

I think I have been over this before, but in case I haven’t, I will recap. As the discrepancy between number of applicants and number of available internships increases, students are panicking. We are applying to a greater number of sites, and so sites are receiving double and even triple the number of applications they are used to. Blah, blah, blah, longer rank list, blah, blah, blah, computer, blah, blah, blah, math, and a higher number of sites are finding themselves with vacancies on match day.

APPIC’s website says that, unlike in Phase I, the number of interviews you have and the number of sites you rank has no impact on your chances of matching in Phase II. This does not make sense to me, and I have a theory that they are just saying that so they don’t have to run the numbers, but the point is that this information is not available.

Both years that I found myself filling out Phase II applications, I saw that sites that had denied me an interview in Phase I had post-match openings. It can feel awkward to re-apply to sites that have rejected you, but I absolutely recommend trying. Because sites are getting such a high volume of applications, they often deny qualified applicants simply because they cannot interview everyone. One site that I felt was an exceptional “fit” for what I wanted from an internship happened to have Phase II vacancies both years that I applied, and yes, between Phase I and Phase II, I applied to that site four times. I was rejected by that site three times. During Phase II this past year, they offered me an interview. (“And that, kids, is how you turn a no into a yes.”) I had to resist the urge to tell them that if they chose not to rank me, they could look forward to receiving my application again this fall.

Phase II is an incredibly condensed version of the application process. You have about a week to research sites, compile your materials, and submit applications. Then sites have about two weeks to conduct interviews. If possible, I strongly suggest trying to get a few days off of work, class, practicum, etc, since Phase II can become practically a full-time job. On the plus side, it is a much more affordable process. If you registered for a match number in Phase I, you can apply to as many sites as you want in Phase II with no application fee. I suggest taking advantage of this. When compiling your initial list of sites, you think about ruling out sites that don’t meet a specific list of training standards, but in Phase II I would recommend broadening this criteria. When looking at the list of openings, ask yourself, “Would I rather have ________ as my internship, or re-apply next fall?” Again, remember, it’s only for a year. I ended up matching at a site I hadn’t considered applying to in Phase II, and the more I learn about my placement the more I think this is the best place I could have ended up.

Regarding interviews, I have heard rumors that there are sites that request that you come in person during Phase II. My understanding was that APPIC does not allow them to require that you drop everything, buy a last-minute ticket, and fly out, but I have heard from others that some sites do ask for this.

It’s easy to get down on yourself for not matching. Hundreds of perfectly qualified applicants do not match every year. It’s most likely not a reflection on your skills as a clinician but a product of a bad situation that is beyond your control. As someone on the forums said, “What a great opportunity to practice my frustration tolerance!”

PS: Netflix added the Animorphs TV series to their line-up. If you are a product of the late 90s and early 2000s like I am, join me in my nostalgic self-care of the week. 🙂

So It’s Match Day

I once got a fortune cookie that said “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Terrible choice of fortune aside, this is a good mentality to have. Unfortunately, due to the match crisis, no one is guaranteed an internship. Every year hundreds of perfectly qualified, wonderful candidates just don’t match. After the interviews and hard work, the final phase of getting an internship comes down to luck. APPIC publishes more general statistics on how your number of rankings correlate with your odds of matching, but I know people who matched with one ranking, and I know people who had nine or more rankings who didn’t.

For all four match days that I waited anxiously for that notification email, I had two plans in place: One for good news, and one for bad news. I wrote myself a congratulatory and a consolation letter, and I had both at the ready on the morning of the match. The congratulatory letter was accompanied by a bottle of champagne that I bought before I started applying, which I had reserved for the day I got an internship. (Little did I know that I would be sitting on that bottle for about three years before I could open it.) The other letter came with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a nip-sized bottle of whisky.

You know yourself better than anyone, but you won’t know for sure how you will react on Match Day until it happens. On my first match, I was convinced I would be an inconsolable wreck if I didn’t get an internship. When the email came, I said “OK, I can work with this.” I kept waiting for the tears that never came – it just did not bother me as much as I thought it would. One year later, I assumed I would react similarly, and I ended up having a full-scale meltdown.

The day that I finally matched for internship, I was on a flight home from Spring Break with my partner. We played chess on the plane to keep my mind off of the knowledge that there was probably an email waiting for me when we landed. (I do not recommend this. My preference is to create a safe space for whatever news you receive and whatever reaction you will have. However, after two years I was feeling pretty hopeless, and it got increasingly difficult to rearrange my life around those dates.) I pulled up my email on an iPhone the second we got the okay from the flight attendant to use mobile devices.

When I saw the good news on the screen, I had to re-read it five times. I handed the phone to my partner and said, “Does this say what I think it says?” Then I started cheering. The other passengers gave me strange looks. I kept repeating “They’re going to let me graduate. I can’t believe they’re finally going to let me graduate.”

Next week I will talk about managing Phase II, then the Post-Match Vacancy Service, re-applying, and moving. For now I am in a clinical trial because this blog does not pay very well. Happy Independence Day to my American readers.

So You’re Preparing For Interviews, Part II

To help illustrate my points about presenting yourself well in interviews, I made a video of my tips. One tip I didn’t bring up in the video is this: When you are skyping with a site, they can’t see much below your chest. When I did my skype interviews, I used this to my advantage to make myself more comfortable and wore sweatpants to every interview. (I don’t recommend wearing no pants at all, since there is always a slight chance you’ll have to stand up, and it’s easier to mistake sweatpants for slacks than to not notice that someone is naked from the waist down.) Could you tell I was wearing sweatpants when I made this video? Probably not, because I kept it classy where it counted. 🙂

PS. Sorry for the background noise – it’s the south in the summer. I couldn’t bear to have my AC off long enough to even make this video.

PPS. I am not sorry for the cat in the background. He’s fabulous.