So You’ve Been Featured In GradPsych

Since I just returned from an extended round of internship interviews (I will probably do another series on the internship process at some point), this week’s post will be shorter than usual. I need my beauty rest.

You may recall from my Thanksgiving post that my dissertation was featured in GradPsych. Part 2 of that series was published online this week. I highly recommend following the other students featured, since their projects present a variety of projects from different programs and can provide insight that my experience lacked.

GradPsych periodically presents profiles and series of graduate student experiences. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be part of this one because I responded to a Twitter post by APAGS. They did not specify if I was the first to reply, or if I was at a point in my dissertation that worked for the project (the author of the piece mentioned they were interested in following someone who was post-defense), or if they just liked the sound of my project. Regardless, it was a great opportunity to share my knowledge. It also forces me to continue thinking about my dissertation even though I have completed my defense. For the majority of graduate students, the dissertation sits on their bookshelf and is never looked at again. This is perfectly fine – the purpose of writing a dissertation is to graduate, and that happens after the defense (or much later than that in my case).

Because my project consisted of a manual that can be implemented in real-world settings, I am hoping to make it available as a resource for university campuses looking to improve their outreach and response to victims of sexual violence. However, making this happen means that I need to continue to contact various universities. These contacts are usually ignored all together, so the process can get frustrating. Knowing that I will soon have to record another video detailing my progress keeps me motivated to keep working so that I have more to share.

My (hopefully) next step is to find a way to make the entire project available for download online. The manual was published online through my university, but I would have been required to pay a fee to make the full version free to potential consumers. For now, I look into alternatives. If anyone knows of a way to do this, or knows of a university that might be interested in implementing the manual, please contact me. When it comes to graduate school, if something is not a challenge, then it is probably not worth pursuing.

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So You’ve Decided To Get A Job

It took about 30 seconds after I got accepted into my graduate program for my excitement to turn into panicked thoughts of “How the **** am I going to pay for this?” Obviously I did not think this through as well as I could have – see my post “So You’ve Decided To Take Out Student Loans.” I realized almost immediately that, even with taking out the maximum I was allowed in loans, I had about a $7,000 gap between my budget and my expenses. Higher education is a luxury in the United States, and luxuries require an income. So I decided to get a job. I have had many jobs as a graduate student, and so today I will focus on the employment I used to survive my first year.

Whenever possible, if you are taking time away from the 10,000 things you are supposed to be doing as a graduate student, you want that time to be worthwhile. In a perfect world, you will receive an outpouring of highly paid, flexible clinical jobs that work around your class schedule and make nice lines on your CV. If you pulled off this feat, please contact me so that you can write a guest post, because you clearly are better at this grad school thing than I am.

Back to my reality. Shortly after receiving my acceptance and deposit, my program was kind enough to send me a packet that was over 30 pages of clinical positions in the Hartford area. I spent two weeks calling and emailing every clinic, hospital, and research facility they had sent me. Approximately 75% of the sites never got back to me. The other 25% were either confused as to why I thought they were hiring, not interested in someone who had no Masters degree and no prior field-related work experience, or gave me the age-old brush off of “We’ll keep your CV on file and get back to you if something opens up.” I prepared for my move with no idea if I would be able to afford more than the first semester.

About two weeks after the semester started, I gave up my search for a clinical job. The only lead that would take me seriously was a volunteer position that actually required me to pay them for the training involved. It would have been great for my resume but horrible for my checking account. (If you can afford to volunteer in your field in order to build up enough experience for a paid position, be my guest, but like graduate school, volunteer work is a luxury.) As an undergraduate, I spent two years working as an usher for my school’s theater department to help curb expenses, so I contacted a local theater and was hired almost immediately. It wasn’t a psychology job, but my rent checks cleared. I loved my co-workers, and the benefits were pretty fantastic for a part-time job (free theater tickets plus admission to donor galas with free food and an open bar), and I got to meet Kate Mulgrew, but we were often short-staffed, so I kept being scheduled almost double what I had committed to. I also had to pay for parking in the garage every time I had a shift, and about once per week I was given a short shift where most of my income went into the gas to getting there and the parking, so I came home with almost nothing. Meanwhile, the over-scheduling was making it difficult to complete my school work. I had been assigned a group project, and I could not find time to meet with my classmates. That is the Catch-22 of higher education: Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to work so much to pay for everything that you do not have time to fulfill your student responsibilities.

Shortly after midterms, an opportunity fell into my lap. My school has an on-campus help center for students who are struggling with college, whether academically or personally. An email went around to my classmates indicating that they were looking for graduate students to work part-time as tutors to help students who were failing classes. At first my plan was to tutor on top of my theater job because, by definition, doctoral students do not know how to stop taking on commitments when they become overwhelmed. But after the interview, the head of the center called me with an amazing offer: They did not want me to be a tutor. They wanted me to run their tutoring program. My job was to sort through referrals from professors about students who were struggling, meet with those students individually, and set them up with tutors as appropriate. The pay was higher than my current job, I was allowed to make my own hours, and I could walk to work from my classes or park for free. Although not technically a clinical job, I have had a training director at an internship site tell me that this experience is invaluable to some of my clinical interests.

The point I am trying to make is, when you’re looking for work in graduate school, be flexible and willing to take a job outside of your field. When you have zero work experience you are not given the benefit of being picky. At the same time, though, do not settle for a job that inhibits your success. Persistence pays off – keep applying, and eventually something field-related will pop up and make your life immeasurably easier! I do miss the galas, though, and Ms. Mulgrew is delightful.

So You’ve Decided To Go To Graduate School

Hello and welcome to the world of higher higher education! Maybe you are well into your doctoral program; maybe you are just starting the application process. Either way, I created this blog in the hopes of imparting some of my wisdom gleaned from my own survival of graduate school. What has worked for me may not be the best decision for you, but it is my hope that my experience might benefit others in my position. Graduate school has been an incredibly stressful, tear-filled, anger-inducing, rewarding, and painful experience, and I would not change my path for anything. My expertise is rather specific to psychology programs, but if you feel that something is relate-able to a different type of program, all the better.

For now, no matter where you are at in your graduate experience, I would like to share with you my most valuable piece of doctoral program advice: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Your friends, adviser, professors, and family have probably all said this to you at one time or another, but psychology students seem to have an ironic knack for ignoring our own needs, and it is easy to see why. We are encouraged to talk about self-care. We are encouraged to engage in self-care. We are encouraged to keep a running list of hobbies and relaxation techniques to draw on at any time to help manage our stress. But we are never really given an opportunity to put it into practice. A very smart classmate once pointed out to me that we’re told to make our well-being the #1 priority, but for everything else – dissertation, classwork, practicum, volunteerism, jobs, research, et cetera – to tie for #2. It’s not possible to have six second priorities, so self-care ends up falling off the proverbial radar all together. In the short term, it is very productive. And since all of your classmates are working this way, it is impossible not to do without feeling like you are falling behind. After all, there’s not exactly a section on the CV for nature walks and long baths.

So we become hypocrites. We tell our clients that it is okay not to be perfect, that taking time for self-care is more important than over-extending themselves and burning out while working 16 hour days before going home to pull an all-nighter on a take-home midterm. I remember my second year – I was working in Residential Life on campus, writing my dissertation proposal, and completing my first full-year practicum. At one point my boss pulled me aside and told me that she noticed that I seemed over-worked and recommended that I focus on taking better care of myself. I asked if I could leave work early to join my friends at Happy Hour, and she said that she could not excuse me from my duties. She claimed she wanted me to take care of myself, but only in ways that did not interfere with my responsibilities to her. We graduate students are horrible at asserting ourselves and our needs because we think that it will hurt us somehow, even though nothing hurts more than the dreaded burnout.

It is something that I continue to work on. It’s tempting to cancel date night to finish that research project. But if you are going to be successful in grad school – and I mean truly successful, both academically and personally – you have to do it. Whatever your self-care is, it needs to be just as non-negotiable as going to class or practicum. Even though it was great experience, and even though it meant not paying rent or utilities, when Residential Life offered to extend my contract, I said no. It was impossible to relax or have a night off when my boss lived right upstairs and often took advantage of this fact, so I left to take better care of myself.

I hope that psychologists and graduate students alike will be able to start living the advice we give our clients: take care of yourself first. Everything else is optional. And no job, regardless of the benefits, is worth your ability to take care of yourself. It’s time we stop seeing self-care as a luxury and start seeing it as a prerequisite for everything else.