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!

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 Re-Applying

Match day comes and goes, Phase II comes and goes, the PMVS closes, and you are still without an internship. You have to add a year to your projected graduation, and you have the financial strain of re-applying. Now what?

Based on my research, internships post minimum hours requirements and tend to look at totals in terms of whether or not you meet this threshold and nothing more. You want to be able to show diversity of experiences, which you should have after completing three or more practicum experiences, but it seems that there is little to be gained from taking on more and more unpaid experiences simply to inflate your totals. If anything, once you pass a certain point, your totals may arouse suspicion that you either exaggerated your totals, or that your experiences are not well-rounded. My point is, if your hour totals meet the minimum requirements for the types of sites where you are applying, consider getting a job where you are compensated for your time with money and not just experience.

As far as finding said job, it can be difficult to get something related to the field if you are not either licensed, or know someone who can recommend you. My mentality in financing my graduate education has always been that I do not consider myself over-qualified for anything. Unfortunately, employers do not always agree, and I was turned down for a job at a group home simply because I already had my Masters. Anyway, I was able to continue boosting my CV and pay my rent by taking nanny jobs for children with special needs and working for an academic coaching agency.

One thing I wish I had done during my first round of applications was to reply to my rejection emails to inquire about how I might improve my application. Most training directors will either ignore you or decline to provide feedback, but a few might respond. They may give you valuable feedback as to how to improve your application, especially if you decide to re-apply to that site. This might be easiest to do after the match has ended – that way, they are more likely to have time to reply to you with a more thorough analysis of your qualifications.

Also, save everything. There is a good chance that, due to the nature of the imbalance, you did not match either due to bad luck or to minor details with your application. You do not need to start from scratch with your materials the following year. The APPIC portal closes sometime in April, so I recommend downloading copies of your applications early.

Remember that not matching is not a reflection on your abilities or intelligence. Self-esteem takes a hit when you don’t match, and it is difficult to keep this from showing in your subsequent applications. Hang in there.

So You’re Using The Post-Match Vacancy Service

As if the crushing disappointment of Phases I and II was not enough for you, sites with different fiscal calendars have been able to add more intern spots throughout the summer. I would argue that this is probably the most stressful phase of the application process, in that you are engaging in what is basically a free-for-all of openings, applications, interviews, and offers. When I did the Post-Match Vacancy Service during my first application cycle, I was also starting a job and moving forward with the next year of my life. To be honest, I was almost relieved when sites either rejected me or failed to respond to my application all together, because it meant not having to pay the $2500 fee to break my lease, leaving my roommate high and dry, and quitting my position almost immediately after starting. Not to mention the possibility of moving across the country with as little as one week’s notice (this has happened in the PMVS. Sites will sometimes get approved for more interns in mid-June but want a July 1 start date). Then again, if it weren’t going to involve an inhumane amount of stress, it would not be graduate school.

That being said, I do wish I had been more aggressive in applying to post-match openings. For one thing, I might be finishing up my internship in the next few months rather than starting. For another, the cost of relocating on such short notice is probably about equal to what I had to pay to re-apply.

If you do choose to use this service, your best bet is to be quick and thorough. Many openings are first come, first serve with applications and do not set specific deadlines, and so if you choose to take the weekend to polish your cover letter, that position could be filled by Monday morning. Also, if you happen to have a connection at a site, PMVS is the time to use it. Sites are looking to fill positions quickly, and if someone can recommend a good fit, they will jump at the opportunity to at least offer you an interview. Does a site have a history of taking students from your program? Did a former supervisor work at a particular site? Do you have a classmate who matched there and might be able to put in a good word? I have heard of at least four people getting placed in the PMVS at sites that never submitted the opening to APPIC. At this point in the game, it is more about who you know than what you know.

Finally, keep in mind that not everyone uses this service. Many people are not in a position to drop everything, even if it is for an internship, on the kind of notice they often get in this service. When I was considering sites, I assumed I would be up against the 600 or so other unmatched students. But this year, I have been privy to some inside information at a couple of sites and was surprised to see how few applications are submitted. One APA-accredited site in a popular part of the country received only four applications for their opening. (Granted, this could be an anomaly – I was not able to get information about how many applicants they have gotten in previous years when they have used this service.) Compared to the up to 500 applications some sites get in Phase I, how can you not apply with those odds? And as with Phase II, there is no application fee. You are merely submitting materials you have already compiled. Why not go for it?

I have followed the PMVS for the past three years – once for my own research, then because I needed an internship, and now in solidarity with my friends who were left unmatched. I’ve noticed that the number of post-match openings, especially APA accredited post-match openings, seems to be increasing. It is becoming more and more possible to get an internship outside of the typical match process.

Next week I will tackle the dreaded process of re-applying. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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 Ranking Your Sites

You’ve traveled, interviewed, cried, lost sleep, cried, been rejected, probably drank a sizeable amount of alcohol, and checked the forums daily against your better judgment. Now you have had your questions answered and shown your best side to DCTs, and it’s time to create your rank list.

APPIC says to rank sites in order of your true preference. They say that the order of your list will impact where you are placed, but will not change your odds of getting placed. Personally I agree with their sentiment but do not believe their rationale. You can read more about how the algorithm works and APPIC’s tips for creating your list here, since I do not intend to try to explain it. (Honestly I barely understand it myself.) But from what I have gleaned from their information, if a site ranks you as their first choice and you rank them, say, #12, and their second, third, fourth, and fifth choices rank them number one, it stands to reason that you would not get that site, and if you are either not ranked or ranked too low to match at your first 11 sites, you could end up not matching due to the order of your list.

Then again, I’m no computer expert.

Anyway, despite this anxiety-inducing reality, there is not a lot you can do to increase your chances by modifying your list. Sites are not allowed to tell you where you are being ranked, although they can choose to tell you that you are being ranked. So your best bet is to honestly choose which sites you would most prefer. If you are unsure of whether or not you should rank a site, remember, internship is like signing a one-year lease on an apartment, not buying a house. Can you see yourself doing it for a year? Then by all means, rank a site that doesn’t contain every aspect of your dream internship.

You can always factor in the feeling you got from the interview in your rankings. If a site seemed off-put by you, or seemed very excited about some aspect of your CV, you can definitely take that into account in submitting your list. But this can be hard to determine with any kind of certainty. A classmate of mine was convinced after one interview that the site would never rank her, and she ended up matching there. The only thing you can know for certain is how you feel about the site, so that’s all you can truly rely on when making your list.

Regarding unaccredited sites, it can be very tempting to complete an unaccredited internship in order to graduate. I hear a lot of conflicting information about whether or not an unaccredited internship is “acceptable.” The field is constantly shifting, so even if there are jobs that will accept unaccredited internships now, this could change. Also, you could become interested in a job at a VA down the road. It’s always best to keep those doors open. That being said, APA will not accredit a site in its first year. If you know a site is close to accreditation, it can be an acceptable gamble to rank it if it is a “good fit” for what you want to do. My DCT told me that a site that has already received a site visit by APA, the odds that they will then be denied accreditation are about the same as a fully accredited site losing funding or accreditation without warning.

I actually matched at a site that is pending approval from APA after its site visit. Since accreditation is retroactive to the site visit, we have what I’m calling Schrodinger’s Accreditation: Once APA approves the site, we will have been accredited since December of 2013. I knew this site was a great match for me, and I knew I would love interning here. Sure, moving to rural Arkansas is an adjustment, but my experience will include things I would not get anywhere else, and my supervisor and I completely clicked in my interview. The gamble was worth it because I knew I would have an amazing experience here.

Just a few more posts in my Internship series. If there’s a topic you want me to cover that hasn’t come up yet, please let me know.