This article, Pursuing graduate school in clinical psychology: Obtain research experience, was originally written as part of a website for my Carnegie Mellon psychology undergraduates
If you are pursuing graduate school in clinical psychology you must obtain research experience. Getting straight A’s, having high GRE’s and tons of clinical and extracurricular experience is not enough. In order to get into Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology, you must have clinical research experience.
Students in small but excellent colleges may find themselves in a bit of a bind. Despite outstanding faculty, they may not have research opportunities. Yet, research experience is essential. I had a colleague who had a 4.00 average, 1600’s on her boards and ten years of clinical experience and she wasn’t not admitted! She was rejected because she had no research experience. She rectified this deficit, reapplied the next year and, today, she is renown researcher. Fortunately, there are several things that you can do to obtain research experience.
Contact the National Science Foundation. Often they have prestigious summer research programs. If accepted, you will have the opportunity to work with faculty on their research. Note, their programs are highly competitive. Also, typically, they do not admit more than one student per school. Therefore, you need to have a plan B. Here’s a list of undergraduate psychology internships that you might explore.
Is there a local medical school near your university? If so, you should find out whether faculty in the Department of Psychiatry are engaged in ongoing research. Summers are a good time to obtain experience. Surf the web and obtain a listing of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grants. Is there any interesting research going on locally? Is there any interesting research near your summer digs? If so, apply for a summer job. Or, arrange with your university to do a research internship for academic credit.
In fact, if money is not an issue, you may want to contact your favorite researcher and ask him/her if he will accept you as a summer intern. If you have done well, have solid grades, excellent course exposure, write well, then, many researchers will be glad to have the free labor. If money is a concern, perhaps your university or its alumni might be willing to support a well-conceived proposal.
For many years, at Carnegie Mellon, I taught a summer course, Research internship in Clinical Psychology. Students, from all over the country, were placed in clinical research settings at the local psychiatric hospital. Course work was devoted to helping students to communicate research findings both verbally and in writing and to helping students become familiar with all aspects of the graduate school application process. Every year students came from small schools in order to obtain research opportunities that are not available at their host institutions. I suspect that there are probably other courses like this elsewhere. If you can not obtain a paying position, or you want the academic credit, this kind of course may be something for you to consider.
Here’s a Washington Post article, Applying for Research Internships and Summer Jobs in Psychology and the Health Professions (scroll down, it’s there). Finally, to do this you will need to put together a resume and a cover letter. Here’s a sample cover letter for a research assistant position.
Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. (c) 2015
This material is copyrighted. However, Psychology Departments, Psi Chi Chapters, Psychology Clubs and University and College Career Centers may republish this column, free-of-charge, as long the column is reprinted in its entirety and without alteration. Also, along with this column, copyright information and the following byline must be attached: Dr. Lynn Friedman is a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and executive coach in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is on the associate faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Web site: www.drlynnfriedman.com. She can be reached at: (301) 656-9650.