2+ Year Member
Jul 24, 2016
MD/PhD Student
Hello all!

Long time lurker, first time poster! I am 3 years into my Ph.D. in Clinical Psych. Overall, I enjoy my program and have no doubts that I am pursuing the right field/degree for me. I realized that this is somewhat of a false dichotomy, but as I get deeper into my program (ours is a 5+1 model), I have noticed that many of my colleagues have more or less decided what "path" they want to pursue: academia or clinical work. I realize there are many other options (teaching, etc.), but my issue is that once they make a decision, they are able to allocate their time accordingly (e.g., doing the bare minimum amount of clinical work in order to maximize pubs, attending stats camps instead of DBT trainings, etc). My problem is that I am entering my 4th year and I still largely have no idea what I want to do. On the whole, I enjoy *both* research and clinical work (which I truly believe are mutually informative). However, given the insane competitiveness of the academic job market and the increased ability to transition from research --> clinical work (as opposed to vice versa), I am thinking I need to "choose one" already! I am also not willing to force my family to live in a geographically undesirable area just to be able to be a professor. Finally, I'd rather do really well focusing my time and energy on one "thing" rather that being spread too thin (as I often feel as a graduate student where I will often engage in some combination of coursework, teaching, seeing clients, and analyzing data/writing). An added consideration is that my research lies in somewhat in the developmental cognitive neuroscience realm and there are a ton of additional fMRI-related activities I could benefit from (learning how to code in python, analyzing data using more advanced machine learning models, etc).

I would love to get people's thoughts about this; I can't be the only one who feels this way! I am hoping that my internship year will clarify this a bit more for me, as I'll be spending the majority of my time doing clinical work and will find out very quickly whether this drains or energizes me. Do people who enjoy both research and clinical work have some sort of emotional epiphany or do they weigh risks/benefits and just decide one day?

Thanks in advance!


10+ Year Member
Feb 19, 2007
Psychology Student
You sound like a great candidate for AMC positions in the right setting. Some (not all) allow relatively fluid transitions between research and clinical paths. It is tough to have a true 50-50 split, but easy to find places that let you do some of both.

Many of my colleagues are 80+% research, but still stay clinically active mostly so it is easier to pick up extra hours if/when funding lapses. Others are mostly clinical, but collaborate on projects. That can be a bit more of a dead end as promotion goes, though it depends on the institution.

VAs may be an option too, but with your interests AMCa are probably a much better fit.

Somewhat tangential, but look into ABCD project sites for post docs. Could be a great fit.
  • Like
Reactions: MamaPhD
Apr 11, 2012
My philosophy for myself, which I also suggest for my graduate students, is to do the work (e.g., publish) to be competitive for academic jobs but to also get high quality clinical training. As you pointed out, it's much easier to go from research jobs to clinical jobs than vice versa, so it makes sense to train for the "harder to get" job. Note that psychology department academic jobs for clinical psychologists are not nearly as competitive as academic jobs for social, cognitive or developmental psychologists. In fact, I know someone who's department tried to hire a clinical neuroscience person and had a failed search because there weren't enough candidates (and many were snapped up by other places, including AMCs).

I basically planned my graduate school trajectory toward an academic job, but was always willing to upend that if I decided that a clinical career was more my style. I love both, I always have and I probably always will. The one thing I did that deviated from that path was I deliberately sought out a clinically focused training internship instead of a research heavy internship. I applied at both, interviewed at both, but ultimately ranked three training-focused VAs over the research focused internship sites. I wanted an internship that would help me decide if full time clinical work was something I wanted to do. And I figured out pretty early in my internship year that as much as I love the work, I did not love the bureaucracy and "tell me what you're doing every second of the day" of the VA. I then applied for academic jobs, thinking that if I didn't get one I'd just go for post-docs and then figure things out later. I got a job right from internship and I haven't looked back.Of course, I also like being diverse in my activities (the reframe of "spread thin") and an academic jobs allows me to teach, mentor, do research, supervise and still see clients a bit if I want to.

Now I try to support my students in whatever way they want to go, but from the start I try to give opportunities that will support a potential academic career (publishing, presenting) so that when they make the choice eventually, they have all the options from which to choose. And I also encourage clinical workshops and advanced clinical training opportunities too, cause it's not like that really hurts an academic. :)


Psychologist, Academic Medical Center
7+ Year Member
Aug 2, 2010
I agree that you should try to keep the option of an academic career open for as long as it appeals to you in any way. It's hard to juggle all the training but keep in mind that it will only be a few years until, whether by choice or by default, you will have more clarity about where to devote your effort. You might start to narrow your research focus so that (a) you work more efficiently and (b) you can define a specific, coherent program of research for when and if you go on the job market.