Jul 20, 2015
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Hi all,

Thanks so much for everyone's input--this site is an incredibly helpful resource.

I am an early 30's attorney at a large law firm in new york doing civil litigation, and am looking to make a career change to being a psychologist.

I was a psych major at an ivy league school for undergrad, with a 3.68 GPA (my law school GPA was 3.57 for what it's worth). I did a semester of undergraduate research in a cognition/linguistics lab but barely remember any detail, although I am in touch with grad student who ran the lab. I plan to take the GRE in November--no idea what to expect but judging by where I was with the SATs and LSATs I will probably be somewhere in the mid-80's, percentile-wise.

My ideal career would be to see individual patients for psychotherapy, with some research opportunities as well. My primary clinical interests are anxiety/mood disorders and personality disorders. Ideally I would like to have a career that is 50% practice-based, 50% research-based, if this is even possible. Also, to capitalize on my legal experience I wonder if I could devote some portion of my work to being a testifying expert in court cases or be some kind of independent legal consultant.

Ultimately, I would like to apply for/enroll in a scientist-practitioner blend PhD program. The biggest flaw in my application right now is the blatant absence of any clinical or research experience. The question is, should I not even bother applying to Phd programs off the bat, since I am almost certain to be rejected based on this gap? If so, should I be looking at (a) Masters degrees or (b) taking a year to work as a research assistant in a lab (if I was able to secure such a position)? What other routes should I be considering?

I've looked at a number of masters programs and while I feel like I'd have a decent chance at some of them, I've read that it is kind of crap shoot as to whether those credits would be transferable to an eventual PhD program. I certainly don't want to do 2 years of masters work only to have to start from scratch in a PhD program! (is this something that happens to people?)

Any insight would be sincerely appreciate. If any other details would be helpful, please let me know!
 

AcronymAllergy

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It does generally seem to be the case that not many masters hours transfer to doctoral programs (for various reasons, including, to my understanding, accreditation standards). Even when they do transfer, at least based on the people at my former program who came in with a masters, the student still needs to "make up" those hours somewhere (i.e., by taking other classes). Thus, it's generally accepted that a masters won't save you much time. The main advantages are 1) ability to make up for a below average undergrad GPA, 2) if you complete a research thesis, ability to potentially skip that step in your doctoral program and begin pumping out an extra publication or two instead, and 3) a structured setting to accumulate research experience.

My take is this--it certainly can't hurt to apply this year, if you're ready to do so. However, I would essentially assume that your odds are fairly slim, and would go ahead and start looking for/applying to RA spots as well. Heck, you may even be able to find a part-part-time position (particularly if volunteer) that would allow you to stay at your current job.

Even if you don't end up doing expert witness work yourself, I would imagine your law degree and experience in civil litigation could definitely make you a sought after consultant in terms of preparing other psychologists for such a role. I'd strongly suggest getting some experience from the psychology side while in grad school/internship, though, if that's something you'd like to do. Completing a forensic postdoc also wouldn't hurt, although depending on your career goals and interests when you get to that point, you may instead be considering one in anxiety-related work or something similar.
 
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Jul 20, 2015
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Ok, thanks for the input, very helpful. So to be clear, there is potentially a scenario where I would complete 2 years of masters work, and then go on to a doctorate and have to start from scratch--meaning and additional up to 7 years for a total of 9 years of graduate school? That seems rather excessive to me, but is this something that happens to people?

Ideally for me it would be 2 years at a masters and then 4-5 years at a funded PhD program, for a total of 6-7 years. And then the debt burden wouldn't be totally unwieldy.
 

psycscientist

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Ok, thanks for the input, very helpful. So to be clear, there is potentially a scenario where I would complete 2 years of masters work, and then go on to a doctorate and have to start from scratch--meaning and additional up to 7 years for a total of 9 years of graduate school? That seems rather excessive to me, but is this something that happens to people?

Ideally for me it would be 2 years at a masters and then 4-5 years at a funded PhD program, for a total of 6-7 years. And then the debt burden wouldn't be totally unwieldy.
It would depend on how efficient you were in your Ph.D. program, but typically 5 years is the minimum you can expect. Sometimes Ph.D. programs will accept theses from prior Master's and maybe a couple classes, but usually never enough to make any dent in the time to completion. While this can seem excessive, I think it makes sense. Courses taken in a terminal Master's program will likely not be as rigorous/include the types of competencies that a Ph.D. program would include. The only reason really for you to do a Master's degree is to get research experience - this can also be accomplished by attempting to get a paid RA gig, though you would be taking a pay cut to do this.
 

AcronymAllergy

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It would depend on how efficient you were in your Ph.D. program, but typically 5 years is the minimum you can expect. Sometimes Ph.D. programs will accept theses from prior Master's and maybe a couple classes, but usually never enough to make any dent in the time to completion. While this can seem excessive, I think it makes sense. Courses taken in a terminal Master's program will likely not be as rigorous/include the types of competencies that a Ph.D. program would include. The only reason really for you to do a Master's degree is to get research experience - this can also be accomplished by attempting to get a paid RA gig, though you would be taking a pay cut to do this.
Yep. There are a couple reasons why a prior masters doesn't knock off much time--1) because there generally aren't many credits that transfer (and even if they do, as I mentioned above, the hours may still need to be made up for), and 2) coursework only represents a small proportion of the overall doctoral timeline, with many/most folks being done with formal classes after 2-3 years. The rest of the time is spent on clinical work, research, milestone exams (e.g., comps), and teaching.