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Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by timecoloured, Apr 27, 2007.
Your research experience doesn't have to match your future intrests, but it certainly helps if it does. Having a match can get your foot in the door and get you networking with the people you want to be working with. However, my previous research experience doesn't match what I am going to go to school for and I made through the application process ok. My advice is to take what experience you can get and try to spin it in such a way that it fits into the narrative that describes your research interests. Maybe you can work with a specific population or a certain assessment tool that is relevant to what you want to do in the future.
Ditto. I don't think it technically has to be identical but it surely does help. I obtained experience in an area that I'm semi-interested in, but didn't want to continue pursuit of it during my doctoral studies. Some places apparently did not like this, and kept telling me that my experience was great but it wasn't for their program. Nevermind that I clearly indicated my research interests certainly did align with theirs. My experience wasn't there, so they overlooked it or something. Who knows.
This is the most fundamental complication on the road to a PhD in clinical psychology. You are supposed to be specialized before you enter grad school where you will further specialize before deciding what research/population you want to specialize in for a career. Maddening. As was already mentioned try to spin your experience as it applies to research you want to become involved in. Your personal statement can go a long way in making the connection as well as talking candidly with professors before the application process. Be ready for the "so what got you interested in this type of research?" question.
I have ended up in an area that is waaayyy off from what I did for a couple years as an RA.
Are you graduating soon? If there's time, you might consider doing a directed studies course with someone in the dept. willing to do it. No one at my Uni. has the same research interests as me, and that's what I had to do.
As others said, the research competency is what's vital. It wouldn't be reasonable to demand that everyone do work in what he or she wants to specialize in during his or her undergrad-- just not possible.
From my experience, being involved in research in a significant way is the most important thing. I was doing clinical interviews on one project, then was later involved in a large well-known longitudinal study... all the profs I interviewed with had heard of the project/prof... and I think that had the most positive impact.
It doesn't HAVE to, but its really really helpful if it does.
And, for the most part, if you want to go to one of the top programs or work with one of the top researchers in your field, it does.
Not having very much direct experience in my research area (and I STILL had about 150 hours) was pretty much the only problem with my app. My GREs were a bit on the low side, but when I asked people why I was rejected, the universal answer was "research experience didn't match your interests".
So, do everything you can to get research in your area.
My undergrad research and publication was completely different from what I will be researching in grad school. My undergraduate advisor had told me it would not impact my chances at grad school and it didn't at all. I did have one POI question me on it, but still invited me for an interview! I think it would have been helpful to have had experience with what I want to and will be studying, but it didn't hurt as far as applications go.
Would you mind if I asked what schools you were applying to Psychie?
Just seems strange to me that we were given essentially opposite views from admissions folks.
I know for a fact that the bulk of my research experience not being in my area of interest mattered at Ohio State, Stony Brook, U Miami, and Wash U in St L. It probably largely depends on the individual professor but it might help to know if there are major trends depending on the school too.
Ollie, it's interesting that you mentioned those schools. I'll be going to WashU and was accepted at UM and OSU, but my previous research experience wasn't related to the labs I applied to work in. I think having extensive research experience in ANY (even non-psych) field is completely fine, as long as you have other ways of demonstrating your interest and potential in the POI's research (through volunteer work, for example).
Like everything in the admissions process, you have to consider that other applicants may have very similar qualifications to yours. So you may have great gre scores, a high gpa, years of research experience and publications, but another person who wants a spot in the same lab as you may have the exact same qualifications in the exact area of research your POI is studying. But, of course, this won't happen to every qualified applicant who doesn't have a perfect research match. On the other hand, a person with publications and a not so great research match may get in over a person a perfect match and no publications. It's just a part of the application process that has a lot to do with luck, and it's not surprising that people on the board have had different experiences.
I would start thinking about your personal statement. What is your "research story?" - so how did you decide what area you are interested in and how did you pursue this interest? The more you can fit your RA position in with this "story," the better, even if it just taught you certain skills or made you realize you enjoy research. Now, think about how an additional position might add to that story.
Also, if these other positions offer an opportunity to publish, I would go for it. It doesn't sound like you have a lot of control over the research match part of your application, so focus on the parts you can control.
I am interested in the responses to this question as well.
I'm a non-trad student coming from a law background, and when I decided to change careers I decided that the first thing I needed to do was find an RA job in psych. However, when you have no background in psych whatsoever (and I wasn't a psych major) it's really hard to find an RA job. So I ended up finding a volunteer RA job--but it does not in any way match my research interests. But I'm hoping that schools will understand that when you're a second career student, the RA opportunities available to you are few and far between, since you're not affiliated with a university and have no contacts (i.e. profs) in the field who can help you get an RA position.
What do you think?
I hear ya. I had the opportunity to do some extra work in undergrad but it was doing things to rats and I've always had pet rats so I said absolutely not.
It's even hard for Psych majors to get RA jobs. I have friends who graduated with a lot of undergrad RA experience (thesis, 3 semesters in a lab) and are having a hard time getting a job. So it's not just non-trads. If anything, your previous work experience worked in your favor to help you get the job over a fresh-out-of-undergrad 22 year old.
Anyway, I havr research experience in both my area and not in my area. But I can spin it to kind of make it my area. I mean, if you want to work with people and you are working with rats, you can't really make that work unless you say that you learned from that experience that you don't want to work with rats.
But a lot of undergrad research experience is the same - ie, data entry. Perhaps running experiments/administering questionnaires, using SPSS/data analysis, coding, discussing research articles, etc. Plus, a lot of areas are interchangable.
I have a related question (...and can be bring threads back from the grave!):
What if you have a pretty strong match with your interests and previous research (honors thesis in the area, multiple semesters of work with a professor in this area, summer research with different professors in this area, etc.), but you also have a lot of work in other areas (some related to the match area, some not)? Can your other work (breadth) hurt you even if you have good (depth) in the area you're matching for? Would this be perceived as "unfocused"?