psych_student4391

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Hello all,

First, I'd like to explain my situation: I initially graduated with a B.S. in biology and a mediocre GPA. Upon realizing that I wanted to earn a doctorate in either clinical or counseling psychology, I decided to get a second bachelor's degree because I had taken zero courses in psychology, needed to satisfy prerequisites for graduate programs, and figured that this would raise my extremely low undergraduate GPA in the process. During this time, I have been involved in psychology research and have a presentation and publication credit listed on my CV. I managed to finish my B.S. in psychology in about 1.5 years and am about to graduate with a 4.0. I am currently going through applying to master's programs in counseling/clinical mental health counseling. I decided to go the master's route because of the deadlines for applying to doctoral programs and the overall feeling that I was not a strong enough candidate for those programs. I live in Texas and am looking at SMU's and UNT's M.S. in counseling programs.

After perusing this forum, it has come to my attention that most of you don't think that getting a counseling M.S. en route to a Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology is worthwhile. So now I'm wondering what I can do as I navigate my M.S. program for the next 2 years that would make me stand out as an applicant to doctoral programs. Any insight/advice is most welcome and would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
 
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That's a contentious point. It's absolutely possible to get a master's degree in mental health counseling and then go into a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. There's a few of us on here that went that route and it is a viable route to go. I graduated with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from an R1 university and the vast majority of us already had master's degrees in counseling going in. If you peruse the insider's guide, you'll find that there are a good number of counseling psychology doctoral programs that (1) funded and (2) at good universities that admit people with a master's degree. There are a number of caveats though:

1. The number of counseling programs that accept or prefer master's level trainees is decreasing in recent years meaning that the pool of programs to choose from if you go this route is limited.

2. It's a longer, pricier road. If you think 2 years for a master's program in mental health counseling plus another 5-6 years for doctoral level training, you're looking at 8 years of training vs. 6-7 with a BA-level admit. Your master's program will also probably be unfunded or provide very limited funding meaning student loans.

3. You'll have to deal with weird biases. The vast majority of people in the clinical side of the field are awesome and this isn't a problem. However, I have ran into the occasional: "why counseling psychology and not clinical?" "counseling psychologists don't do assessment, stats etc..." "counseling psychology only do adjustment concerns" etc... When it came time to apply for internship, it was pretty demoralizing to see clinical psychology listed as "preferred" where counseling psychology was listed as "acceptable" though I otherwise met the qualifications for the position. Myself and my program colleagues have had experiences where we are turned down for something and then told later it's because program directors preferred clinical to counseling psychologists. Our programs are also kept out of PCSAS for...reasons. Like I said, it's not terribly widespread, I just wouldn't expect to be surprised if it came up should you decide to go this route.

Keep in mind that if you want to pursue a counseling psychology Ph.D. program, you might want to have research experience in an area of interest to counseling psychology. Counseling psychologists traditionally care about roughly four things: contextual factors (e.g.: race, gender, work), process-outcome research, supervision, and training, but some of this has shifted due to grant funding priorities. If you want to stand out to doctoral programs, find a person in your master's program who will support you in making the decision to apply for doctoral programs by letting you help them with their research and helping you shape your thesis into a publishable result.
 
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If you would like a PhD in Counseling Psych, it’s not uncommon to have a masters in counseling. Some PhD programs only accept people with a masters, some accept a blend of post-bacc and post-masters. I think I applied to one program back in the day that said they preferred post-bacc but accepted masters. The important thing is to gain research experience. Counseling masters programs that have a thesis requirement and provide research opportunities do exist, but it may take some investigation. Like the poster above, I’ve encountered a small amount of positions that prefer Clinical, but I’ve also encountered a small amount that prefer Counseling. It depends what you want to do and what your research interests are.
 
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summerbabe

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So now I'm wondering what I can do as I navigate my M.S. program for the next 2 years that would make me stand out as an applicant to doctoral programs.
As you've seen on previous threads, an MS is not required, especially since you already have some research experience and items on your CV.

However, if you go down the MS path, one of the keys to becoming as competitive as possible is to line up your timelines, which means likely being proactive on research early so that you'll hopefully have both confirmed additions to your CV, as well as active project(s) in the works by the time you apply, which will be less than 1.5 years from when you enter the MS program.

The benefit to doing a RA/independent research is that you won't be beholden to all the other time commitments that grad school brings, which can potentially be a better use of your time (and be less costly). Good luck!
 
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psych_student4391

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That's a contentious point. It's absolutely possible to get a master's degree in mental health counseling and then go into a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. There's a few of us on here that went that route and it is a viable route to go. I graduated with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from an R1 university and the vast majority of us already had master's degrees in counseling going in. If you peruse the insider's guide, you'll find that there are a good number of counseling psychology doctoral programs that (1) funded and (2) at good universities that admit people with a master's degree. There are a number of caveats though:

1. The number of counseling programs that accept or prefer master's level trainees is decreasing in recent years meaning that the pool of programs to choose from if you go this route is limited.

2. It's a longer, pricier road. If you think 2 years for a master's program in mental health counseling plus another 5-6 years for doctoral level training, you're looking at 8 years of training vs. 6-7 with a BA-level admit. Your master's program will also probably be unfunded or provide very limited funding meaning student loans.

3. You'll have to deal with weird biases. The vast majority of people in the clinical side of the field are awesome and this isn't a problem. However, I have ran into the occasional: "why counseling psychology and not clinical?" "counseling psychologists don't do assessment, stats etc..." "counseling psychology only do adjustment concerns" etc... When it came time to apply for internship, it was pretty demoralizing to see clinical psychology listed as "preferred" where counseling psychology was listed as "acceptable" though I otherwise met the qualifications for the position. Myself and my program colleagues have had experiences where we are turned down for something and then told later it's because program directors preferred clinical to counseling psychologists. Our programs are also kept out of PCSAS for...reasons. Like I said, it's not terribly widespread, I just wouldn't expect to be surprised if it came up should you decide to go this route.

Keep in mind that if you want to pursue a counseling psychology Ph.D. program, you might want to have research experience in an area of interest to counseling psychology. Counseling psychologists traditionally care about roughly four things: contextual factors (e.g.: race, gender, work), process-outcome research, supervision, and training, but some of this has shifted due to grant funding priorities. If you want to stand out to doctoral programs, find a person in your master's program who will support you in making the decision to apply for doctoral programs by letting you help them with their research and helping you shape your thesis into a publishable result.
Thank you for your input! It's extremely encouraging to hear that there are others who have taken this route. I acknowledge that it is most definitely a pricier road, and I will be attempting to mitigate this drawback with paid research assistantships, clinical work, and scholarships. Neither of the M.S. programs that I am deciding between offer a thesis track, however.

I've certainly started to take note of the odd biases when it comes to counseling psychology, despite the fact that the differences in practical and applied knowledge gained via counseling or clinical programs seem tenuous, at best. My dream job lists either a Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology as acceptable (although the job title is "clinical psychologist"), so for the most part I've been largely disregarding these biases.
 
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What are your career goals? If you're planning to apply to research-focused programs, an experimental master's program or post-bacc research work would probably look more attractive. As others have said, if you go the MS in counseling route, getting involved with a research lab will be important to show you have continued interest in research as well.

Also, I'm a PhD student in the area of the master's programs you're discussing. Feel free to PM me!
 
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Justanothergrad

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Agreed with what others have said. The masters itself is not going to make you more competitive. I see numerous candidates with masters apply to me each year. What makes them stand out is the opportunities to demonstrate research involvement and capacity, as that is what I'm judging the undergrads on / what my job entails / what is a major part of doctoral training. So the more you can get involved in producing (lead authoring especially given the graduate training) posters and perhaps even a manuscript, the better prepared you will be. Understand also that the clinical training skills may not buy you much in the doctoral program; however, theory based and research based courses will. The rationale is that since so much of your work is clinical in nature, our supervision and oversight of your capacity as a clinician is key to our agreeing you are ready to move forward professionally.

Any research will do; however, as a graduate student, I expect closer alignment in your experiences with my own / with your interests.


3. You'll have to deal with weird biases. The vast majority of people in the clinical side of the field are awesome and this isn't a problem. However, I have ran into the occasional: "why counseling psychology and not clinical?" "counseling psychologists don't do assessment, stats etc..." "counseling psychology only do adjustment concerns" etc...
Yup, I've certainly had that (I had one person ask me if I "actually wanted a real research job one day" (ps. I was already in my 4th year as a tenure track R1 counseling psych prof) since "counseling should just go do therapy". I always ask myself "do I want to be around that kind of person in my life, like, ever?"
 
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psych_student4391

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What are your career goals? If you're planning to apply to research-focused programs, an experimental master's program or post-bacc research work would probably look more attractive. As others have said, if you go the MS in counseling route, getting involved with a research lab will be important to show you have continued interest in research as well.

Also, I'm a PhD student in the area of the master's programs you're discussing. Feel free to PM me!
I want to become a correctional psychologist, which is why I need to get my Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology. Although this goal falls squarely within the realm of applied psychology, I love research and would also like to stay active and involved in research projects. Due to my desired counseling goal, it simply didn't occur to me that an M.S. in experimental over an M.S. in counseling might make me a stronger doctoral applicant.
 
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I want to become a correctional psychologist, which is why I need to get my Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology. Although this goal falls squarely within the realm of applied psychology, I love research and would also like to stay active and involved in research projects. Due to my desired counseling goal, it simply didn't occur to me that an M.S. in experimental over an M.S. in counseling might make me a stronger doctoral applicant.
I'm sure there is some variation between PhD programs, but I know some that prefer experimental master's programs but rarely consider students with a master's degree in counseling. Their rationale is that experimental programs are most closely related to the course and research work you would do in PhD programs and will help you hit the ground running with producing research, whereas they expect to start from scratch in clinical training with all students and sometimes have to train out bad clinical practices with students trained clinically by a master's program. It's unfair, but some programs have an added bias against applied master's students because they think they just have clinical goals and are only applying to doctoral programs because they want the title of PhD.
 
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I want to become a correctional psychologist, which is why I need to get my Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology. Although this goal falls squarely within the realm of applied psychology, I love research and would also like to stay active and involved in research projects. Due to my desired counseling goal, it simply didn't occur to me that an M.S. in experimental over an M.S. in counseling might make me a stronger doctoral applicant.

I tend to agree: you can get the field experience earlier if you know what you want. A few people in my program went this way.

either of the M.S. programs that I am deciding between offer a thesis track, however.

Do you have elective credits you can use for research?
 
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R. Matey

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I’ve encountered a small amount of positions that prefer Clinical, but I’ve also encountered a small amount that prefer Counseling

Are you referring to university counseling positions?

I'm sure there is some variation between PhD programs, but I know some that prefer experimental master's programs but rarely consider students with a master's degree in counseling. Their rationale is that experimental programs are most closely related to the course and research work you would do in PhD programs and will help you hit the ground running with producing research, whereas they expect to start from scratch in clinical training with all students and sometimes have to train out bad clinical practices with students trained clinically by a master's program. It's unfair, but some programs have an added bias against applied master's students because they think they just have clinical goals and are only applying to doctoral programs because they want the title of PhD.

Don't think the OP would have that problem in a counseling program. The issue really is the mentorship.
 
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Justanothergrad

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It's unfair, but some programs have an added bias against applied master's students because they think they just have clinical goals and are only applying to doctoral programs because they want the title of PhD.
That's not the issue.

The issue is that (1) the program doesn't prepare them as well as other experimental programs for the tasks at hand during doctoral training (research milestones) and mentor priority (research) given that counseling programs take an applied route and (2) this applied training can vary substantially in terms of ethical considerations and treatment approaches/qualifications. These two issues transcend program type as there are underlying differences between "counseling" (i.e., ACA) and "psychology" (i.e., APA) standards.

As for "fair",
7417224cd87375308aebd27ee55cf597.jpg
 
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psych_student4391

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I tend to agree: you can get the field experience earlier if you know what you want. A few people in my program went this way.



Do you have elective credits you can use for research?
Unfortunately, no. Most of the electives offered are geared towards applied psychology, so I was planning to pursue research as an extracurricular activity. I've been asking the schools where I interview what kind of research opportunities are available for students. Both SMU and UNT have many opportunities, even if they are not built into the degree plan. I have also been considering applying to some research positions at UTSW.

I actually have a decent amount of research experience as an undergraduate, having worked in materials science/nanotech and organic chemistry labs while getting my first degree in biology, but I tend not to speak about these positions since they're not related to psychology at all. The lab I am currently working in is focused on forensic psychology. I have presented a poster at a conference, and I am receiving a writing credit on a manuscript for my work in this lab. I've been wondering whether I should seek out assistantships that are more closely related to correctional psychology, seeing as that is my end goal. Will any research do, or should I be seeking out research with more specific focuses?
 
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That's not the issue.

The issue is that (1) the program doesn't prepare them as well as other experimental programs for the tasks at hand during doctoral training (research milestones) and mentor priority (research) given that counseling programs take an applied route and (2) this applied training can vary substantially in terms of ethical considerations and treatment approaches/qualifications. These two issues transcend program type as there are underlying differences between "counseling" (i.e., ACA) and "psychology" (i.e., APA) standards.

As for "fair",
View attachment 333505

I agree, lack of preparation for research and different clinical frameworks are valid reasons an experimental program is typically preferred, and why I suggested OP consider one if they are sure they will pursue a PhD. Like you said, the idea that people from applied programs just want a PhD isn't the issue, which is why I think that bias is unfair. Maybe that's not a common bias, but it's one I've heard from a couple PIs as a reason an applicant wasn't given an interview.
 
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psych_student4391

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I greatly appreciate all the feedback I've gotten! I'm a bit shy in real life, so it can be challenging to ask for advice.

That being said, the discourse that has ensued has got me feeling sufficiently confused, and my main takeaways right now are:

1) An M.S. in counseling will not be beneficial towards admittance to a doctoral program. At worst, it will count against me.​
2) I really wish I had known about the favorability of an M.S. in experimental a few months ago. Had I known, I would've gladly applied to experimental programs, as I've actually been glum about the prospect of doing less research, and I currently work under the director of the experimental M.S. program at my institution. That being said, I did not apply to experimental programs, and I will not be applying, as deadlines have already passed.​

I am now conflicted to the point that I am questioning whether I should accept any of the offers I have received from counseling M.S. programs.
 

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I actually have a decent amount of research experience as an undergraduate, having worked in materials science/nanotech and organic chemistry labs while getting my first degree in biology, but I tend not to speak about these positions since they're not related to psychology at all. The lab I am currently working in is focused on forensic psychology. I have presented a poster at a conference, and I am receiving a writing credit on a manuscript for my work in this lab. I've been wondering whether I should seek out assistantships that are more closely related to correctional psychology, seeing as that is my end goal. Will any research do, or should I be seeking out research with more specific focuses?

Research in the area of counseling psychology would be acceptable in my opinion, provided you can (1) find other research opportunities in your institution and (2) find a PI in a Ph.D. program in counseling psychology that is connected to the research you're doing. I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to expect you to do (edit: research) in an area that you intend to practice in, but you need to be able to see a connection. For example, you might be interested in whether vocational retraining of inmates actually leads to jobs for said inmates, that's a counseling psychology question as it is related to career counseling/vocational psychology.

1) An M.S. in counseling will not be beneficial towards admittance to a doctoral program. At worst, it will count against me.2) I really wish I had known about the favorability of an M.S. in experimental a few months ago. Had I known, I would've gladly applied to experimental programs, as I've actually been glum about the prospect of doing less research, and I currently work under the director of the experimental M.S. program at my institution. That being said, I did not apply to experimental programs, and I will not be applying, as deadlines have already passed.
I am now conflicted to the point that I am questioning whether I should accept any of the offers I have received from counseling M.S. programs.
You need to decide what degree you want. If you truly want a clinical psych degree, but just see the counseling as an option to move things along, then that's probably fine to decline offers and try your luck at an experimental program next year to springboard you into a clinical program. If you want a counseling degree, a M.S. counseling will offer you a path with the above caveats.
 
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Justanothergrad

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I greatly appreciate all the feedback I've gotten! I'm a bit shy in real life, so it can be challenging to ask for advice.

That being said, the discourse that has ensued has got me feeling sufficiently confused, and my main takeaways right now are:

1) An M.S. in counseling will not be beneficial towards admittance to a doctoral program. At worst, it will count against me.​
2) I really wish I had known about the favorability of an M.S. in experimental a few months ago. Had I known, I would've gladly applied to experimental programs, as I've actually been glum about the prospect of doing less research, and I currently work under the director of the experimental M.S. program at my institution. That being said, I did not apply to experimental programs, and I will not be applying, as deadlines have already passed.​

I am now conflicted to the point that I am questioning whether I should accept any of the offers I have received from counseling M.S. programs.
Does anyone who attends that program go on for doctoral degrees in clinical/counseling psychology? If not, I would decline. If so, I would find out (1) how often, (2) what they did to be successful in that effort, and (3) what types of programs in order to determine if that is a feasible path for you.
 
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I think as long as you can get research experience a masters program can be helpful—this is the route I took before entering a clinical program. If you are looking at going into forensic/correctional psych, I would probably recommend UNT over SMU since there are at least two forensic researchers there (Drs. Neumann & Rogers) on the clinical side.

if you have questions feel free to DM me!
 
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wtfook

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I think a master's in either mental health counseling or a more research oriented clinical psych route is fine and in many Ph.D. programs I interviewed at or know people from, something like 1/3 to half the cohort has some sort of master's while the rest came straight from undergrad or did an RA for a couple years. I think the pros and cons of doing the master's depend on your goals. I chose to get a mental health counseling master's first because I wasn't sure if I wanted a PhD and wanted something I could still practice with if I eventually decided that I just wanted to do counseling.

If you're sure that you want to do the PhD (and why), then research experience is MUCH more important for most programs (I welcome people to correct me if I'm wrong here). I think most programs, even counseling programs, feel that they can more than prepare you in the clinical practice area through their coursework and the practicums you will need to do and so two years of having already done clinical work through a master's doesn't always have as much sway as a candidate who is clear on their research goals and interested and those goals and interests match that of the faculty you're applying to. So if you do a master's, including a mental health one, you should definitely be in a program that has opportunities to continue research, particularly in an area that is of interest to you and that will complement the research of a faculty in a program you want to apply to. Having helped out with the interview process in my program, I've found that faculty frequently say as cons for a candidate 1) they were a GREAT candidate but I just don't feel like their research interests match what I'm doing in the lab right now or 2) it didn't feel like they had a clear idea of what kind of research or direction they wanted to go into.

I'm not sure from your original post, but do you HAVE to do a master's? Just because you're accepted doesn't mean you're obligated to go you know. An equally common route (and one I would have pursued had I decided much earlier after graduating college that I wanted to do a PhD) is to do a 2 year RA position. Your CV sounds strong enough that you would likely be able to get one. I'm part of the APA Division 53 list serv (clinical child psychology) and there are constantly job openings being shared on RA positions in various university based labs. I honestly wish someone had told me about it when I was a senior in college because I totally would have applied for those jobs and would've likely realized I wanted to do a PhD sooner. The positions provide the opportunity for great research experience, a great recommendation letter, AND it's a job so you're paid while getting that experience. To me that's more ideal than a master's, where you're the one paying for the training. If you're geographically limited, it might be more difficult since there are only a limited amount of RA positions in any given city, but if you're not, there are lots!
 
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psych_student4391

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Hi all,

Thank you all so much for your input. It’s given me a lot to think about, and I’m leaning towards declining my offers and forgoing an M.S. in CMHC, instead opting to pursue research positions and prepare to apply to doctoral programs during the next cycle. The only experimental M.S. program that’s still accepting applications in my area is UT Dallas. I plan to submit an application by the end of this week, but they are having rolling admissions and only enroll a max of 18 students, so my prospects are dubious. I’m currently assessing the research opportunities that are available to me. I think I could stay on my current research team and continue work on a new project (I’m about to start pilot testing a new study, and I am still finishing up a manuscript for a study that recently concluded), but the position would be unpaid. Do you all think it would be worth it to take a couple of graduate courses as a non-degree seeking student while I work as an RA? I’m wondering if taking a research design and an advanced statistics course would aid me in an RA position and serve as a meaningful contribution to my CV.
 

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Do you all think it would be worth it to take a couple of graduate courses as a non-degree seeking student while I work as an RA? I’m wondering if taking a research design and an advanced statistics course would aid me in an RA position and serve as a meaningful contribution to my CV.
You’ll be required to take these classes during your PhD so there should not be an expectation that you’re already well-versed in these subjects so I’d focus on the research, especially if its unpaid and you’ll need time to work for a living.
 

wtfook

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Hi all,

Thank you all so much for your input. It’s given me a lot to think about, and I’m leaning towards declining my offers and forgoing an M.S. in CMHC, instead opting to pursue research positions and prepare to apply to doctoral programs during the next cycle. The only experimental M.S. program that’s still accepting applications in my area is UT Dallas. I plan to submit an application by the end of this week, but they are having rolling admissions and only enroll a max of 18 students, so my prospects are dubious. I’m currently assessing the research opportunities that are available to me. I think I could stay on my current research team and continue work on a new project (I’m about to start pilot testing a new study, and I am still finishing up a manuscript for a study that recently concluded), but the position would be unpaid. Do you all think it would be worth it to take a couple of graduate courses as a non-degree seeking student while I work as an RA? I’m wondering if taking a research design and an advanced statistics course would aid me in an RA position and serve as a meaningful contribution to my CV.
What are your research interests? It might be beneficial to become a student member of APA and sign up for a division mailing list in the area you want to focus on. For example, I'm in Div53, which is the child clinical psych group and just yesterday a really great RA position was posted on the mailing list at UCLA. But they stated in the listing that they are giving preference to undergrad and student members of div 53.
 
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