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Life as a Clinical Psych Grad Student

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by positivepsych, Dec 17, 2005.

  1. positivepsych

    positivepsych Member
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    Hi there,
    I find this forum to be more focused on getting into grad school, and career options afterwards, but not very much about the in-between: the 5-7 years as a clinical psych grad student.
    I was wondering if the people who are currently in programs, or completed their education, or know people who did, can speak up here. I am wondering how stressful people find the process of student life.
    Looking at most schools requirements, I imagine the concept of taking a full courseload, doing your practicum, and doing as much research as a non-clinical grad student during your first couple years to be extremely difficult? Is this true? How much free time do clinical psych students have just to live their lives? Do they have good well-being and are happy?
    Also, because this is a concern of mine, I was wondering is its possible to defer a school's acceptance offer for a year if you're coming in straight of undergrad?
     
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  3. LM02

    LM02 Senior Member
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    I found that stress in grad school ebbed and flowed. Interestingly, I think that my first year was my most stressful -- it was definitely my most course-intensive year, and I found that just transitioning into grad school was a bit unsettling. You're learning all about how things operate in the lab and department, trying to generate your own research momentum, and just generally trying to figure out what the expectations are.

    After that, I found that stress was up and down depending more upon what was going on -- master's thesis, comps, dissertation proposal, applying to internship, and dissertation writing and defense. For me, those were the most stressful periods - in between, it was fairly smooth sailing. I planned a wedding and got married during grad school, traveled all over the country (even snuck in one international vacation), and felt that I had a social life. It is possible!

    I do know of people who have deferred a grad school acceptance - in my own graduate program, and in others. I think faculty are fairly open to this if you have a reasonable reason why you choose to defer. However, if you are 100% certain that you are going to take a year off after undergrad, I say just wait to apply. Usually offers are tied into available funding for that year - most faculty want to fill a slot immediately. By applying with intent to defer, it just means that your "slot" will be given to someone else. In fairly $$ departments this may be okay, but in departments whose funding is more up in the air from year to year, they may not be able to guarantee that the funding will be available to you the following year. Just something to consider....
     
  4. psy86

    psy86 Member
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    I think this question is hard to answer because it depends to such a great extent on your program, advisor, funding, and other aspects of your individual situation.

    I'm in my second year right now, and I would say that my stress level has been... nearly maximized, much of the time. Summer was a little bit better. This fall was especially hard, with the addition of practicum.

    I do not have much free time. At all. Although I tend to be pretty greedy about taking the opportunities that do present themselves, so I'll take a weekend afternoon/ evening off (and then regret it when the rest of the week is brutal because I didn't get my reading done ahead of time or whatever).

    Eh. I know that I need to work on managing the stress better.

    Some programs are more unpleasant than others. Some advisors are more unpleasant than others. I am blessed with a pretty unpleasant program but a very pleasant advisor, so it kind of balances out.

    I'm not writing this to discourage you from applying, just sayin'-- if keeping the work/stress load lower is a priority for you, make sure you pick a program that's going to make that possible. I don't regret being in my program because I'm getting a ton out of it, but if being overworked, overstressed, and having no life was something I wasn't willing to do, I would be miserable.

     
  5. positivepsych

    positivepsych Member
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    Thanks for your reply. Do you mind sharing what program you go to? How does one figure out what programs have better work/life balance if it is based so much on individual factors?
     
  6. LM02

    LM02 Senior Member
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    I obviously can't answer the first part of your question. But as for the second, I'd say that you should really use the interview to gauge the extent to which the students have achieved a balance in their work/personal lives. After all, as much as the interview is a time for the programs to learn more about you, it's also a time for you to learn more about the programs.

    I went to what is considered a "top" program, and selected it b/c of the great balance the students seemed to strike between work and personal life, which was evident during the interview. Good luck with your applications!
     
  7. psy86

    psy86 Member
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    Yeah, sorry, I'm not going to be comfortable telling you what program I'm at. However, I definitely agree with LM02's assessment that you will be able to figure out what the environment is like when you go on interviews. I certainly knew what I was getting into, and I knew what I was turning down at other places.
     
  8. lazure

    lazure Senior Member
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    I seriously recommend going to a program with a separate Master's degree although that may depend on your area. In these programs, it's easier to "flee" when things don't work out. There are very few joint Master's and PhD programs in Canada. I did my MA in one school and now am completing my PhD in another - the advantages and disadvantages of both programs have pretty much balanced out for me. The only drawback was that I had to do more coursework since the focus of programs changed.
    The relationship with your supervisor will make or break your graduate experience. Thus having an academic and lifestyle match with your supervisor is key. When interviewing, speak with the current students and READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
    In terms of stress, like LM02, I find that it varies. I find that these days I'm more likely to feel exhausted as opposed to stressed. The first year is the biggest adjustment. You need to learn to make priorities and take "mental health days" on a regular basis. You will not be able to read everything and prepare adequately for each class. Focus more on your research and not solely on your coursework. Get varied clinical experience and find paid opportunities.
     
  9. Logic Prevails

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    I agree that how you fair in grad school will depend on the program and your supervisor. My first year was definitely the hardest. Pretty muich my whole group of entering grad students were considering dropping out. You need to have both psychological and physical good health if you're to survive.

    I don't have time to do anything other than work. I don't know what I'd do without my girlfriend (and I'm not sure why she'd want to stick through this with me), but having someone to lean on during the stressful times is definitely a plus. Having said that, I think if you went into grad school 'single,' you'd be very unlikely to meet anyone during this time.

    Best of luck. It gets easier as you go through it.
     
  10. Flutterbyu

    Flutterbyu Member
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    Last night I officially finished my first semester of grad school and then I went out and drank heavily :laugh:

    I have to say that going into this, I knew it was going to be an intense experience and that the workload would be tremendous compared to undergrad, but I was not prepared for the way I would feel throughout the semester. It started with a bang of anxiety, which only lasted a few weeks, but which was followed by a period of exhaustion. This just came from being 100% on, all the time, for the first 2 or 3 weeks. Once I got into the rythym on the program, I was able to find my pace and organize myself as to not get too overwhelmed most of the time.

    The biggest adjustments have been more on an emotional level. I have gone through phases of self-doubt, questioning whether this is the right field for me and whether I was adequate enough to succeed. I had a week in which I wanted to quit- I was looking at medical schools rather than doing my readings, but I started talking to other students in my program and lo and behold, they were all feeling the same way. It appears as if everyone who gets in is such a high achiever that this new level of academia is enough to make everyone feel like an underachiever at some point. It is crucial to have a support system during this time.

    Handing in my last paper last night was an intense experience in itself. I don't think I realized how stressed I was until that paper left my hands- I literally felt myself decrompressing right there in the hallway. Although the semester was long, stressful, and taxing, right now I am feeling not only a sense of accomplishment, but a sense of belonging to my program and to the field itself.

    Quick word on social life: I have a 16 hour per week practicum, I am a single mother, and I have recently met someone that I have been dating. I don't think it is healthy or even possible to get through an experience like this without taking time for yourself. It would be too easy to detach and lose yourself to your work. My advice would be to make time for exercise and healthy living. This is a challenge, but I am finding it to be one of the most rewarding endevors I have ever put forth.

    Good luck with your decision!
    :luck:
     
  11. JatPenn

    JatPenn Senior Member
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    I'm in full agreement with LM02 here. Stress comes and goes. I'm in a heavily research-oriented PHD program and classes are sort of an "afterthought," so the majority of the stress for me came not from those but rather from making my first attempts at establishing a compelling line of research within my lab.
     
  12. Quynh2007

    Quynh2007 the oracle of destiny
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    any advice to ease the pains of grad school? I'm already stressed out as it is as an undergrad, to have that twofold or more would be murder for me. I'm a human development major (former psych major) so i'm taking all the psych/hd classes i can with a heavy emphasis on research (so i'm definitely looking at only PhD programs, not PsycD). should i take sociology/nutrition/econ or bio/chem/physics etc classes? would that help? thanks
     
  13. PsychMode

    PsychMode Senior Member
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    For those of you who are current graduate students, how is the student culture at the programs that you are in? Collegial? Competitive? Cut throat? Somewhere in between all of that?

    Are the faculty available? Do you have to make an appointment to see them or can you typically stop by and chat with them?

    Of course, the answers will be different for different programs. Aside from trying to get a sense of the variety of experiences people have had, I'd like to know how people deal with the different environments in which they find themself as doctoral students.
     
  14. psych101

    psych101 Member
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    I'm not a current student, but will comment on my particular experience. My class was both collegial and competitive. For the most part, we got along well -- or at least well enough to get through things and cooperate most of the time. We hung out outside of school and studied in groups often. However, there were a few members who were more cut throat and would do things like hide resources or information from other class members. I was always irritated by those who were competing to be the star student among the class. Hell, at that point you're in grad school -- you jumped that hurdle. You should be just competing with yourself to do the best you can, not making it hard for other people. It was also interesting how some "upperclassmen" were welcoming of new students, while others were very alienated and disinterested in interacting with us. I guess I understood it more as I became an upperclassman.

    As for the faculty, it depended on the person. Some were very welcoming, most encouraged you to come to them. Others would rather have never spoken to you and often sat in their offices with the door closed so they wouldn't be bothered. Guess those are good questions to ask on interview (i.e., "is this faculty member available to students?").
     
  15. PsychMode

    PsychMode Senior Member
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    I appreciate your response. If I get any interviews I will try to get a sense of the interpersonal feel of the program. Although I wouldn't base my decision solely on this factor, I think that people who find themselves choosing between two or more programs of equivalent quality and research fit should consider such things.
     

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