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Masters Before PhD?

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by underfire451, Jan 12, 2018.

  1. underfire451

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    I'm an undergrad senior about to finish my bachelor's in psychology (with an emphasis in neuroscience) and I want to eventually end up in a clinical psychology program. I've applied to three programs so far, but I don't have much research experience (I only did literature reviews) so I doubt I'm going to get into one right now. That being said, I heard I either need to get a masters or work as a research assistant in order to beef up my research. Which one would help me more? And if I go for the Masters, what should I get it in? None of the programs I'm looking at specify which Masters they prefer, they don't say anything about having a Masters beforehand. Any input is highly welcomed, deadlines are coming up so I want to be as informed as I can before I jump into anything.
     
    #1 underfire451, Jan 12, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018
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  3. singasongofjoy

    Psychologist 2+ Year Member

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    research assistant, if you can manage to get some publications/presentations out of it. In large part because a masters would put you into debt (or suck up money that could otherwise pay for a PhD program/living expenses) whereas a research assistant would be a net positive (or neutral, depending on how much it paid/your lifestyle).
     
  4. underfire451

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    Thank you! So the end goal is publications and/or presentations, not just x number of research hours? Also, it's possible to find positions even with just my bachelor's?
     
  5. singasongofjoy

    Psychologist 2+ Year Member

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    yes and yes. You don't want "just x number of research hours." You want those hours to count- you want to be able to assume some responsibility and make contributions towards publications/presentations. 40 hours a week of data entry, phone calls, and making copies won't get you any closer to grad school.
     
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  6. psyguy83

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    Yep, and that will often require you to take the initiative to get involved with those posters/pubs. If you can, volunteer at two different labs or seek a paid research position and forge some great, working relationships with the grad students and the Dr. running the lab.

    You would be surprised how much doing what you say are going to do, being on time, and exceeding expectations can positively impact your CV. Good luck
     
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  7. Feelings Doctor

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    Check out university-specific job system postings before you take on free labor opportunities. Depending on the university, some offer full-time or part-time paid research assistant positions that are perfect for a fresh Bachelor's alum, plus you'll also get to earn some or all of your living while doing it. Paid opportunities also often mean more important research experiences because you may be expected to do a lot more beyond what a typical undergrad volunteer RA would be doing (e.g., scoring protocols).

    Also, be flexible about the actual research questions you're involved in if the opportunity would offer you research experience that would be applicable to your ultimate research goals. For example, say your "dream study" includes conducting fMRI studies with ASD participants in the future as a Ph.D. or doctoral student. Research work in a neuroimaging lab that includes fMRI studies about non-ASD people and getting some experience with fMRIs or writing grants for this work would go farther for you than RA work in an ASD lab that just involves you scoring protocols. Seek important less topic-related research opportunities over topic-related but unimportant opportunities. I helped write IRB and grant proposals for a deaf and hard-of-hearing study as an undergrad. I (and future POIs) had zero interest in deaf or hard-of-hearing as a research topic, but my experience with the proposals looked very attractive to future POIs when applying for grad school.

    As @singasongofjoy indicated, master's degrees cost money AND don't guarantee research opportunities any better than volunteer research opportunities, which at least are free to perform, even if they don't net you money. If you know you're going for a research-focused Ph.D., then don't waste time on a master's degree before applying, because most psych fields are not expecting or desiring this from incoming doctoral applicants anyway.
     
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  8. underfire451

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    Thank you so much! This is extremely helpful, no one tells me the down to earth info, especially with what positions to look for.
     
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  9. Feelings Doctor

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    I’m glad you feel like you have some direction. Many colleges don’t do a great job of mentoring undergrads or providing career guidance, and careers can be confusing and intimidating, particularly ones requiring higher ed. The best way to get information is to reach out to people who do what you’d like to do and ask them about their work, how they got to be to where they are, and how you can get there in today’s world. I encourage you to continue reaching out and asking questions, particularly of clinical psych profs at your college or programs you’re interested in.

    Also, when applying for a Ph.D. program, remember you’re applying to work with a particular professor, not just the program. Find programs that have a prof that does research that excites you. Sound interested in their work and figure out how to sell yourself as a match with their work as well as the program.
     
  10. briarcliff

    7+ Year Member

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    I went the RA route (and have always espoused this route) and did end up in a solid/funded PhD program but in hindsight think that a terminal masters would have prepared me more for doctoral training. I found myself (at least feeling) a couple years behind in terms of professional development, etc. in relation to my peers who entered with a couple years of graduate training already under their belts. Although, from my observation of my peers’ experiences, a terminal masters hasn’t resulted in any significant time saved at the PhD level, and I imagine that this is a “the grass is always greener” situation.
     
  11. psych.meout

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    I've mostly had the opposite experience.

    I have a mix of clinical and research work experience and I've felt more advanced than my cohort across most areas, including compared to those students who came in with master's degrees. I think it's less about which kind of training you get in general and more about the quality of the specific training you received. I.e., If my work site had been different, I might not have developed as much as I did there and would not be where I am today. Alternatively, if my training and experience had been of poor quality, I would have been further behind and had more difficulty in grad school, because I'd have to unlearn bad habits and knowledge and be retrained.
     
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