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Possible to Gain Research Exp Volunteering?

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by Exploring789, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. Exploring789

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    I have a BA (double major) in Psychology and English and also a credential to teach English grades 7 to 12 in my state. I've worked since my graduation in 1996 in various fields like advertising, proofreading, writing, editing, etc.

    I have no work experience related to psychology and I didn't know going in as a college freshmen that I'd add the psychology major my junior year! So, I didn't exactly go to a large university with research opportunities.

    My question is how to make up for this lack of research experience now if I want to apply for PhD in clinical? It is hopeless? I've put off the grad school decision for years out of fear of the GRE and knowledge that I had no research experience.

    My undergrad GPA was 3.5. I haven't taken the GRE in many years, but am planning on studying (this time!) and taking it.

    I'm thinking there must be some kind of job or volunteer work I can do to gain more focused references and also research experience. I have plenty of time to devote to this.

    Should I just apply for an MS in general psychology with a thesis? My idea is that I could gain the research experience and then apply for the PhD after getting the MS. Not sure what kind of job I could get with the MS...

    I've read about the MSW but I'm just not that interested aspects of social work other than the therapy. In fact, as an undergrad I changed the social work major to psychology since I liked those classes better.

    If clinical seems hopeless for me, is experimental psy less competitive and perhaps more willing to overlook the lack of research experience (ironically)? I love the research aspect, but am not convinced of having ample job opportunities with the experimental degree.

    What I want to accomplish is a degree that will enable me to do research, write and practice therapy of some kind. I'm not in love with the idea of teaching, but I could change my mind on that. I have bad memories of teaching high school!

    I'm 37 now and would love to be in some sort of program in the next two years. Just ordered the GRE prep books. That's about all I've done other than online reading and posting this.

    Any advice for a newbie would be great. Be honest!
     
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  3. cara susanna

    10+ Year Member

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    Yes, most people gain their research experience by volunteering to work with a lab or professor. I would suggest that over an MS.
     
  4. Exploring789

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    Cara,

    So a professor would let me work in the university lab even though I'm not a student? Or is offsite more likely? I'm wondering if some schools have rules about non-students hanging around. Thanks for your response.

    What specific kinds of volunteer opportunities would be best? Any suggestions on the best way to get these jobs? Also, how much time should I spend volunteering before applying? The PhD deadline is coming up faster than the MS one. Wonder if I have enough time to even apply for Fall 2012. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to spend a longer time volunteering to make sure I really want to do this anyway.
     
  5. IHrtHealthPsych

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    I volunteered for a lab without being a student at that University, for the exact reason you mentioned. I am working on my MA, with a thesis, but I wanted more experience. It was difficult to find a lab that would let me volunteer, because most people either questioned my commitment or said I was overqualified! However, I finally found a lab, with a professor who did the EXACT kind of research I was really interested in in a study that was actively collecting data. I think it was a good match for that reason. I encourage you to do the same. It was hard volunteering, but it worked--as a volunteer, I got to choose which tasks I wanted experience in most. I got some great experience. I was given an unpaid appointment at the university, which is great for my CV and gave me access to the university resources. Eventually, my mentor encouraged me to do my own study and I did that as well with her funding. The entire time, it seemed that she felt that volunteering was beneath me and although she was more than willing to have me help, she really encouraged me to do what it would take to get my own study under my belt so I can be competitive for PhD programs. I am in my second year of applying, so I am hoping it helps this year!! Good luck!
     
  6. Exploring789

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    Thanks so much for your response, IHrtHealthPsych. I had no idea that it would be possible to do your own study at a university where you aren't a student. I wonder if that's a rare thing.

    I'm guessing you already had some research experience. I'm wondering how attractive I'd be with no prior experience. All I've done is proofreading, writing, some teaching, etc.
     
  7. IHrtHealthPsych

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    As far as doing my own study, I do feel really lucky. This professor took me under her wing and really encouraged me to do it. I know several classmates in my home university (in another state) who had a lot of trouble volunteering for research labs because outside schools just used their own students. I basically relocated across the country for this opportunity! My school does research, but it's mostly a teaching university. The thing that helped me was an absolute passion for this particular area of research, prior professional experience with that population, a lab with lower funding who were desperate for help, and a professor who took an interest in me. I think it also helped that she is tenure-track, so she is motivated to collect data and get out some publications.

    I'm no expert (in fact, I'm career-changing from the performing arts and then alternative health), but I was told by several professors that although having research experience is essential, it is even more essential to start your own projects. Honestly, I think it's all a crap shoot, because even the professors themselves don't know for sure what combination of experiences will land someone in a PhD program! Even with my connection at the university where I volunteered, I still don't know if I am a reasonable candidate to work with this professor--she would take me, hands down, if only I pass up the initial cut, which is going to be hard because my GRE scores are lower than the average for that program :rolleyes: !
     
  8. Exploring789

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    Thanks again for responding! :) You said you're working on your MA. Is this for general psychology or something else? I'm thinking I have a better chance of getting in for an MS with thesis, but not sure yet what exactly I could do with an MS in General Psychology. I'm still at the beginning stages of exploring all this.

    I've been assuming that it's easier to get into a PhD later if you have a master's first, but maybe this is a false assumption.
     
  9. IHrtHealthPsych

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    My MA will be in clinical psychology. From what I understand, a master's is not necessarily better. Some programs prefer students with only a bachelor's degree.

    I don't have an undergraduate degree in psychology, so I pursued an MA in order to explore the field. I am doing a practicum for my master's, so I'll be able to get a license as a counselor regardless--which, I'm told, is good for future predoctoral internship because I'll already have a license and will be able to bill insurance. However, the clinical/practical focus could be useless (or frowned upon) for research-focused programs.

    It's so competitive! One really has to have good grades, test scores, research experience, AND a good match (similar research interest) to the professor you'll be working with. A master's may help you to develop your interest and do a project of your own. You'll be compared against 20-somethings who have 4.0's, 1400+ GRE's, years of research experience, their own thesis, and no need to work so that they have plenty of time to get all of these credentials. Professors will see them as blank slates without baggage like those of us in our thirties. It's daunting. I'm in my mid-thirties, so I understand your situation!
     
  10. Exploring789

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    Well, I do think there's something to be said for the emotional maturity that comes with being in your 30s. I have to say that most of what I've read on these forums has been discouraging.

    I know that everyone is just being honest, but the thing that bugs me is that people who can do the work are overlooked because they don't seem perfect for one reason or another. What should count is the ability and willingness.
     
  11. IHrtHealthPsych

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    I totally agree. It's not fair. The only reason it's like that is due to the nature of the beast--schools want high numbers to stay competitive. One of my classmates (a PsyD student) has told me, repeatedly, "If you do a PhD program, you're going to be someone's b**ch for 5 years," and, let's face it, the younger ones are more likely to put up with that. And I've noticed on this forum that the PsyD's are harrassed incessantly, but those programs are more likely to value life experience. There are programs out there that value mature professionals. Those are the ones to apply to!!
     
  12. futureapppsy2

    futureapppsy2 Assistant professor
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    Come again? Among the people I knew in the clinical PhD program at my undergrad U and my program now were a substantial number of people who took significant time-off, (single) parents, etc. While it may be true that some programs are more open to non-trad applicants, the blanket statements just don't work.

    Also, in practice, you shouldn't be "someone's ****"--you may have to work like all get out for your advisor, but you should get mentorship, publication opportunities, etc out of it. I know there are advisors who just use their grad students with no benefit to the latter, but I think and hope those are in the minority.
     
  13. IHrtHealthPsych

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    Can you explain more about what you're saying in the first paragraph? I don't understand. What I'm saying is that the nature of these types of programs lends them to being more/less open to those with work/life experience vs. academic experience only. Working people or career changers are less likely to be able to get the academic experience simply due to other commitments and what subsequently ends up on their CV is not what is competitive. Case in point, this thread--career changers find it next to impossible to get research experience, which is required, compared to those who had undergrad opportunities for credit, etc. It just doesn't compare. It's not about only liking it or not liking it, it's valuing it as a basic core requirement for success.

    I agree with the second paragraph. I would hope that it isn't the case, but I was just passing along what I was told.
     
    #12 IHrtHealthPsych, Aug 18, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2011

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