Sep 21, 2017
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Pre-Psychology
I'd welcome some perspective on my career aspirations from people who have been down the Ph.D. path. I'm considering a career change. I earned a BA from Michigan and a MS from MIT in fields not related to psychology. Currently, I work in an administrative/management position at Columbia. For many years, I've felt a vocational pull toward questions of the mind, of people's motivations, and how things such as trauma, healing/recovery, and meaning-making affect our personal sense of agency and capacity for adaptation.

I'm drawn to working with adults in therapeutic and teaching roles. I'm also drawn to research because I have a natural curiosity and much of my career path thus far has lacked intellectual stimulation. In my years of personal reading and therapy, my introduction to psychology has been through a psychodynamic/depth and humanistic/existential lens. I also recognize the importance of scientific rigor in clinical research and practice, which I know I can expect from advanced training in the field.

I'm not independently wealthy, so going back to school full-time is not an option until I begin a Ph.D. program. Neither is taking on more student debt. As a Columbia employee who can take courses here at a 50+% tuition discount, I've identified two potential options to take the next step in my career discernment: 1) earning a postbac certificate in psychology (28 credits over 2-3 years of part-time study), which follows the same curriculum as undergrad majors, including research opportunities, or 2) earning a terminal MA in clinical psych at Teachers College (36 credits over 3-4 years part-time), which culminates in an "integrative project" where I would have more freedom to apply theories, methods, etc. to create a unique capstone product of my studies. It seems like both programs would allow me to focus my research interests further.

Becoming a licensed psychologist is obviously a long path. But based on my fact-finding so far, a Ph.D. seems like it would give me the widest set of options for practice, teaching, and ongoing research in areas that interest me.

Does this sound like the right set of next steps for someone in my situation? Am I overlooking any major obstacles? Are there other routes I should consider, or other ways to test my early assumptions about the reality of a career in clinical psychology? For those familiar with Columbia/Teachers College, what are the pros and cons of the certificate vs. the MA program?

Thanks in advance for your perspective!
 
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WisNeuro

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So, one problem. If your goal is a reputable PhD, you will at some point have to go back to school full-time. No way around it. You'll need approximately 4 years of grad school, a 1 year internship, and likely a fellowship for clinical hours of you want licensure at some point. Reputable programs will offer full funding and a stipend, enough to live on, kind of, so there's that. Are you willing to do that? Also, are you geographically restricted?
 
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Moon75
Sep 21, 2017
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Pre-Psychology
You raise a key point, WisNeuro. I neglected to mention earlier that my part-time constraints are only on pre-doctoral studies and experience. If accepted to a suitable Ph.D. program that's fully funded, I'd absolutely switch to full-time study and training. As for geography, my partner and I are very open to relocating.
 
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Sep 22, 2017
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I'm someone who made a mid-life career change. I'm currently in my postdoc, having completed classes, externships, and internship. I already had a PhD in psychology and completed a respecialization program through an APA accredited clinical program (not on online mill). I know the Columbia system well, and think that either program woudl serve you well. As I recall, the PhD program at TC fully supports its' students, so perhaps doing well in a master's program there would give you a boost if you apply there? Also, I think you'd have more opportunity for clinical research at TC than doing the postbacc psych program. The Columbia Psych Dep't doesn't have any clinical researchers. Good luck to you!!
 
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Moon75
Sep 21, 2017
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Thank you for this insight, ktnyc! Great to hear from another mid-life career changer. And your point about clinical research opportunity at TC has got me thinking...

Does this mean that the Columbia Psych Dep't is focused only on experimental research? Or would you distinguish its research some other way?
 
Sep 22, 2017
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Post Doc
Thank you for this insight, ktnyc! Great to hear from another mid-life career changer. And your point about clinical research opportunity at TC has got me thinking...

Does this mean that the Columbia Psych Dep't is focused only on experimental research? Or would you distinguish its research some other way?
The Psychology Department is focused on basic research in the domains of social psyc, cognitive neuroscience, some behavioral neuroscience, perception and consciousness, etc. There are some clinical folks, but I think they are all adjuncts teaching abnormal psych and the like, and don't have an active research program. There are definitely things that are applicable; for example a couple of people study learning in humans, another focuses on developmental, another on social cognition (so in other words there are people that are doing human-based research that will aid in your application). But, no one that I can think of - outside of TC - is doing pure clinical research. That doesn't mean you wouldn't get into a grad program with that kind of experience, but it may not be exactly what you're looking for. Alternately, if you can find someone at TC to take you in their lab you could probably get some clinical research experience at TC if you decide to do the post-bacc route. Lots of options to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Don't let the number of options scare you off - there is likely no one right answer.
 
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Moon75
Sep 21, 2017
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Lots of options to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
I couldn't agree more about the importance of options. Thanks again for your help clarifying the ones at Columbia.
 
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