PhD/PsyD Thinking about Leaving Current Clinical Psych PhD Program and Reapplying in December

Sep 13, 2020
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Hi everyone,

I'm in desperate need of advice and would appreciate any feedback anyone would be able to provide.

I'm currently a first year student at a Clinical Psych PhD program that does not feel like a good fit and I'm interested in applying again in December. The program is a lot more clinically oriented than I had initially thought and I am very interested in research. Students are not matched with a mentor until after starting classes and I was matched with a mentor that doesn't really seem interested in helping students get experience in research (working in lab, publications, etc..). The program also isn't fully funded so I'd be looking at about ~200k of debt after graduating, which just doesn't seem worth it to me right now. When I was interviewing for the school, I was told that if research was something I was interested in that I'd be able to put in the extra effort to get the experience I felt I needed, but that's not really looking like the case.

I can try switching mentors next year, but many other students from my cohort are also interested in switching over to the main lab I'd be looking to switch into, meaning there's no guarantee that it'll be a successful switch. I don't want to waste another year (and about 25k in loans) to see if it'll work out.

With all of this said, I'm really leaning towards applying to different programs in December, I'm just not sure how to go about it and I wonder about the following:

1) Would it be best for me to finish the semester or even the year? I'd really like to avoid taking out more loans for next semester since I'm aware that you can't really transfer over credits to other programs, I just don't know which would look better on an application. If I leave now, I can still get a partial refund, but would that look terrible on an application?

  • My GRE scores aren't very great (155 for verbal and quant), so would completing the semester compensate for that at all?
2) I've read on other posts that a letter from the DCT can go a long way, but I'm not sure how to talk to my DCT about this and if they'd even be willing to provide a letter since I don't think they'd be supporting my decision. Is this something that'll severely impact my application?

3) Has anyone else gone through this? If so, can you please share your experience?

Thanks!
 

Ollie123

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I am open to being corrected, but I really struggled to think of a single program that is capable of providing even mediocre research training that would have you coming out 200k in debt.

If you want research to be a substantive part of your career, looking elsewhere might be wise.
 
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summerbabe

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Sorry you find yourself in this crappy situation right off the bat. I would also second @Sanman's question about your career goals - do you envision yourself in academia or are you hoping to do more on research during graduate school but envision yourself in clinical roles?

If you were to apply again during this cycle, would you be applying to only unfunded programs, only funded programs, or potentially both?

I don't have direct knowledge of how common/uncommon transfers are between unfunded programs but they seem rare for funded ones and you would likely need to demonstrate really strong program and research fit. I think some programs (especially small cohort/funded ones) may also view your application with more scrutiny to determine whether they think you'd complete their program and not negatively impact their attrition data.

Good luck!
 

R. Matey

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If you don't want to be there, I don't see a reason for you to be there. It's definitely possible. I've known people who were able to get faculty support, and they ended up with much better funding situations where they went when they made the decision to leave a program. If you can't get support from the TD, I'm sure if you can cite funding as a main reason for switching. I can't imagine that being looked upon unfavorably. What you're arguing against is you're a flight risk for another program.

Also, see other threads about the GRE. Many programs are not looking at GRE scores this year.

@Ollie123 There are some Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology that provide some decent research training without any funding. I've seen this more at religiously affiliated institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary and Seattle Pacific University. Faculty at these institutions had grants, but they were too small to fund students.
 
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conky124

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I second the suggestions and questions offered. I also just want to suggest that maybe you can "take a year off" if you really feel you need some time to think about it. That way you can return to the program if you decide to later and can focus on earning money and applying to another program and avoid paying tuition at your current program. Talk to the administrators and see what options there are.
 

Ollie123

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If you don't want to be there, I don't see a reason for you to be there. It's definitely possible. I've known people who were able to get faculty support, and they ended up with much better funding situations where they went when they made the decision to leave a program. If you can't get support from the TD, I'm sure if you can cite funding as a main reason for switching. I can't imagine that being looked upon unfavorably. What you're arguing against is you're a flight risk for another program.

Also, see other threads about the GRE. Many programs are not looking at GRE scores this year.

@Ollie123 There are some Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology that provide some decent research training without any funding. I've seen this more at religiously affiliated institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary and Seattle Pacific University. Faculty at these institutions had grants, but they were too small to fund students.
While certainly there are plenty of worse programs out there, I'd put these in perhaps "barely scraping into mediocre" category as research goes. They are generally solid for clinical training and they're certainly vastly better than the Argosy's of the world. The training may be OK (tough for me to tell), but their research output is just - frankly - marginal at best. So unless the students are publishing at 3x the rate the faculty are, they just aren't going to set anyone up for a successful research career. I wouldn't necessarily worry about that if someone wanted a clinical career and finances aside, they could definitely do worse than theseprograms. However the OP seems concerned about research training. I would never recommend someone who wants a research career attend one of these programs. Its just too competitive a market out there.

Could they do OK in the research world eventually? Maybe, but it would almost certainly require an extended post-doc. Coupled with 200k debt vs free, it might be better to reapply elsewhere if they are just starting in the program.
 

R. Matey

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While certainly there are plenty of worse programs out there, I'd put these in perhaps "barely scraping into mediocre" category as research goes. They are generally solid for clinical training and they're certainly vastly better than the Argosy's of the world. The training may be OK (tough for me to tell), but their research output is just - frankly - marginal at best. So unless the students are publishing at 3x the rate the faculty are, they just aren't going to set anyone up for a successful research career. I wouldn't necessarily worry about that if someone wanted a clinical career and finances aside, they could definitely do worse than theseprograms. However the OP seems concerned about research training. I would never recommend someone who wants a research career attend one of these programs. Its just too competitive a market out there.

Could they do OK in the research world eventually? Maybe, but it would almost certainly require an extended post-doc. Coupled with 200k debt vs free, it might be better to reapply elsewhere if they are just starting in the program.
You won't get an argument from me. I've known of at least one person who attended one of these programs and then went on to have a successful research career. But, like I say fairly often on this board, exceptions don't create rules.
 

AcronymAllergy

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I agree with everything above, particularly what Ollie's said. I normally recommend trying to stick it out where you are if at all possible. But between the cost of the program and the substantial importance of getting solid research training in graduate school if research/academia is the ultimate career goal, switching programs may be your best bet. There is an almost fundamental mismatch between your goals and what the program can provide.

Has your current program had other students who've gone on to research careers?

I think finishing out the year could be a good idea. But I have zero personal experience in transferring programs, and am very far removed from graduate application reviewing, so I don't know how much of a positive impact this might have on things.
 
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DynamicDidactic

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Is this an APA-accredited program? I'm having a hard time understanding how a PhD, typically designated for scientist-practitioner prorgams, is providing such poor science training and also charging so much.

But, more importantly, I stopped at 200K of debt. That is not worth it. I'd drop out ASAP, take a year off while gaining relevant experience, and reapply to funded programs while highlighting your misstep with this program.
 

summerbabe

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Is this an APA-accredited program? I'm having a hard time understanding how a PhD, typically designated for scientist-practitioner prorgams, is providing such poor science training and also charging so much.
I know of a funded, university-based, and long-time APA accredited PhD program that offers a training model that sounds somewhat similar (pairing with a mentor who isn't necessarily your PI, opportunities to join different research teams/switch mentors, etc).

In that program, students need to be very proactive and self-driven if their goal is to do more than finish a dissertation and present a poster at a regional conference. But I know a recent grad who recently got a tenure track gig in a very competitive research field following postdoc.

@Clinpsychhopeful, can you join the other professor's lab right now or do you have to wait? Does that prof know that you are interested? Do they have lab meetings that you can sit/Zoom in on? Are there ongoing projects that you can assist with, even in small ways? That might give you a better sense of whether this program can ultimately support your research goals.

But as others have suggested, if academia is the desired end, this program doesn't sound like a good fit and you should seriously consider withdrawing without another offer and figure out how to make yourself competitive for funded programs that have a track record of producing researchers.
 

Ollie123

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Yale actually has a similar model, where admissions happen by cohort, you aren't admitted to a single lab and have opportunities to rotate. Or at least this was the case 10-15 years ago.

That doesn't necessarily concern me, what matters is that it sounds like there is really only one productive lab (i.e. main lab - no mention of interests per se) and professors don't do a great job engaging students in the research process. If there is only one lab that's really even doing a good engaging students in research, I don't see how anyone can be getting strong research training. Its a very interdisciplinary field these days so one lab operating as an island is almost by definition not doing meaningful research.
 

Sanman

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We haven't heard from the OP, but I think at this point it really depends on the person's career goals. As others have mentioned, I don't see an academic or research career happening at this program. If that is the goal, then get out assuming that concerns are aired to the DCT over training not being as expected and nothing is being done.

If the person wants a primarily clinical career, they are already in a program and will have completed some of the training. So, it is a bit of a toss up if the debt load means starting over (assuming they get a better offer this cycle) or just staying on track. Unless the person gets a full funded offer at a better program, there are no easy answers here.
 
Sep 13, 2020
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Hi everyone, thanks for all of your messages and sorry for my delayed response.

@Sanman- My career goal is to be involved in research which is why I feel like the program just won't work for me. @Ollie123 - yep, it feels like there are only one or two productive labs and I don't feel like I'm going to get the strong research training that I want, even if I switch.

@summerbabe I would have to wait until next year to switch and other people in my cohort are also interested in switching to this lab. Even if I switch, I still don't feel like I'll be as active in research as I would like. It doesn't seem like many of the mentors are interested in helping their students get published.

@DynamicDidactic yep- it is APA accredited. I think that's what I plan on doing, just going back to working in research full-time, I'm just not sure if leaving mid-semester would look awful on an application.
 

MAClinician

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Not a fun situation to be in. Curious how you ended up applying to and enrolling on this program? Was it due to the one professors lab? Did you feel this was your best shot at getting into a doctorate program? How many students are in your cohort?

No matter your decision, a few red flags that jumped out at me for future applications:
I'm currently a first year student at a Clinical Psych PhD program that does not feel like a good fit and I'm interested in applying again in December. The program is a lot more clinically oriented than I had initially thought and I am very interested in research. Students are not matched with a mentor until after starting classes and I was matched with a mentor that doesn't really seem interested in helping students get experience in research (working in lab, publications, etc..). The program also isn't fully funded so I'd be looking at about ~200k of debt after graduating, which just doesn't seem worth it to me right now. When I was interviewing for the school, I was told that if research was something I was interested in that I'd be able to put in the extra effort not really looking like the case.

I can try switching mentors next year, but many other students from my cohort are also interested in switching over to the main lab I'd be looking to switch into, meaning there's no guarantee that it'll be a successful switch. I don't want to waste another year (and about 25k in loans) to see if it'll work out.
 

DynamicDidactic

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@DynamicDidactic yep- it is APA accredited. I think that's what I plan on doing, just going back to working in research full-time, I'm just not sure if leaving mid-semester would look awful on an application.
Leaving at the end of a semester or mid-semester wont make any differences to a new program. The only option to consider is whether you want to finish off the class credits. That way, you may be able to take a few less classes at a new program (but that can vary depending on program/instructor).

My other advice is do not rush it. You can only strengthen an application with more research experience and time. Additionally, that can help offset concerns about your current program.
 

futureapppsy2

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I know someone who transferred out of all small cohort, university-based program in her second year for many of the same reasons you cite--iffy funding (that the program often misrepresented on interview day) and an advisor who was incredibly unproductive in terms of research (to this day, it baffles me how this person got tenure, yet alone full professor, because in 30 years, they have seriously published only 5 articles, only one first-author article, and are basically still trying to ride the wave of the one--admittedly huge--article that they were a minor author on coming out of graduate school). She applied to four university-based programs, got two interviews, and went to her top choice, a phenomenal program. So, it's rare but it can work out.
 
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