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Welp, I'm at a Loss

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by fiinch, Mar 14, 2017.

  1. fiinch


    Jul 8, 2015
    Hello All,

    Just a brief overview: I was a second-time applicant to around 14 PhD programs throughout the country, and interviewed at six. I had great feedback from every single school, but was ultimately rejected or waitlisted with slim hope of acceptance at each one. It was all about fit, which I suppose post-interview is to be expected, but somehow hearing the same thing six times over makes me feel like I've been politely declined for other unknown reasons.

    My research interests stayed the same between my SOP and my interviews--this is one reason why I feel so darn confused about how my "fit" was suddenly so wrong despite those same interests premising my invitations.

    I am so disenchanted...NONE of the schools mentioned anything deficient in my applications, which in some ways makes me fearful to apply again. Is the onus now on me to somehow morph my research interests into something more "marketable?" Has anyone been in this position with similar feedback, and if so, how did you surmount this obstacle?

    Additionally, I'm going to be moving this summer back to my hometown--I'm separating from the military, and my husband and I want to be closer to family. I feel incredibly selfish applying to programs for a third time, as this will inevitably disrupt my spouse's career again. I don't know how to navigate this in a way that fosters both of our success. Our hometown is near San Diego, and while it is a small hub of schooling opportunities, I'm also cognizant of how competitive the region is too.

    Any insight is appreciated.
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  3. psychstudent5

    psychstudent5 PhD 7+ Year Member

    Jul 6, 2010
    When people talk about "fit," they mean that the applicant's research interests align with their potential adviser's research. When I applied, my interests were broad. If a potential adviser was doing research that had a sliver of what I was interested in doing, I shaped my essays into that fashion. You don't want to be too narrow when you're trying to get in. Once you get in the program, you can spend more developing your niche through your clinical work, thesis and dissertation.
  4. fiinch


    Jul 8, 2015
    I wonder if that was my problem, then. I did have very defined interests, but I always paid equal attention to stating that I'm broadly interested in "x" as a whole. I must not have been emphatic enough on that latter point.
  5. WisNeuro

    WisNeuro Board Certified Neuropsychologist Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Feb 15, 2009
    Were you able to talk about your potential research interests in the context of your previous research experience/products?
  6. fiinch


    Jul 8, 2015
    I believe I was, yes. I have two publications that specifically related to my research interests. I think, however, I may have come across as too pointedly heading one direction.
  7. psyguy83

    psyguy83 2+ Year Member

    Feb 25, 2015
    Yea, I wonder how you may have come across during your interviews in general.

    How are your interview skills?
    Did you have plenty of thoughtful questions?
    Did you do your homework?
    Did you show enthusiasm?

    Is it possible you came across as boring, awkward, arrogant, competitive, or socially miscalibrated?

    I saw examples of all of these (or lack there of) during interviews.
    bmedclinic likes this.
  8. fiinch


    Jul 8, 2015
    At the risk of sounding arrogant, I honestly do not believe I came across as socially awkward. My whole personality is people driven--I've interviewed a lot, not just within the graduate school realm, and I've always done well. I asked a lot of insightful questions pertaining to each professor and program as a whole, and each doctor immediately followed every interview with some iteration of how they really liked talking with me. I've always been of the belief that passion speaks through you. I honestly thought I did so well.

    It's a huge blow to the ego: I used to think that if you got as many interviews as I did, and then fail to receive offers, it was a factor of poor personality or arrogance. How humbling to see that even being socially adept, I am one of the people who didn't make the cut.

    Reflecting on my interviews, I think I erred with regards to my research interests being too specific. It's hard for me to swallow. I was told explicitly by one mock interview doctor to articulate my interests authentically. I feel like my authenticity sunk me, especially when I literally watched peers parrot a POI CV as their own interests and get the offer.

    In that respect, it feels incredibly personal.
    I guess I didn't play the game well.
  9. People like people who are like them. It is not as much about your research at this point because to them you are a novice and they are the experts. I had a psych professor point this out to me in undergrad relating to writing papers. I was getting lots of Bs for well written and well thought out papers coming from my own perspective. After discussion with my psych prof, I shifted and began reflecting back the exact opinions that the profs were giving sometimes even parroting their words since I have an excellent verbal memory. I started getting all A's. It felt phony, but at times that is how you have to play the game.
  10. fiinch


    Jul 8, 2015
    I'd like to also add that I'm really not a competitive person. I've been disenchanted with that side of my military service, as I am competitive with myself but not cutthroat with my peers. Most of the folks who interviewed along side me were also very team oriented, which is so encouraging. It was a pleasure to meet my competitors, even with the ultimate realization that those same individuals were the ones who came out on top.

    I'm a non-trad student. I should have consulted more professionals and gleaned advice about how authenticity and broad adaptability can be better interwoven in interviews. This was another failing on my end.

    I just don't think I can afford to try again. My husband has been wonderfully supportive thus far, but I would be shocked if he DIDNT resent me for applying, getting in, uprooting us AGAIN, and then likely relocating a few more times in the pursuit of internship/fellowship and ultimate employment. That's a lot to ask of a spouse.

    I know I want to help people. I also know I LOVE school. I'm even considering law, since my previous educational track lends itself well to that discipline. And yet, how do you reconcile a desire to help others and NOT be cutthroat with a field inherently built upon winners and losers?
  11. psychstudent5

    psychstudent5 PhD 7+ Year Member

    Jul 6, 2010
    I had a similar experience to smalltownpsych. I think it's dumb and unfair, but part of the process of getting in. Since the goal is admission, do what you need to do to get the offer. Once you're in, you will have more latitude (not COMPLETE latitude) to do research that you're super passionate about, especially when it comes to thesis and dissertation.
  12. glowstick

    glowstick Self 7+ Year Member

    Mar 7, 2010
    This story is interesting to me. I'll also posit that while you, personally, may have had a perspective that was worth arguing from as an undergrad, most college students do not. It's not unreasonable for professors to want you to learn to think like them, at least in principle. (Then again, I had few undergrad psych courses with papers.)

    fiinch, it sounds like you need to talk seriously with your partner and discuss the pros and cons of trying this one more time. It might be that he likes moving around, is willing to try out one more year because it's important to you. I know from personal experience that when you get to a grad school interview and say "I'm interested in MNO," where all of those are things that were listed on your potential advisor's website (MNOPQRSTU), sometimes the advisor is thinking (if not saying), "Those are things I used to do" or "Those are things my colleague really advises me on." Sometimes students apply to a lab for a particular methodology which the PI is no longer interested in. It may be that you really did just give multiple interviewers the impression that you were intelligent and organized, but interested in something specific that they couldn't help you with and that wouldn't integrate well into their lab(s). That's a frustrating but possible reality.

    I will say that I never felt a need to be "cutthroat" in this process, but maybe I've been lucky. I was honest and both general and specific in the labs I applied to. My colleagues were collegial and not competitive. The response to rejection shouldn't be to misrepresent yourself, but it could be to consider ways in which your clear momentum did/did not jibe with the PIs of the labs you applied to. Your current advisor(s) can provide more insight into that, potentially.
  13. bpsydme

    bpsydme 5+ Year Member

    Dec 16, 2012
    I agree that part of the interview is putting forth your best self and trying your best to be admitted, but you also need to find balance between being too flexible and staying true to what you're interested in. At the end of the day, you will have to spend 4-6 years doing that kind of research. If your general area of interest is say, dementia, and you are really interested in AD but instead say that you would be interested in working with Parkinson's, that's one thing. But if you completely mold your application and "interests" to whatever the PI is doing just to gain acceptance (e.g., say you're interested in bipolar at one school and dementia at another), I think you will be miserable throughout grad school. It may not be the case either that you will have the latitude to do whatever research you're passionate for your thesis and dissertation. That depends on whether your PI has expertise in that area to mentor you, and/or he/she has colleagues who can take up that role (and if he/she are willing to let you do that). It will also depend on whether there is existing datasets or studies you can publish on or do your thesis/dissertation on that has something similar to what you want to work on. It will depend on whether your committee will allow you to do so, especially if your PI's work is in something entirely different.

    I don't mean to discourage you from re-applying, but if you're struggling with geographic moves and balancing your spouse's career now, it will be even harder during internship and postdoc. At least grad school is 4-6 (or 7+) years where you can stay put in one place, barring any unexpected changes. For internship, you will have to decide whether it's worthwhile uprooting your loved one(s) just for one year before possibly moving again. California is also a state that gets a lot of applications at all levels of training, so if you want to stay in CA long-term, that will make it even more difficult. From my experience, this field is one of sacrifices, and if you aren't willing or able to make those sacrifices, you really want reconsider if the Ph.D. or whatever degree is worth the emotional and social stress.

    Sorry if I come off pessimistic, I have seen multiple individuals who do whatever they can to get in and then "worry about the rest later." All of them are miserable or have since dropped out.
    psychstudent5 likes this.
  14. aly cat

    aly cat Assistant Professor 7+ Year Member

    Feb 3, 2009
    There are many things that determine "fit" that may have nothing to do with what you did or said as an interviewee. I'm aware that does not do anything to help your current situation and likely adds to your frustration, but it is the truth.

    One example I can give you from being on the other side is: say Professor A generally does research in XYZ areas. They just got a huge grant for a project in area Z. You talked about your interest in X and Y but some other applicant talked about their interest in Z.. or came from a lab with great experience in Z. One way to combat this, should you choose to apply again, is to ask about what types of projects/funding they are planning for the near future and adapt your answers accordingly (either in emails ahead of time or from their current students).

    More generally, my advisor typically interviewed 3-5 people who were all stellar AND good fits on paper. He regularly told us he'd be happy with several of them and often agonized over the decision of who to make first the offer to. Ultimately, things like who qualified for fellowship funding (eased the burden on the program for providing funding), personality fit with the other current lab members, this nebulous sense of whether students understood exactly what they were getting into and thus were less likely to drop out/leave/change advisors, and who he thought was least likely to sit on an offer were all variables that entered into the discussion to break the tie. It really might not be anything that you are doing, and I know that is frustrating, but just here to re-iterate that it may have nothing to do with you or your performance.
    glowstick likes this.
  15. I have always liked seeing things from a different perspective and trying to get others to do that. When I was younger it created problems because people don't like to shift their perspective and I was pretty blunt about it. I am a little bit better at it these days or at least more selective about when I try to do that.
    psychstudent5 and glowstick like this.
  16. rerope

    rerope 5+ Year Member

    I was in the same situation as you about 2/3 weeks ago and on 4 waitlists. I reached out to many POIs and the message I got was that I got edged out by people who's interests aligned with future projects they had in mind. I was crushed as that's honestly not something any applicant can predict. Short of asking 'what are the labs next steps' mid interview and shoehorning your interests into those, its hard to alter one's 'fit' in that respect. But you shouldn't take this as a sign that you should give up or that you're less of an applicant, especially with the brutal competition this year.
    Also, its not April 15th yet and its still possible to get off the waitlist. I got off one just as I was mentally steeling myself for a round 3 and there's a high chance I'll get off another. I really hope you hear some good news by then.
  17. Sharewithme


    Mar 18, 2017
    I'm running a support group for graduate school applicants, ones who were rejected and ones brand new to the process. My research interests are in grief/loss, both death and non-death related, and so helping former applicants get past this year's round of rejections and get inspired to re-apply is a huge interest of mine. You titled this post "I'm at a loss," and I'll send you a personal message b/c I think you may be interested in the group. Others reading this, you're welcome to join the group, too!
    PreDrANB likes this.
  18. Meteora

    Meteora 2+ Year Member

    Dec 14, 2015
    A common theme emerging in the posts in this topic is that you as an individual have to fit in with where your POI's future research is going.

    At my interviews, my "competition" were all super awesome, socially adept, supportive people. I am sure everyone had good interviews. But one of the most important things at that stage besides social compatibility IS the kind of work/experience you can offer and how that fits in. I remember in one interview particularly my POI was taking a lot of notes every time we talked about different studies/projects that I could potentially work on or be interested in. I am sure that they did this with all the candidates, and in the end made judgments of who overall would be the best fit.

    This is frustrating when you are preparing for interviews because while a website can offer a lot of information on current research, they seldom include detailed info about where their future research is going. So it's...something that is hard to prepare for. What user bpsydme mentioned about finding a balance between being "too flexible" and having your own core interests is really key.
  19. foreverbull

    foreverbull 2+ Year Member

    Sep 8, 2015
    finch, that's so frustrating!!!
    I agree with others about "playing the game." Sometimes you just have to have interests that seem compatible with faculty in broad ways, future research interests possibly, as others have mentioned. I just want to note that I got into a program where my research interests were nowhere near what I actually researched once in the doc program, so don't think you're trapped in that area just because you talked about it during the interview. Part of it is research interests, and part of it is compatibility/likeability. I know someone who was picked for a doc program simply because the professor found her interesting beyond her qualifications and research interests. She didn't dress the way the other women did and ended up being a great fit for the program, ultimately. So who knows all of the factors that go into choosing; you could analyze it and get different answers from everyone about how graduate programs choose people. I just want to note that it sounds like you were a strong contender in a sea of strong contenders...where it's hard to stand out, so don't take it too personally. I hope you don't give up on your dream! It sounds like you just might need to try again if you want it badly enough. This is a big setback, but it doesn't have to be the end of this path altogether unless you decide to stop pursuing it.
  20. singasongofjoy

    singasongofjoy Psychologist 2+ Year Member

    Dec 4, 2014
    . ... and I know someone who did not get considered despite her qualifications because she wore four inch red heels to the interview. So interpretations of interesting clothing choices go both ways. :) happily I did hear she got in to another program.
  21. WisNeuro

    WisNeuro Board Certified Neuropsychologist Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Feb 15, 2009
    Word of advice. Don't be remembered for what you wore to an interview. Both men and women, just go with a traditional suit of some sort, nothing flashy. To do otherwise is just inviting the negative and possibly indicative of poor judgment.
  22. PsychAF2017


    Jan 9, 2018
    So what has been your outcome now? Did you apply for school again?
    Feelings Doctor likes this.

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