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Choosing Between a Clinical vs Experimental Program


Benefit

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Hello everyone, 

I'm in a bit of a bind. I have been accepted to my top choice for both clinical and experimental. 

Both programs are with supervisors who do exactly the kind of research I want to do. 

The clinical program has a bit higher tuition rates, and I think I get along better with the supervisor from the experimental program. There are also more learning opportunities for different neuroimaging techniques in the experimental program. 

My end goal is to do research, hopefully, eventually become a professor - and I know this is really difficult to get into. 

With the clinical, there does seem to be more job postings for professorships, but I am a bit worried about the fact that there isn't as much research training. I'm also not sure I am super passionate about the clinical side of things. Everyone I have spoken to has highly recommended that I take the clinical path because of how bleak the job prospects are for experimental though. 

With experimental, it is something that I am really passionate about, but everyone I know who has graduated with an experimental PhD has had a really hard time finding a job. Majority have gone into industry, and don't seem to enjoy that as much. 

Does anyone have any advice? 

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Many clinical programs have just as much (if not better) research training than experimental. Depends on what you want, though. 

 

I am clinical so I’m biased, but you do have a lot more options with a clinical degree vs experimental. You can’t practice as a psychologist with an experimental degree, FWIW. It’s nice to know I can hang a shingle and practice if I hate research in 5 years lol  

c

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If you don't see yourself doing clinical practice at all, then there's no point in doing clinical unless your research interests need a clinical population. I've seen other PhDs get non-academic positions if you're worried about job prospects. Your program just isn't going to be tailored to getting those positions and you'll have to put in the extra work.

People underestimate the importance of supervisor relationship, and given that your ultimate goal is research, a good supervisor and better training is crucial.

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Agree with Oshawott. If you can't see yourself doing clinical work at all, then no point going to a clinical psych program. Also wanted to mention that it is possible to do research with clinical populations even as part of an experimental program (from personal experience, several friends in grad schools, and supervisors). However, I am thinking the reason it is more difficult is that your program is not going to have as much access to those populations, so you will need to put in additional legwork when it comes to finding those folks, learning additional clinical assessments (maybe), etc. In that case, I'd look for a PI who is either a clinician by training, but focused on research exclusively, or if they are not a clinician, then they are using the populations/techniques you are interested in.

As far as the job prospects, as paranoid as I am myself on the subject, unless your goal is exclusively a tenure track position at an R1 university, then you will have options upon graduation. During the interview cycle and prior to that, I spoke to multiple people with an experimental psych phd, and everyone said they had either post-docs or industry jobs lined up prior to finishing the program. Just my lengthy two cents.

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22 minutes ago, Benefit said:

Thank you everyone for the advice. I think you are right that I shouldn't go into the clinical program if I don't see myself doing clinical work after. 

But you don't have to do clinical work if you take on a clinical psych program. I think you're shooting yourself a little in the foot by just going "research only route". Im going to a R1 clinical psych program with a clinical science accreditation and there is very very little clinical expectancy (most/all of us are wanting to stay in research). I solely took clinical psych because why not make yourself the most marketable person that you can be. If I want to do research, and only research, I can do that with a clinical psych phd; If I find that I cant get a job in research/teaching, I can then go into testing and assessment, which is very little clinical if you think about it. There are so many other avenues that you can take with a clinical vs. experimental (I know I have a MA in experimental psych!). I am in the same boat as you, I only want to do research, eventually publish as much as I can, go into academia. I choose clinical psych because I also want to do testing and have a back up if my goals take longer than expected. Maybe some food for thought!

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On 2018-03-29 at 3:50 PM, nycgrad14 said:

But you don't have to do clinical work if you take on a clinical psych program. I think you're shooting yourself a little in the foot by just going "research only route". Im going to a R1 clinical psych program with a clinical science accreditation and there is very very little clinical expectancy (most/all of us are wanting to stay in research). I solely took clinical psych because why not make yourself the most marketable person that you can be. If I want to do research, and only research, I can do that with a clinical psych phd; If I find that I cant get a job in research/teaching, I can then go into testing and assessment, which is very little clinical if you think about it. There are so many other avenues that you can take with a clinical vs. experimental (I know I have a MA in experimental psych!). I am in the same boat as you, I only want to do research, eventually publish as much as I can, go into academia. I choose clinical psych because I also want to do testing and have a back up if my goals take longer than expected. Maybe some food for thought!

I agree with this. I love research, but I chose a clinical program because I want to keep my options open. I’m a lot less stressed about my future knowing that I can fall back on clinical work if academia doesn’t work out. I’m not a huge fan of therapy either, but I enjoy assessment and I’m glad to have that option if I can’t make it in research or if my goals change.

Of course, if you really hate the idea of clinical work and can’t see yourself going through the clinical courses, then go with the experimental program. I’m just thinking of the considerable number of people I’ve known who have regretted not choosing the clinical degree/the relative security it provides. 

Edited by healthpsych
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At the end of the day, your choice is probably highly personal and will probably depend  on your interests, background, what you can see yourself "falling back" on, etc. In my case, I chose an experimental program that offers a heavy stats component and a lot of research opportunities, and I can graduate fairly quickly with my prior coursework transfer. Also I can't see clinical work/testing being my back up. Clinical programs I've looked at (particularly locations I was interested in) didn't offer the things I was looking for in my phd training. If the clinical program offers whats important to you and you can see yourself leveraging skills from the clinical program to positions in/outside academia, then definitely go for it. In my situation that wasn't the case, so I went experimental. I'm glad this topic is getting many responses because this is probably a frequent question people have. Sorry re typos, on my phone. 

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Speaking to the job prospects afterwards, my anec-data is that our department is perennially trying to hire a clinical psychologist to teach abnormal psychology courses and supervise the many, many undergrads who are interested in pursuing clinical training. They're hard to attract because the candidates want to continue seeing patients part time, or to train graduate students and we don't have a graduate program. Would we also consider an experimentalist who could teach those same courses? Maybe, but I think a clinical psychologist seeking an academic job would be especially marketable.

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