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Katie B

Post-Bacc Research Position Questions/Advice

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So it's looking like I'm not going to get into a PhD program this year and I am trying to shift into Plan B mode. I've applied to a couple masters programs that I haven't heard from yet, but I'm trying to prepare myself in case that doesn't go my way either as I'm feeling rather crushed by this entire experience. I honestly believe what held me back this year was trouble on the Quant GRE and lack of research in my specific field of interest (I did have 3 years of experience in undergrad, 2 projects in which I was the PI and 1 year of being a RA with 3 presentations, but no publications). Thus, I'm reaching out to you lovely people on Grad Cafe for advice on post-Bacc research positions. Do any of you have them? How did you find one? Are they paid? Did you have to move? Were you able to find one in your area of interest? Etc. If anyone has any advice for me, I'd really appreciate it because this first round of applications has been brutal for me and I'd like to have a better plan to soothe my anxiety!

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19 minutes ago, Katie B said:

So it's looking like I'm not going to get into a PhD program this year and I am trying to shift into Plan B mode. I've applied to a couple masters programs that I haven't heard from yet, but I'm trying to prepare myself in case that doesn't go my way either as I'm feeling rather crushed by this entire experience. I honestly believe what held me back this year was trouble on the Quant GRE and lack of research in my specific field of interest (I did have 3 years of experience in undergrad, 2 projects in which I was the PI and 1 year of being a RA with 3 presentations, but no publications). Thus, I'm reaching out to you lovely people on Grad Cafe for advice on post-Bacc research positions. Do any of you have them? How did you find one? Are they paid? Did you have to move? Were you able to find one in your area of interest? Etc. If anyone has any advice for me, I'd really appreciate it because this first round of applications has been brutal for me and I'd like to have a better plan to soothe my anxiety!

I’m currently doing a post bac in my area of interest! I joined the lab in June 2017 right after college graduation and my PI prefers/expects people to do 2 years in the lab to fully get up to speed and experienced enough w abstracts, presentations and manuscripts. I am being paid (not a lot but I do have great benefits) and I’m lucky that there’s an amazing R1 university 30 mins from my hometown. I also applied for like a million jobs on indeed for research associate positions for a few months. I ended up interviewing for two positions in the same department and went with the one better aligned w my interests. This was my first cycle applying and I have 2 interviews (out of 9 applications). The 2 are for programs that were both originally in my top 3 program choices while applying so I’m pleased with myself and now just keeping my fingers crossed. Hope this helps!!! 

 

Editing to add that my GRE Quant score was trash and I was terrified I wouldn’t even make it through the initial review of apps to make it to a potential interview invite. 

Edited by hopefulgrad2019
Gre

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Are you in undergrad right now? I have heard/seen that these PhD programs are really highly valuing work experience after college (of course there are several applicants going straight from undergrad to grad, but I feel like it's becoming more rare). There are a ton of great learning experiences by working in the field that will translate to graduate school, so I know this application season has been crushing but perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for you to gain some more experience!

I am currently working at a VA hospital with a focus on neuropsychology/neurodegenerative diseases. I had to move after graduating, but this VA is in a major city an hour away from my hometown, so that made this job hunt much easier for me. I don't know what your research interests are, but if they happen to be in trauma work/PTSD/TBI/neuropsych, I would highly recommend trying to find a position at a VA (usually affiliated with a major university, like UCSF, Stanford, etc.) but that's just my two cents. VA's are pretty reputable/competitive for their clinical psych internship/postdoc training, so I have found that clinical psych directors/professors light up when I mention my work experience. 

Get added to listservs, if your university has a supportive psych department then ask them for assistance or advice, and regularly check job listings at major universities/VA's near you. Sometimes professors at universities may keep in touch with alum, so maybe reach out to see where your university psych alums are now and if they have any connects. Networking isn't everything, but it sure will help!

Edited by ilobebrains

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3 minutes ago, ilobebrains said:

Are you in undergrad right now? I have heard/seen that these PhD programs are really highly valuing work experience after college (of course there are several applicants going straight from undergrad to grad, but I feel like it's becoming more rare). There are a ton of great learning experiences by working in the field that will translate to graduate school, so I know this application season has been crushing but perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for you to gain some more experience!

No, I graduated in May 2018 and I'm currently working as a mental health tech at an inpatient residential facility for adolescents because I wanted to get some clinical experience. My research interests are actually in the trauma/PTSD/neuro field, though more as a result of early life adversity rather than military encounters, but I have certainly thought about the possibility of working in at a VA. However, I live in the middle of nowhere Indiana (my undergraduate school is 5.5 hours away) where the opportunities for psychological research are nearly nonexistent so a concern of mine is being forced to move for a position and not being able to support myself. 

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4 minutes ago, Katie B said:

No, I graduated in May 2018 and I'm currently working as a mental health tech at an inpatient residential facility for adolescents because I wanted to get some clinical experience. My research interests are actually in the trauma/PTSD/neuro field, though more as a result of early life adversity rather than military encounters, but I have certainly thought about the possibility of working in at a VA. However, I live in the middle of nowhere Indiana (my undergraduate school is 5.5 hours away) where the opportunities for psychological research are nearly nonexistent so a concern of mine is being forced to move for a position and not being able to support myself. 

Ah I see!! That's an amazing clinical experience! But alas PhD's defo want more research >< 

I think that if you are going to reapply next cycle, it would be in your best interests to relocate to an area that has a major research institution, hospital, VA, or all of the above (bc collaborations). There are a lot of affordable major cities that have a ton of great research opportunities if supporting yourself is a major concern, which I totally understand. I'm thinking places like Dallas or Durham (can't really think of others at the moment). If it's something you are sure you want to pursue, I think making that move would be necessary, particularly since you acknowledge that opportunities are nonexistent in your current location. 

Hoping this is helpful!

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It took me several months, but I finally secured a position a few months ago. In my experience, these jobs were extremely competitive, and I had to apply to so many before actually getting one. I relocated for the position and am getting paid a good amount. I think I had more success getting grad school interviews than I did getting research position interviews. The competitiveness and availability of these jobs probably depends a lot on what area of psych you're in as some research areas are going to have a higher need for a paid research assistant/lab manager than others. I found that many postings were looking for people with coding/programming experience, so that skill will also have some bearing on the amount of jobs available to you. 

While I'm in Social Psych (so my experience might be somewhat different from yours), here are some of my tips for getting a research job.

1. Don't delay. If an application doesn't have a due date, it's better to get an application in asap. I missed out on a number of good jobs by waiting too long to apply. And even if an application has a due date, the job posting could still get taken down early if the researchers find an applicant they're happy with. 

2. Emphasize different skills than you might in a grad school application. For grad school applications, you're usually trying to convince the faculty that you're a brilliant, creative mind when it comes to research and that you're capable of coming up with your own ideas and lines of research. Some of this is still important to emphasize, but a big part of many research jobs is more administrative tasks. I wouldn't always talk too much about administrative skills/experiences like scheduling meetings, keeping organized, administering studies, and writing in my grad school applications, but I think these skills are more relevant for these positions. Many times, these positions are created for an already existing research project. Usually, they need more help executing on their research plan than they need help developing new research. 

3. Tailor your cover letter to each individual application. You probably won't find many jobs dealing with your exact research interests, but usually it's possible to make at least a few connections between your interests/experiences and the advertised project. Are you both interested in the same target group? Have you used research methods that are relevant to this study? Do you see the work that they're doing as having important implications? Having a personalized cover letter with stuff like this shows the people hiring that you're interested enough in their project and helps your application be less forgettable. Also, based on the job description, some skills that you usually wouldn't mention might be important to highlight (e.g., if the job requires a lot of writing then I would highlight my writing experiences). I think this is the main reason I got my current job. While I was very unfamiliar with the methods used by my bosses, they could tell I was passionate about the population they were interested in.

Good luck!

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14 minutes ago, ilobebrains said:

Ah I see!! That's an amazing clinical experience! But alas PhD's defo want more research >< 

I think that if you are going to reapply next cycle, it would be in your best interests to relocate to an area that has a major research institution, hospital, VA, or all of the above (bc collaborations). There are a lot of affordable major cities that have a ton of great research opportunities if supporting yourself is a major concern, which I totally understand. I'm thinking places like Dallas or Durham (can't really think of others at the moment). If it's something you are sure you want to pursue, I think making that move would be necessary, particularly since you acknowledge that opportunities are nonexistent in your current location. 

Hoping this is helpful!

Thanks! It has been great clinical experience, but research is more my focus and you're right that PhDs want that! I'm thinking if I have to move I may consider the Houston area since I have an SO to consider.

2 minutes ago, Psyducc said:

It took me several months, but I finally secured a position a few months ago. In my experience, these jobs were extremely competitive, and I had to apply to so many before actually getting one. I relocated for the position and am getting paid a good amount. I think I had more success getting grad school interviews than I did getting research position interviews. The competitiveness and availability of these jobs probably depends a lot on what area of psych you're in as some research areas are going to have a higher need for a paid research assistant/lab manager than others. I found that many postings were looking for people with coding/programming experience, so that skill will also have some bearing on the amount of jobs available to you. 

While I'm in Social Psych (so my experience might be somewhat different from yours), here are some of my tips for getting a research job.

1. Don't delay. If an application doesn't have a due date, it's better to get an application in asap. I missed out on a number of good jobs by waiting too long to apply. And even if an application has a due date, the job posting could still get taken down early if the researchers find an applicant they're happy with. 

2. Emphasize different skills than you might in a grad school application. For grad school applications, you're usually trying to convince the faculty that you're a brilliant, creative mind when it comes to research and that you're capable of coming up with your own ideas and lines of research. Some of this is still important to emphasize, but a big part of many research jobs is more administrative tasks. I wouldn't always talk too much about administrative skills/experiences like scheduling meetings, keeping organized, administering studies, and writing in my grad school applications, but I think these skills are more relevant for these positions. Many times, these positions are created for an already existing research project. Usually, they need more help executing on their research plan than they need help developing new research. 

3. Tailor your cover letter to each individual application. You probably won't find many jobs dealing with your exact research interests, but usually it's possible to make at least a few connections between your interests/experiences and the advertised project. Are you both interested in the same target group? Have you used research methods that are relevant to this study? Do you see the work that they're doing as having important implications? Having a personalized cover letter with stuff like this shows the people hiring that you're interested enough in their project and helps your application be less forgettable. Also, based on the job description, some skills that you usually wouldn't mention might be important to highlight (e.g., if the job requires a lot of writing then I would highlight my writing experiences). I think this is the main reason I got my current job. While I was very unfamiliar with the methods used by my bosses, they could tell I was passionate about the population they were interested in.

Good luck!

Thank you! This is great advice! I have some Python experience so I will make sure I include that. 

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No one place has all the jobs. Check all the popular jobs sites, look at the employment boards of all the schools you can think of, and apply extremely widely. With every job application, also send an email to the relevant PIs introducing yourself. Getting an RAship and doing a good job there will do loads for your odds of getting into a good program (if you're looking for a research phd).

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