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Psychology - phd chances?


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Hello all,

This is my first post ever and am eager to hear back from folks here. I plan to app for a MS/PhD(preferable) in Cognitive neuroscience. The details of my profile are as follows. Before that, all of my experience till now has been from India...


GPA : 3.48 / 4

Psy subject GRE: 650

General GRE: Yet to take.


- BA English Literature (Major) & Psychology (Minor) - 3 years

- M.Sc Counseling Psychology with thesis, India - 2 years

Research experience and achievements:

- Gold medalist and University topper.

- Dissertation in Health Psychology (6 months). Presented and won national level best scientific paper award for the same.

- Internship in Counselling Psychology (6 months) - worked with cancer patients and their families

Work Experience:

- Academic Counselor for a nationally acclaimed training institute - 2 years

- Student Counselor for a residential school - 6 months.

One of my main worries is that my education and experience are not from within the US. I would greatly appreciate anyone sharing their experience on how universities value my education and experience. My dream apps are Stanford and Berkeley. I am open to any suggestions/comments from people here to understand what I need to do to even stand a chance for getting an admit.

Thanks a lot ! :)

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Having experience in India is not a big deal. But I don't see anything in your past experience that has anything to do with cognitive psychology or cognitive neuroscience. Your work experience is completely irrelevant, unfortunately. You don't talk about your specific interests in cognitive neuroscience, but it is very tough to see how your counseling internship is at all relevant. If your dissertation only took 6 months and was in health psychology, it is also not a great indicator that you have any idea about or interest in cognitive neuroscience. Finally, with only a minor in psychology and master's in counseling psychology, it is doubtful you have too much relevant coursework.

Unless you forgot to mention your 2+ years working in a cognitive psych or fMRI lab, I don't think your chances are very good. I think Stanford and Berkeley are absolutely impossible (sorry :( ) unless you beef up your research experience substantially. Without doing that, even "good" PhD programs in cognitive neuroscience are probably out of your reach. I don't want to be too harsh or anything, but I don't think you'll be very competitive for cognitive / cognitive neuro programs without some serious research time.

Edited by cogneuroforfun
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I agree with cogneuroforfun, sorry! I just was at my first ever interview this weekend and I can tell you all of the applicants were super competitive and really were immersed in their various research interests. You would need a lot more research experience to be competitive. Even if it was like social psych research and you wanted to do social neuroscience that might be okay, but just 6 months of a dissertation in a different field is not going to impress PhD admission committees. You would need to work in a lab for a while obtaining good research skills. Best of luck!

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I agree with the above posters and will add that while sometimes a different undergrad degree isn't a big deal (and might even help), in this case you won't have much chance being admitted. I know various cogneuro programs that have admitted people with diverse backgrounds, but usually it encompasses the natural sciences, mathematics and computer sciences. As it turns out, in many cogneuro labs these degrees are fairly relevant. In comparison, school/counseling and even social psychology are less relevant for a PhD in cogneuro. You definitely need more cogneuro focussed research experience to compensate for your current psychology experience.

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I have to say that I strongly disagree with the above posters. People go into graduate programs that have nothing to do with their past experience all the time. If you can show your ability and motivation (i.e., that you're capable of learning new skills and have a strong interest in ongoing research in a program) then you're fine. Apply to your dream schools and balance them with others. The reality is that admissions are incredibly competitive in the US right now regardless of your background. The most important thing is that you show some basic level of ability and motivation, but you really have to emphasize why you're a good fit for the programs to which you apply.

I agree with the above posters that research experience is helpful; however, the claim that your current experiences are irrelevant is not accurate. They may not be cognitive neuroscience research experiences, but they are psychology research experiences and research training can generalize to other subdisciplines, even if you have to learn a new skill set. One thing you might consider is applying to Master's programs in cognitive neuroscience if you can find a good program. If you are not admitted to a PhD programs and get into a Master's program then you can build research experience and apply again later.

Consider contacting professors who are doing the kind of work that interests you and just start a conversation (meaning, don't just say "hey I really want to work with you, will you accept me into your program?"). Read some of their work and ask them questions that you genuinely have, or tell them you wanted to say hi and appreciate their work on X topic for the following Y reasons.

Whether or not they say it explicitly, many programs value diversity. For this reason I think that your experiences in India, as long as they were high quality experiences, could enhance your application rather than hurt it.

Apply to programs with the honesty to acknowledge that even if you're a highly qualified applicant you may not get in just because the PhD climate is particularly competitive with the current state of the US economy (people are going back to school because they can't find jobs and many departments are hurting on funding). If you can't get in right away, ask yourself how much you want to pursue this career and do the next best thing that can prepare you for a subsequent application season.

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