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Starting to get discouraged with application process....any constructive advice?


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I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology last summer. I really struggled my entire undergraduate career because I funded my entire education by myself: through loans and working full-time, at various local bars/restaurants, and a small scholarship. I legitimately had no idea how I would pay for some semesters, so I just kept working as much as possible to compensate. I'm not making excuses, I clearly underperformed. I feel the stress of financing my education really affected my performance. (In high school I had an amazing GPA and was an I.B. student so its not laziness or lack of motivation). I originally wanted to go to medical school, but I soon realized that I am just not cut out for pre-med. I jumped around from bio to political science to psychology. I did ok my senior year but my overall GPA is a 3.0. I graduated hoping to take a few years off to work, but I have been unsuccessful in finding full time employment. I even enrolled in a paralegal certificate at a community college right after graduating hoping to find employment through that program, but I soon realized I hated the work and would be miserable as a paralegal. I really do have the drive for graduate school. I have the experiences to prove that I know this is what I want; however, on paper I look horrible to an admissions committee.

 

I want to go to graduate school to get my Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology; however, I had a meeting with the director of the program yesterday and I feel even worse about my chances. I have not yet taken the GRE, but he informed me they only accepted 4 of 40 students that applied for this year. Two were Presidential Fellowship scholars. I have approximately a year of research experience in the I/O psych lab and I am currently volunteering in a Human Factors lab on campus. I am attending grad school as a non-degree certificate student. I am doing well in my grad classes now, but I'm wondering if I'm just a lost cause? Will they even consider those as part of the admission process? Any advice on how I can strengthen my application? I am taking some experimental psychology undergraduate classes this summer and some higher level statistics courses.  

 

These are my stats:

3.0 overall

3.4 major GPA

1 year research experience

GRE-will take in the next two months after studying/preparing

No publications

No awards/honors

 

By the time I apply I will have:

 

2 semesters of grad classes in the Cognitive Sciences (a field somewhat related to HF)

More experimental psychology and statistics courses

2-3 more semesters of relevant research experience

3 letters of rec (two from graduate students, my research experience is primarily helping them create stimuli and run studies for their dissertations)

Hopefully competitive GRE score

 

I really, really want this Ph.D. and I am willing to work my butt off. I just know don't how to get there and I feel really stuck.

 
Edited by gnomechomsky22
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Agreed. Don't rush this. I'm 26 and finally entering a PhD program in the fall. Through the extra years, you will strengthen your CV and continue to develop experiences, professionalism, and maturity. Next application cycle, if you are determined to apply then, you could apply to both MS and PhD programs, or schools that have both. I went the MS route and it worked out well for me and I loved it. Otherwise, I'd get a job as a research assistant for at least 2 years and then apply. With more publications and posters, more research experience, and stellar GREs and LORs, you will be set. While working, you can also take some grad classes at night (look at Harvard Extension School or similar programs if there aren't any physically near you) to show that you can ace grad-level courses, or volunteer nights/weekends in a second lab that has interesting research.

 

I'm going to be totally honest and say the admissions cycle is pretty crappy and exhausting- it just wears on your emotionally. Everyone I know (including myself) went through multiple breakdowns, including questionning their future in the field and their passion and drive. I think I spent 30 minutes crying in my lab's bathroom one day, and when I told my friends applying, they had all done the same thing at some point. I wouldn't apply until you feel more confident and have a decent chance at the programs you really like. This is your CAREER- the goal shouldn't be to have that PhD after your name as fast as possible. Consider every experience you collect as an asset. More research experience now in diverse areas as well as your area of interest = research will be easier in grad school, you can likely get more publications, do more interesting and involved studies, have a better reputation, and overall kick grad school's butt. Getting posters and publications now = you will know what's up once you hit grad school and your PI doesn't give you much guidance. Some professional experience will help you handle the environment and relationship with your PI. I know I'm a little bit unique in thinking like this, but I just think about how I'm probably going to be working until I'm what, 75? That's 50 more years. I'd rather have a great and interesting foundation that will support me in whatever direction I end up going over those 50 years, then rush something just because I wanted to get in a program NOW. Just some things to think about :-D

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Thank you both for the input. I am already taking graduate level classes in a post-bacc certificate program. I am doing well and it is covered by financial aid (some loans). My only concern is funding. I was under the impression that essentially it is impossible to get funding in an M.S. or M.A. program. I have a bunch of debt from undergrad and no stable employment options. I have been putting in applications everywhere and I can find nothing full time with benefits. I can't support myself on just one part time job and I really want to go into research. Volunteering in the lab becomes less plausible if I'm working two jobs to support myself and trying to pay off loans. Plus I don't see how working in a restaurant for 4 more years will really make my application stand out. :( In fact, I think it will just make me seem unfocused and unmotivated. My bachelors is essentially useless at this point. I'm afraid I can't afford distance programs. I was under the impression that you cannot get financial aid in a distance M.S. program? Plus, most graduate programs do not accept transfer credits from a Master's. If I want a Ph.D., I will have to start from scratch after spending money on a M.S. The bills will keep climbing up. I am aware that this is the case for graduate school in general, it will be expensive. I guess if I knew I could gain employment with a Master's I would like to do that to gain relevant work experience but I don't want to be in over my head in loans.

 

My finances make me feel like I'm stuck. I would love to volunteer but if I'm working a crap job, my nights/weekends are gone. I really hate working in restaurants and serving. It is making me miserable. I'd rather find something that will look better on a resume and actually teaches me skills necessary for the workplace. But since I have only a little experience in a clerical/office setting I'm not getting any interviews for jobs in other fields, even with a degree. Its so frustrating.

 

PsychGirl, thank you for your words of wisdom/encouragement. While I understand, I'm not trying to rush this. I just want to find employment and unless you have a graduate degree (at least a master's), you cannot get a job in the Human Factors field. If I put off going to graduate school I will be working tons of odd jobs just to make ends meet. And then I'm not even sure I would make it back to school because I would be so worried about staying afloat that school takes the backseat. Plus the longer I wait to get my Ph.D. the longer I will spend my time regretting my decision to forgo grad school in favor of trying to get experience in an irrelevant job. I'm just worried that my scores aren't even good enough for a Master's program either. That seems to be the trend I am gleaning from all the other applicants/online research I have been doing.

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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I'm working two jobs, going to school and paying off debt as well.  It can be done.  Anything can be done, if you're determined to do it.  You will find a way.  I get discouraged and overwhelmed sometimes (and I would bet I'm much older than you, so I battle that pessimistic thought as well), but I have years of experience that show me that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter what the obstacles are.  I had to stop thinking about all the obstacles I faced and why it would be nearly impossible to get where I wan to be, and I had to start thinking about ways to make it happen.  Tired?  Yes, all the time.  Poor?  Yes, terminally.  Facing long odds and not sure how doors are going to open?  Absolutely.  Gonna do it anyway?  Yes. 

Edited by Bren2014
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Agree with Bren2014. I'd take a week off from thinking about this, then get a piece of paper and come up with a plan of action.

 

"I just want to find employment and unless you have a graduate degree (at least a master's), you cannot get a job in the Human Factors field"- this isn't my field, so I don't know this is true. But I am sure you can look for an RA/RC position in a somewhat related field where you can gain research experience and some knowledge that is possibly related. For example, I googled human factors quickly and saw things about productivity- what about a lab that studies something like the impact of stress and productivity? Or behavioral economics? Or decision making? These things seem at least somewhat related to what you might want to do, and it will give you strong LORs, research experience, and while they don't pay more, it's probably more money than you'd earn at a mediocre restaurant job. Make your cost of living as low as possible, and put yourself on a payment plan for your loans. As far as finding a job, work with your school's career office. Make sure your resume, cover letters, etc. are being proof read by multiple people. Do practice interviews with people. Email professors at local universities asking if they have any positions open, and ask them to keep you in mind for any that would open up. Also mention that you would be interested in volunteering if they don't have positions open. It's a great way to make connections, and may be worth the trade-off for the income from your second job- especially if it leads to a higher paying job down the line. Also, just sending out resumes to listings will only go so far, and probably only work if you're in the top 1% of the pile. (For example, I helped pick the RC who replaced me- we had doctors, nurses, people with master's degrees applying, etc.- but half of their resumes were illegible, they didn't bother submitting cover letters or they were horribly written, or the interview was horrendous). 

 

Some MA and MS programs are funded, but yes, they are still quite competitive. Some are unfunded but offer scholarships to defray the cost and it is possible to hold jobs while in them that also improve your CV (TA'ing, graduate assistant, assessor, research assistant). Keep in mind your loan repayments are put on hold if you continue your schooling FT. Also, with an MS degree, you will have an easier time finding a job and will get paid more than with a BS degree. If you're not entirely sure that you want to go on to a PhD program or you might want to work for a bit to pay off all your loans before entering PhD programs, it could be a good option.

 

In general, I guess what this rambling post is trying to say is: stop being overwhelmed, develop a good plan of action, and think long-term. Your loans don't all have to get paid off right this second. Find a good balance between everything that will manage to open doors down the line. Work smarter, not harder, and utilize all the resources around you.

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Sorry I don't think I made it super clear in my first post that I am volunteering right now in a lab related to human performance, specifically team performance. Since I am not a "degree seeking" graduate student I am not eligible for any paid positions. I am working with a grad student on his dissertation study and he should be graduating this summer or fall depending on data collection. I have asked around at the lab and there are no paid positions other than fellowship/RA positions for degree seeking students. I am in limbo because I am not quite a "real" grad student but not an undergraduate either. There is only one local university-the one I am attending right now (and attended as an undergraduate).

 

I appreciate the career center advice, but I have had my resume and cover letters critiqued by multiple people at the center. I go to the career center at least once a month and check the career site daily. I have had several interviews. All of the interviewers have said they were impressed with my interview and resume but unable to offer me a position and would keep in touch if anything comes up. It seems as though my bachelors is actually a detrimental factor when applying anywhere because I am "over-qualified" (or under-qualified for anything psychology related). The unemployment rate in my area is still pretty bad. I am doing everything in power to possibly make my situation better and its just frustrating. Now that I am taking classes finding employment is more difficult because I cannot work 9-5. I really appreciate your input on the master's program. I think this may be the best option at this point.

 

I sincerely appreciate all of your suggestions and advice. As you can imagine, I am getting frustrated and impatient at my serving job. If I had the means to get a paid RA position I would. As for the other suggestions I can try and use them to supplement what I am already doing. I think the week off/plan of action idea is really great and I am definitely going to try that. Thank you.

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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I'm sorry I don't have something more constructive to offer, but have you considered signing up for a temp agency? It can sometimes be a good way to get an in on a job that will later become permanent.

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I found a lab manager job through the SPSP listserv which advertises academic jobs.  I'm not sure what the I/O or Human Factors equivalent of that is, but maybe someone can help us out with a specific name?  It could be another resource in the job search for a more relevant position to your future goals.

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If you can't find a job as an RA in human factors, I would broaden the search to psychology and related fields in general, and look outside the academia arena as well.  You may not be eligible for a paid position in the lab you are in now, but you can look far outside of it, even if it's not 100% the area you want to study.  I am heading to graduate school in social psychology because that's what I want to do, but I have been working for the past 2 years as a full-time RA in clinical psychology at a hospital.  Maybe the experience wasn't as perfect on my application as it would have been if it were social psych, but the experience of research and the opportunity to be on a couple papers and posters was invaluable.  I would recommend looking at any RA position, even outside of human factors and even outside of academia.

 

I'm curious as to what your experiences are that make you sure you want to go to graduate school.  I'm not doubting you, just want to know what your motivation/background is to help give more directed advice.  

 

One point of concern is having graduate students write your letters of recommendation - it makes sense because they have worked closest with you, but what I heard is that admissions committees will take the opinion of a professor (the more experienced the better) more seriously, whether they should or not.  Try to get the head of the lab and any other professors you've worked with to write one for you, though make sure they say they can write a good one.  

 

Other than that, I would agree with the masters program, trying to find either one that can be done online or at night so you can also work, or trying to get one of the admittedly competitive funded positions.  Best of luck!  I hope it works out for you.

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Agree with lypiphera- I worked as a RC in interventional cardiology before going back to school for Psychology. A bachelor's actually puts you in the perfect position for RA or RC positions, so I'm not sure why you would think you were under/overqualified. Any FT research experience is likely beneficial, and you'd be able to continue volunteering in your lab. Also, you only mentioned asking at your lab- what about other labs at the university? What about in depts besides psych that are still somewhat related to what you want to do? (Business, econ, whatever you're actually interested in- you haven't said).

 

"Now that I am taking classes finding employment is more difficult because I cannot work 9-5."- Why wouldn't you be taking night or online classes? I think finding related employment should be your top priority compared to taking classes.

 

"All of the interviewers have said they were impressed with my interview and resume but unable to offer me a position and would keep in touch if anything comes up"- I would follow up with these interviewers and ask them what advice they have for you and what things you can improve in your CV, cover letter, or interview. They aren't ever going to say anything ruder than this, and very rarely does this mean they will actually be in touch. You can also try contacting them at a later date and asking if any openings have come up, if you want to be proactive about it.

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RubyBright-Thank you, I had not considered using a temp agency but that may be a good strategy at this point.

 

JungWild&Free-Thank you, I had not considered this before. I don't know if there is an equivalent but I will ask my professors and grad students in the field and see if they know anything. I tried doing an internet search but I was unsuccessful at finding any openings. I appreciate the info. 

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Lypiphera & PsychGirl- Thank you. I really have tried looking for paid RA positions. All of the postings I have seen require a nursing degree or at least one year experience. I even called the local hospital HR department and she said they typically only hire qualified clinical professionals-i.e. nurses or physical therapists. I would love to gain experience in this but I cannot even get my foot in the door. I am not a "degree seeking graduate student" therefore, I am not eligible for any paid positions on campus, in any lab or in any discipline at all. There are no labs willing to pay me and because I have to eat and pay my rent, I cannot afford to give up my job to volunteer or I would.

 

I want to go to graduate school to immerse myself in research: I am particularly interested in studying models of decision making, distributed cognition, team performance and situation awareness in various environments (i.e. the military). As I have said before, there are no relevant bachelor degree positions in Human Factors Psychology. I found an HF internship but it required previous experience flying planes/pilot license. I am unable to obtain a pilot license at this time. I have a few friends in graduate school for human factors and I/O psychology. I also know a few working professionals/professors. What they study fascinates me and I it’s a personal motivation of mine. I have always wanted to go to graduate school, initially for medicine. After some internships in the Emergency Room and underperforming in my pre-med classes, I found out I do not enjoy the clinical side of things and prefer research.

 

Thank you for bringing up the LOR concern. I have a few professors in mind, but ultimately even though I have taken a few for several semesters, I changed my major Spring of Junior year. I had virtually one year to make connections and the most valuable I think would come from the grad students. I never had the chance to TA for a class and most professors flat out refused to write me a recommendation. I did not think using professors from my sophomore year would be advisable since I took mainly general education courses then. The grad student I am working with right now is always happy to offer advice and teaches classes at the university I attend. He knows how much I want to go to graduate school. I would ask my history professor but I doubt his letter would really hold much weight in the psychology department. 

 

I am taking classes because I was unable to find employment directly after graduation. I worked at a grocery store but I was unable to make enough money to support myself, so I went back to serving. I would rather take classes than explain a huge gap in unemployment on my resume. Plus, two of the classes I need for the Cog Sci program are not offered online or at night. I cannot take them at a community college because they are grad level courses in psychology. I am also taking one master's level elective course and it is only offered every Spring semester during the day. Scheduling wise I am taking the classes I need to strengthen my application and they are only offered at select times. 

 

Not all employers are willing to answer what I can do to improve my resume, etc. When they do respond it is all about experience-I do not have enough clinical experience, etc. I am overqualified for the minimum wage student assistant or housing positions I am trying to get on campus. 

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It sounds like you're doing it right, so the only thing to do is keep doing it.  Jobs are always in flux, so just keep contacting labs, hospitals, business, etc., and searching for openings.  If you're near a VA hospital, I would highly recommend looking into health services research there.  I work at one now in research (with a BA and no other experience) and it's a great experience, lots of research training.  We have a high turnover because it's a common job for students who have a bachelors and want experience before grad school - people are hired to be an RA for specific projects for a set time period.  I know our center doesn't always keep job openings up to date, so just call and ask (or if you can get a professor to mention you, that's even better). I know my LORs were really what made the difference in my application, so make sure they are strong.  If grad students are the only ones who can write you good ones, than I guess that's what you can do, but if you can get a professor to do at least one positive one (if not thorough), that would be a good bonus. Just keep doing searches for research assistant jobs (e.g. http://emrandehr.jobamatic.com/a/jobs/find-jobs/q-Research+Assistant) - don't give up when you've gotten through them all; just widen your field and start again.  Some that require experience should be satisfied by what you've done already, and it never hurts to apply. 

 

About your interested in research, it sounds like your interests lie within I/O, Social, and Cognitive psychology just as well as HF (maybe even more than), so look into jobs in those areas as well.  When applying, you can cast a wide net and look into all of those areas, focusing on the topics that you mentioned.

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I found a lab manager job through the SPSP listserv which advertises academic jobs.  I'm not sure what the I/O or Human Factors equivalent of that is, but maybe someone can help us out with a specific name?  It could be another resource in the job search for a more relevant position to your future goals.

 

That would be SIOP.  http://www.siop.org/

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Thanks Bren, I will check things out on there; however, I tried looking at the Human Factors equivalent of that hfes.org but of course you need a membership to look at the job postings.

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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Not in Psych, but a few things stand out:

1) I'm not sure I would keep taking classes as a non-degree seeking student. They probably won't be that beneficial to you getting into grad school, and are taking time and money away from either volunteering for research, or working to get yourself more stable financially.

2) Don't get grad students to write you letters. You *need* to make connections to faculty who will write you strong letters, especially given your low GPA and low research experience. Grad student letters count for almost nothing, no matter how strong they are.

 

I'm very surprised the grad students agreed to write them- I know I wouldn't agree to write a letter for anyone working for me, as I know it would do them as much harm as good.

 

3) Move somewhere cheaper. And find a cheaper school.

 

Seriously, where I did my undergrad had a low cost of living, decent enough jobs, and tuition was $1600 a semester or so, even for a MA/MS in psychology. It might not be a perfect fit, but getting an MA/MS will help you a lot more down the road, and as mentioned, being full time will open you up for RA/TA positions on whatever campus, as well as let you defer paying back loans.

 

4) If you're on interviews/writing SoPs, don't mention that your grades suffered because you worked to put yourself through school. Grad school will require you to work a pretty full time job (RA/TA) at the same time you're taking classes and working on research. Explaining the work as the cause of low grades will just make people wonder if you can handle the workload of grad school without your work suffering again.

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Thanks Eigen; however, I am taking grad level classes. I asked the director of the HF Ph.D. program of my school whether or not these would factor into the application process. He said it was beneficial (given my lower undergrad GPA) because applications for grad school are intended to measure how well you can potentially succeed in graduate school. If I am getting As in graduate level coursework, despite my low undergrad GPA, it shows my potential. I initially started this certificate because it is somewhat related to my field of study and I also have the opportunity to take classes that HF grad students take and that some HF professors/faculty offer. Plus, I wanted to make sure I was ready for the commitment of grad school and the caliber of work it entails. I am working on research proposals and assignments that I did not have the chance to work on during undergrad. I think this has been beneficial in the sense that I am gaining feedback from grad professors on how to improve my work. I am also getting used to the seminar format of classes which is dramatically different from my undergrad experience (I was in classes upward of 300-500 students, in a gigantic lecture hall with very little discussion). This also allows me to gain research experience because I have a schedule that allows me some free time during the day to volunteer at the lab (if I was working a typical 9 to 5 Mon-Fri,  I would not be able to volunteer at this lab). I am also reading research/journals outside my discipline and narrowing in on my research interests. From this semester alone I realize that my undergraduate education in psychology did not prepare me well for graduate school and I am learning what I need to do to fill gaps in my understanding and knowledge. 

 

Thank you for pointing out the pitfalls of my LORs. I will definitely take this into consideration. One is from a former graduate student that I worked for but whom has since graduated. I took her class in undergrad (she was the instructor) so I don't know if that counts or not, but to avoid the grey area maybe I should just ask a different person for a letter. 

 

I will do my best to find somewhere cheaper to live but I'm not sure they even offer a Master's in Human Factors at that tuition cost. All of the ones I have looked at cost at least $10,000-$30,000 a year. Was that with aid? I have not seen any schools that cost less than $10,000. I will do my research.

 

I definitely think my problems with work had more to do with the fact that I was working until 3-4am and trying to balance homework and exams for my classes at 8am. I couldn't avoid day classes while working and some were only offered at weird times. I am much more suited to a job on campus where I didn't feel exhausted after an 8 hour shift and with regular, normal hours. This work schedule combined with my lackluster passion for pre-med coursework is why I didn't perform well. However, I realize that this even sounds like making excuses and I will just leave it off the application entirely. I know people who have worked full time and gone to school and still managed to get excellent grades, I virtually have no valid excuse.

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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You don't need to just be looking at Human Factor masters. Getting a MS/MA in psychology or cognitive science in general will help you bolster the weak points of your application, then you can look for more specific programs. 

 

I'm sure graduate classes as a non-degree seeking student will "factor into your applications", but I'm arguing that they probably won't be weighted that heavily. 

 

Coursework in grad school is a minor part of the degree- it's not something you have to "excel" at, it's just something you have to pass. Therefore, just showing that you can do the courses in the absence of the other pressures of grad school is only so useful to admissions committees. 

 

As to grad students who have graduated- they were still grad students when they knew you. They won't be writing about you from the perspective of a faculty member, and it will still not be that strong. 

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How employable is a general psychology master's? Maybe I'm wrong but I don't see how it would be that much more employable than a bachelors of psychology, except perhaps in retail management or Human Resources/Business oriented fields? And even then wouldn't they want people with MBAs and Human Resources degrees? My goal is to pay down some of my debt prior to going for my Ph.D. (if I can even make it there at all). I see how accumulating as little debt as possible would be the way to go, but I also want to make sure that I am not blindly getting a masters in a degree area that isn't particularly employable....because that's exactly where I am now. Psychology majors are a dime a dozen where I live, my undergrad is known for its "degree mill in psychology." I want to be sure I can gain something if I'm going to be investing money in the long term. 

 

I am also doing research and working while taking 12 credit hours (3 grad classes and 1 undergrad). I would think this would factor in since I am working and doing research and taking full time classes? Maybe you're right but I feel like this gives me a better shot than just working at the restaurant waiting until I can take my GRE and apply for my master's. I am at least networking with faculty and learning the ins and outs of the lab. I have learned the hard way that networking is what gets you a job. You don't even have to be the most qualified person but if you know someone in the field and they know you are job hunting, it can be to your advantage.

 

Also I'm not sure if this is the case at other schools, but unless you are a student, taking class at the university I am attending, you cannot volunteer or work in a lab at all. It seems to me that this is not the norm. But for whatever reason even if I just tried to work and volunteer in the lab without taking classes, they would not allow me to do so. 

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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I would say that a masters in psych isn't any more employable than a BA, but it could be more likely to bolster your application.  I would probably be wary of doing it since you'll get an MA on your way to your PhD, you will likely have to repeat the coursework, and a lot of programs do not help your application (only the research-heavy, mentorship model MA programs seem to really elevate your application).  If you can't find a program with cheap tuition, which would probably be a public school in the state you already live in, then it is probably not worth it if debt is your main concern.  I think that even though taking graduate classes might not be the best solution to beefing up your CV, it is certainly something that will be clear on your application and makes it seem like you are familiar with the field.  I don't see how getting more psych experience and interaction with professors could hurt you.  It's probably not going to get you any automatic offers because you've proven you can do the work, but it may effect how they look at your GPA and it sounds as though you are getting research experience, which is definitely key to success in the psych admissions process.  I encourage you to keep networking with professors to find strong LORs.  I included one non-psych professor in my LORs, because she was my research mentor, we published together, and she basically said I was the best student she had ever had in her rec (she let me read it, she's that cool)...that's going to have weight even though she isn't in my field.  BUT, because I did that, I made sure the other LORs were from psych PhDs.  I think the History prof could fly if the things he is going to say about you are phenomenal. 

 

It is weird you can't volunteer as a non-student.  I currently have a research assistant that graduated 2 years ago in Washington, DC who now volunteers with us and is totally unaffiliated with the university outside of his work in our lab.  I was under the impression that this is not a widespread, but certainly a widely accepted, practice.  Maybe there are other schools nearby that you could volunteer at?  Or, maybe you can track down I/O psychologists that you could shadow or intern with? Many are in the private sector and people love free labor.

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I'm kinda getting two different goals from your posts. 

 

One is that you really want to do a PhD because you want to do research. 

 

The other is that you want to go to grad school because a BA in Psych isn't employable. 

 

The second one is a really bad reason to get a graduate degree, imo. 

 

I would prod a bit more about doing research while not a student- that's not how it's been any of the places I work. 

 

As mentioned, maybe there are other schools nearby where you could work without being a student. 

 

If so, then I would suggest cutting out the classes, and split your time between research and working. It will let you get more research experience, and more time working will let you breathe easier financially. 

 

Then take the GRE and apply for MS programs. You can probably even apply late now, if you want to. 

 

While you will get an MA/MS on the way to a PhD, I would think that with your background, getting an MA/MS would be the best way to show that you can do well in grad school as well as get significant research experience. 

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I would say that a masters in psych isn't any more employable than a BA

 

I would have to disagree with that. Conditionally, of course.

 

I know some branches of psychology require a doctoral degree, no ifs, ands, or buts. However, there are many jobs which you can do with a Master's degree. I've been working for almost five years with a Master's degree, and living quite comfortably at that (one of the biggest sacrifices of going back to school for me). I'd consider looking at what job options are available now that you'd be interested in doing later on that you could do with a Master's.

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I would say that a masters in psych isn't any more employable than a BA, but it could be more likely to bolster your application.  I would probably be wary of doing it since you'll get an MA on your way to your PhD, you will likely have to repeat the coursework, and a lot of programs do not help your application (only the research-heavy, mentorship model MA programs seem to really elevate your application).  

Actually, a master's in Human Factors, if you can find it, is fairly employable. One of the programs I'm looking at boasts employment for all of their MA students within two months of graduation. As for repeating coursework, it widely varies in HF. If you can find an HF-specific master's, and then apply only to PhD programs that are willing to take master's credit, I think you will find that a lot of it transfers.

 

I'm kinda getting two different goals from your posts. 

 

One is that you really want to do a PhD because you want to do research. 

 

The other is that you want to go to grad school because a BA in Psych isn't employable. 

 

The second one is a really bad reason to get a graduate degree, imo. 

That depends. A BA in psych is unemployable in Human Factors. A graduate degree is not. If you're at all interested in industry, then wanting to be qualified to work in your field at all isn't a bad reason to get the degree.

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Thank you all for contributing. I think taking these classes is the way to go because I called the department and they said my graduate GPA would be considered for admission. Therefore, if my graduate GPA is higher than my undegrad (which it should be) this could be more beneficial. I also agree with Jung in the sense that I need stronger LORs and right now I don't have any from the psych department. By taking these grad classes I think I will be able to make some further connections and strengthen my research experience.

 

Jung, thanks for the shadowing suggestion. I never even considered that, but you're right. That could open some doors. 

 

I have tried speaking to the head of the lab, the graduate studies office, etc. If you want a paid position you either have to have a Ph.D./Master's degree already and essentially be hired as a lecturer/lab personnel or be an actively, degree seeking enrolled student. I don't know anyone working in the lab who is not affiliated academically with the lab. 

 

Eigen, I think the problem is the disconnect between our two fields. If given the choice between a student with a general master's in psych and a student with an HF specific master's degree, they will choose that HF student over me in the applicant pool to a PhD program (assuming that our applications are relatively the same). There are rarely (if at all) any positions at the bachelors level in HF. I'm saying that if by chance I am not accepted into a Ph.D. program and I need a contingency plan, a master's in psych might not put me in an ideal position to work in HF. HF is a lot more interdisciplinary than other fields in psychology. I would hate to spend two years earning a master's degree and then not even be able to work in the HF field if I am not accepted to any Ph.D. programs. That said my primary goal for getting the Ph.D. is not just employment. That is analogous to going to med school "to make lots of money." I know that its a financial and personal investment. I want to immerse myself in the field and work in research. Its a personal decision for me to go to graduate school; however, I cannot only consider my personal motivations but I must consider external factors as well.

 

My goal in doing this certificate program was to see whether or not I actually was ready for graduate school and to get an inside look/perspective at what I will be doing. I changed my major so late in undergrad. I worked in one lab for a year and didn't have the experiences that most people have by the time they decide to go to graduate school. Also, as an undergrad, I didn't realize how important graduate school is for further study in psychology. At least after taking one semester of classes I have some knowledge of what its like to be a graduate student and I am able to ask faculty and other students about the process. My advising office in undergrad was full of "peer" advisors. Junior/Senior undergrad students telling you about what classes to take and how to get into grad school is essentially pointless. All they did was check to see if I had the right GPA and classes to graduate. I hardly had any real guidance, except from a few conversations with professors regarding what grad admissions are like and how you make the decision to go to graduate school. I am not making excuses, I am just saying, my reasoning for taking these classes goes beyond just "I want to make my application look better." They might not make a huge difference in my application. But at least I can say with authority that I know I want this now. I don't want to be the student that starts a Ph.D. only to find out I never wanted it in the first place and that I am doing it for the wrong reasons.

 

Basically, I am trying to plan as best as I can. The classes I am taking are at a public state university, so while I am still paying a good amount of tuition, it is not an absurdly expensive amount to take a few classes. There are no other schools around me with grad level classes, so there are no other university labs I could work at. I have put in applications for full time research positions at local hospitals, but most prefer clinical experience or an RN degree. I was just looking for some outside perspective on my application. It helps to have more than one opinion on things and sometimes it helps to step out and ask others who do not know me personally what their experiences were like and what they think of the situation. 

Edited by gnomechomsky22
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