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MA program in psychology if my undergrad research experience is unrelated to what I want to pursue in grad school?


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Hi all.

I'm still on the process of sorting out schools and I'm beginning to feel like I have a low chance for an admission to a phd program. And I feel like my undergrad research experiences are disconnected from what I want to pursue in grad school. While initially I was shooting for a phd program, I'm opening my options for few masters program. But is this advisable? My ultimate goal is getting a phd and I learned that many schools don't offer masters program. People do say that the fit is the most important but I can't help thinking that I may be weeded out from the start because of my low stats... 


My stats: 


GRE: V163 Q162 W4

GPA 3.3 (last 2 years 3.8-3.9; undergrad at well ranked private school) 

Research: 1 year at a clinical lab with focus on maternal depression, summer research assistant at a developmental psychology lab with heavy concentration in spatial cognition. 

Volunteer: Local autism center for a year.


My research interest is influence of parenting and peer relation on children's emotional development. But I think my idea on the topic is pretty vague and it's totally unrelated to my undergrad research experience. On top of that I feel like my undergrad research is weak since I don't have any publications. 

This is one of my many concerns. Ugghh... I'm so stressed out :( 

Do you think I should apply to a masters program first? Or would I still have a shot at a phd program? 



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Apply to Master's programs, too; look for ones that offer a thesis option - that'll build up your research experience. Even if you were a perfect research fit somewhere, your lack of publications is going to be tough to get around. A Master's program will also give you some time to really narrow down your research focus, so you'll have a better idea for PhD programs down the road.

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I'm not so sure your stats are that bad. And I don't know enough about developmental psych to know what PhD programs expect of undergrads in the way of publications, but I know that for my sub-field, having publications as an undergrad is not the norm. However, having plenty of research experience and some poster/paper presentations IS the norm. (But Lisa is in developmental so she would have a better idea about this.)

If you were asking me, I would say you should also apply to some PhD programs (as well as master's programs) -especially if your research interests are a really good fit. You might be a better master's candidate, but I would hesitate to rule out applying for any PhD programs this time around. For I/O, and I assume also for developmental, PhD programs vary widely in their selectivity.

Edited by Bren2014
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Having a publication on entering grad school is not the norm, it is of course a huge boom but not a requirement by any means.



Having research experience is key, it does not have to be research within the field you are pursuing for the ph.d, but research in general.  You could have worked in a lab related to your ph.d work and have learned nothing of value at all, or at least, we shouldn't assume stricly because you were in a particular lab that you actually worked and learned a great deal.


More important than what you worked on, is being able to demonstrate thorough knowledge of methodology and the research process itself.  Can you draft an idea, form a hypothesis, create methodology, run statistics, interpret results, communicate your findings, etc etc.  Someone who worked in a lab and only ran participants could easily say, I worked in a lab relevant to my ph.d interests, but the person who can do the points of the former sentence is the better applicant hands down.

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I am assuming that you were forunate enough to have some publications during your undergrad. You make this out to be the norm, which I am hoping that it is not, but it does have me interested. Can you give some advice to those of us who have plenty of research experience, but are having trouble finding the means to have this work published? For the record, I am not sure what your operational definition of "published" is (i.e, I do not consider certain journals to hold as much value as others).




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Publish: papers/posters/conference presentation, etc - essentially, something tangible resultant from a research project.


No, I did not publish during undergrad; I did an Honors thesis, so I had research experience, but no conferences/papers. I also did not get into a PhD program when I first applied; I remember being terrified in February of that year when other folks in my cohort were going on PhD interviews, and I was not..... After speaking with several professors (including my mentor for my Masters' degree), I have come to understand that one of the things that hurt my application that time around was a lack of research experience. As NicholasCage said, pubs during undergrad are not the norm... but when there are 300 applicants vying for 7 spots, all other things being equal, research experience trumps no research experience; publications trump no publications.


OP, I would still definitely apply to PhD programs! Research fit is hugely important; if your research interests really line up well with a POI, that's a huge factor, too.


Honestly, I tell everyone who's applying to Psychology PhD programs to apply to Master's programs just in case- even folks with 4.0 GPAs and a CV longer than my arm! Even for the best applicants, it's still something of a crapshoot as to whether folks get in or not, and a Master's degree (with a Thesis) is a good opportunity to get more research experience, build up a professional network, and become more competitive.

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Take the initiative with the research projects you're working on and ask if you can write up some posters- even if it's at your university's research day instead of an international conference, every little thing helps at this stage in your career.


I think the bigger difficulty for you will be research fit- it's difficult to tell a professor who has a lot riding on who they accept that you're interested in their research when you've never done it. I'd strongly consider either a master's with a thesis option and a mentor in the field of research you want to go into, or taking a year off and volunteering/working in a related lab and getting some research experience specific to your field as well as some posters or manuscripts.


Also, I'd apply to both MS/MA programs and PhD programs- it's not that difficult to add on a few extra applications, and it will give you some backup options if you don't get in anywhere. There are tons of threads on here listing master's programs, some I know off the top of my head that are good are Villanova, Drexel, Wake Forest, BC- but there are definitely more than that around.

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