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Career change into Psychology at 25yo: How to get into Grad school?

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Hello everyone,

I live in the United states and received a Biology degree at a top 50 undergrad institution. I graduated with a GPA of high 3.4-3.5: Not enough to disqualify me I think, but not enough to make me stand out. I did take two courses in Cognitive Science and received As in both of them. I got As in my writing and essay related courses as well.

Now I have around three years of work experience as a business analyst in healthcare (mostly reporting and project management, and I plan to get involved in work that will help me learn/apply statistical programming), but I've realized that getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology is what I've wanted all along. Without getting a graduate degree it will be nearly impossible for me to make a case that I can withstand the academic rigor, but now I need to figure out how to get into a graduate program. 

At this point I think the best way to improve my chances of getting into a top grad school is to get a job as a research assistant in a Psychology lab.  I am leaning towards this option instead of going for a post-bacc since it is more likely to provide a valuable letter of recommendation and save me money, but I don't have any definitive proof (and I would love to do it, regardless).  Now the question is, what's the best way to apply for a research assistant position and convince them I can do the job?  I have experience from my undergrad working at a lab- and I know I can get a solid recommendation from my current place of employment regarding my work ethic and initiative- but how do I show that I know the material? I want to start applying by the end of the summer to winter and build a solid resume by then. As of now, I'm floundering in a couple of options:

  • Do I get Statistics/Data Science/Psychology & Neuroscience certificates from Coursera/edx?  Is that enough?
  • If not, should I take online courses from top universities for pass/fail course credit (Oxford Online), or should I take courses for grades (UC Berkeley)?  The second option will get expensive quickly.
  • Could I do a combination of both? For example, Data science certificates from Coursera, a credit course from Oxford, and a graded course from UC Berkeley?

My ultimate goal is to use my PhD in Clinical Psychology/Neuroscience and contribute to the field of Political Psychology/Conflict Resolution.  I feel like I'm reaching for the stars, but we start with small steps, right?  What do you think?

Thanks! 

 

Edited by Shinja
Typo!

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I'd attempt to contact people/organizations in the subfield first before enrolling in a specific class - profs/PIs, grad students, academic departments, conferences/societies, etc. Tell them you're interested in the field, that you'd like to know more, and any advice on best methods for experience before potentially applying as a grad student. They'd be your best resource if you don't get leads here, or in addition to leads here.

Also, it sounds like what you're interested in may not be clinical psych but a newer field that leans towards a more interdisciplinary work, perhaps political psychology. If so, there might not be students here in that narrow field (at least there's not many human factors psych students posting, and HF is probably similar in size to poli). A couple interesting places to check out: Stanford's Summer Institute in Political Psychology and International Society for Political Psychology.

 

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Most Clinical Psych programs will want substantial Psychology undergrad coursework. I think taking courses for grades to show your grasp on Psychology would be best. All of the programs I have researched or applied to have a set grade standards for courses. If you can do your classes from top universities for grades that might make you more competitive. You will want to take courses in statistics, data science etc... You might talk to your former lab supervisors and see if they can recommend you to a Psych or neuropsych lab. 

If you are able to do so I would recommend doing a Psychology research Master's program, where your academic work is research and you can be an RA. There are a few of these "feeder programs" available, one of which is UT Dallas. That might let you do research in the area you are interested and make you more competitive.  If you can't do that, getting 18-24 hours of prerequisite Psych courses will behoove you. 

An option you might have is starting an RA position in a research center that also has Psych or neuropsych based research, and then trying to be an RA in that program. For example- a medical center in a lab that wants you, then seeing if you can move to one of the labs you need to be in. 

I am by no means an expert, but I'm also changing career fields post-bachelor's so I wish you luck! And when it comes time for you to apply to Clinical programs, there are some with an evolutionary perspective/scientifically based that you might be a great candidate for. 

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Oh, and if you're not already familiar with his work, check out Haidt and The Righteous Mind if you're interested in conflict resolution and the political spectrum. There's some debate on moral foundations theory, but Righteous Mind is outstanding regardless - highly recommended.

Edited by OhSoSolipsistic

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On 2/15/2017 at 9:11 PM, Shinja said:

Hello everyone,

I live in the United states and received a Biology degree at a top 50 undergrad institution. I graduated with a GPA of high 3.4-3.5: Not enough to disqualify me I think, but not enough to make me stand out. I did take two courses in Cognitive Science and received As in both of them. I got As in my writing and essay related courses as well.

Now I have around three years of work experience as a business analyst in healthcare (mostly reporting and project management, and I plan to get involved in work that will help me learn/apply statistical programming), but I've realized that getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology is what I've wanted all along. Without getting a graduate degree it will be nearly impossible for me to make a case that I can withstand the academic rigor, but now I need to figure out how to get into a graduate program. 

At this point I think the best way to improve my chances of getting into a top grad school is to get a job as a research assistant in a Psychology lab.  I am leaning towards this option instead of going for a post-bacc since it is more likely to provide a valuable letter of recommendation and save me money, but I don't have any definitive proof (and I would love to do it, regardless).  Now the question is, what's the best way to apply for a research assistant position and convince them I can do the job?  I have experience from my undergrad working at a lab- and I know I can get a solid recommendation from my current place of employment regarding my work ethic and initiative- but how do I show that I know the material? I want to start applying by the end of the summer to winter and build a solid resume by then. As of now, I'm floundering in a couple of options:

  • Do I get Statistics/Data Science/Psychology & Neuroscience certificates from Coursera/edx?  Is that enough?
  • If not, should I take online courses from top universities for pass/fail course credit (Oxford Online), or should I take courses for grades (UC Berkeley)?  The second option will get expensive quickly.
  • Could I do a combination of both? For example, Data science certificates from Coursera, a credit course from Oxford, and a graded course from UC Berkeley?

My ultimate goal is to use my PhD in Clinical Psychology/Neuroscience and contribute to the field of Political Psychology/Conflict Resolution.  I feel like I'm reaching for the stars, but we start with small steps, right?  What do you think?

Thanks! 

 

I can also suggest applying to a Master's in General Psychology (with concentration in research, i.e. thesis option) to help get you coverage of psychology classes and research that PHD programs require.

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On 2/15/2017 at 9:11 PM, Shinja said:

Hello everyone,

I live in the United states and received a Biology degree at a top 50 undergrad institution. I graduated with a GPA of high 3.4-3.5: Not enough to disqualify me I think, but not enough to make me stand out. I did take two courses in Cognitive Science and received As in both of them. I got As in my writing and essay related courses as well.

Now I have around three years of work experience as a business analyst in healthcare (mostly reporting and project management, and I plan to get involved in work that will help me learn/apply statistical programming), but I've realized that getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology is what I've wanted all along. Without getting a graduate degree it will be nearly impossible for me to make a case that I can withstand the academic rigor, but now I need to figure out how to get into a graduate program. 

At this point I think the best way to improve my chances of getting into a top grad school is to get a job as a research assistant in a Psychology lab.  I am leaning towards this option instead of going for a post-bacc since it is more likely to provide a valuable letter of recommendation and save me money, but I don't have any definitive proof (and I would love to do it, regardless).  Now the question is, what's the best way to apply for a research assistant position and convince them I can do the job?  I have experience from my undergrad working at a lab- and I know I can get a solid recommendation from my current place of employment regarding my work ethic and initiative- but how do I show that I know the material? I want to start applying by the end of the summer to winter and build a solid resume by then. As of now, I'm floundering in a couple of options:

  • Do I get Statistics/Data Science/Psychology & Neuroscience certificates from Coursera/edx?  Is that enough?
  • If not, should I take online courses from top universities for pass/fail course credit (Oxford Online), or should I take courses for grades (UC Berkeley)?  The second option will get expensive quickly.
  • Could I do a combination of both? For example, Data science certificates from Coursera, a credit course from Oxford, and a graded course from UC Berkeley?

My ultimate goal is to use my PhD in Clinical Psychology/Neuroscience and contribute to the field of Political Psychology/Conflict Resolution.  I feel like I'm reaching for the stars, but we start with small steps, right?  What do you think?

Thanks! 

 

Consider Harvard Extension School for relevant courses: https://www.extension.harvard.edu 

I'm not sure about currently, but I know a few years ago this was cheaper than other similar online programs. 

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Your background is very similar to mine, and I switched fields in my early 20's as well. You need research research research experience (and a good research area/fit you want to focus on), excellent letters of recommendation (which you will get because you're very determined) and a stellar personal narrative.

Have no fear. It is possible. After 2-3 years of working my ass off, I am attending my dream PhD school fully funded this fall :) 

Another advice is to not be afraid of failure and DO NOT listen to the people who will tell you it's impossible or not practical (it's because they're afraid of failing)

Edited by buttercup8d
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On 2/24/2017 at 3:31 PM, buttercup8d said:

Your background is very similar to mine, and I switched fields in my early 20's as well. You need research research research experience (and a good research area/fit you want to focus on), excellent letters of recommendation (which you will get because you're very determined) and a stellar personal narrative.

Have no fear. It is possible. After 2-3 years of working my ass off, I am attending my dream PhD school fully funded this fall :) 

Another advice is to not be afraid of failure and DO NOT listen to the people who will tell you it's impossible or not practical (it's because they're afraid of failing)

Thank you for the encouragement.  Best of luck at your PhD program!!  

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