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whitmanic

Stacking up against psych PhD prereqs — will my bio deliver?

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Hi all,

Not sure why it's taken me this long to crowdsource my grad school questions. I was a College Confidential rat in high school, and I think it marginally paid off. It's been 3.5 years since I've been enrolled in/swaddled by an academic institution, though, and my knowledge about grad school app best practices is pretty fragmentary.

I'm interested in both the cognitive psychology and clinical psychology tracks — more on that dilemma in another post — and am debating whether to apply to master's programs (contingent on funding) or go straight for the PhD programs I've been eyeing. I know it's late in the game for this cycle, but would ideally like to be enrolled by Fall 2018.

As I see it, the upsides to master's first are:

- A chance to beef up on coursework
- A chance to kick the cognitive/research vs. clinical decision down the road, and learn more to help me make it

While the downsides are:

- Funding sources are much rarer, I can't afford anything out of pocket, and I'm allergic to debt
- Might deprive me of the freedom to pursue the research opportunities I need to keep multiple PhD routes open
- It's just not necessary, even if I wait another year to apply for PhD programs



Here's my deal: I was a humanities major at Harvard with a minor in Mind, Brain, and Behavior — but far from the full complement of psychology coursework that a lot of programs, MA and PhD alike, seem to expect. I've devoted a lot of time to reading and living cognitive psych and linguistics literature over the last few years, and have a pretty strong sense that I will be happy studying the mind (and maybe its relationship to wellbeing in a clinical sense) for the long haul.

I traveled extensively after graduation, and then spent a year and a half as a business generalist at an early-stage tech startup—a role I quit earlier this year to start pursuing cognitive science research. This June, I started a remote research assistantship for a friend who's a cognitive science postdoc, and last month, I got a research assistantship at a dev psych/linguistics lab at Harvard. I just took the GRE, and got a 170 V 167 M.

Some people have told me that some of these fundamentals mean that I shouldn't be afraid of the course and research requirements I see on a lot of program sites. My question is whether people familiar with the field think I can make a case at the PhD-level (or hell, even at the MA-level; I'm not sure about anything) without some of the traditional essentials. Looking forward to hearing your take.

Edited by whitmanic

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I would talk to a few of your mentors/professors in psychology to get their input on whether it would be worth applying directly to PhD programs. Psych PhDs are intensely competitive and a good deal of research experience is often a prerequisite. 

The people I know who pursued Masters in Psychology before going for their doctorate typically had their BA in other fields, which makes me wonder if it's necessary (hopefully someone else can attest to their experiences on that). At the least, you should take the Psychology GRE exam. 

Most terminal Masters in Psych are not funded, but some are to differing degrees. If you do not want to apply to PhDs this cycle and you don't want to do a Masters or it isn't a realistic option, you should definitely find paid research work (i.e. being a coordinator or RA in a lab) to keep developing that experience. Maybe take a few psych courses outside of a degree that are considered basic essentials for graduate work. 

Or perhaps a good compromise might be applying to both PhD and MA programs (as a contingency option) this cycle to test the waters. Those are my ideas. 

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I would apply for the PhD, but recognize that clinical is going to be insanely difficult, even for people that have been doing everything "perfectly".

Unless you're open to counselling psych, just try for the PhD while working in labs, because that research experience will matter more than a masters. Especially a course-based masters, which is not as helpful as a research-based masters (the latter is less common in the US unfortunately, so you're unlikely to encounter many).

In your minor, did you take at least one statistics course and one lab course/research methods course? If so, I wouldn't be concerned.

Also getting into labs at Harvard is a pretty good pre-req for getting into graduate programs. They will teach you the research skills you need, hopefully you will get on some posters/papers, and then you will be prepared for the PhD (course requirements in the PhD are not something to be concerned about - most of them are not too difficult to handle, they don't mark very hard, and your real focus should be on your research). I know of people who have worked in labs at top schools and gotten into very good cognitive PhD programs, without doing a masters.

In the process of working in a lab, you can learn more about what parts of clinical and cognitive psychology you like, because there is sometimes overlap in what people study.

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These are both really solid answers—thank you.

Random question, but: I've been getting e-mails from Brandeis via GRE search, offering me a full fee waiver if I apply to their PhD program. Is this a useful datum, or is Brandeis just being nice?

Edited by whitmanic

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Just a personal thought about schools emailing you: usually the most reputable schools won’t need to do that.

 

Also, if this isn’t already obvious to you, if you are applying this cycle you need to get things moving right now. Most phd programs have a 12/1 hard deadline. 

 

I would think take one more year, get some pubs and posters from your RAship, and figure out if you want to apply to clinical or cognitive. At least for clinical, people don’t get in who are applying on a whim. Those programs are extremely competitive (ie less than 2% acceptance in some cases), so they pick people solidly grounded and interested in clinical science. 

 

Just my two cents, but your research is lacking. Round it out, and you’re a solid applicant. 

 

Best wishes!

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