Career as a Psychologist

Advice and Resources for Psychologists

No amount of research -- not even ValuePenguin research -- can make up for the human element.

With this in mind, we asked psychology professors and professionals to relay their advice to students and professionals who are considering chasing a career in the field. It should also come as no surprise that their wisdom helped us shape the first four articles in this five-part series. In this final installment, we also share our favorite online resources and invite you to collaborate with us as we work to improve our guide. See how you can contribute below.

Professorial Advice for First-year Graduate Students

Of college professors and instructors, ValuePenguin asked, "What wisdom would you share with a first-year graduate student?" Here are their answers.

Arno Kolz (Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Manhattan College) Get going on research quickly. Make sure you work with a good mentor. Identify rising stars among faculty and try to work with them.
Sayeed Islam (Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at Farmingdale State College) My advice to a first-year psych graduate student is to read and learn the core of the science well enough that you can explain it to laypeople. A large part of psychology is explaining what a psychologist can do. There are many misconceptions that you have to deal with even after you graduate. My other advice is to get involved with research even if you don't plan on doing research yourself. Doing work as a researcher deepens your knowledge of the field and gives you a better sense of how to evaluate psychological research that you will use in your work as a psychologist.
Wind Goodfriend (Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Buena Vista University) Time-management and a focus on long-term goals are the best ways to get through the exhausting demands of graduate school. Typically, students who go on to graduate school were at the top of their class in college. When they get to graduate school, however, they are surrounded by peers who are just as intelligent and dedicated as themselves. This can be jarring at first; you might no longer be the best at everything. However, it’s important to celebrate the new community of scholars in which you live and work – these people are both academic and career resources for you, and they are probably going to be deep friends for the rest of your life.
KaMala Thomas (Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at Pitzer College) Seek out good connections with your professors who can guide and mentor you. Having the right mentorship can be the key to a successful career after graduate school. You need someone who is invested in your growth and has connections that they are willing to use to help you get your foot in the door when you are applying for jobs.
Margaret Donohue (Ph.D., Adjunct Professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology) Go to the best accredited school for graduate school you can get into if you want to do clinical work.  Get APA approved internships and placements if possible.  If you want to go into private practice get some business training as well as your clinical training... In grad school, choose your dissertation topic and start working on it as soon as possible.  You will rewrite it several times.  Do as much of the extra readings that are assigned as possible. Expect to spend an hour outside of class for every hour you spend in class doing homework. 
Laura Miele-Pascoe (Ph.D., Adjunct Professor at Ohio University) First-year graduate students need to research and learn about all the areas of psychology to have a better grasp on the field and options available to them. For instance, do they want to be involved in experimental psychology? It's important to speak to as many different psychologists in a variety of fields as possible, as this will enable them to focus on a specific area. The issue with general psychology without a centralized focus and an earned degree is that it will not necessarily ensure a career. Overall, my advice is that they keep an open mind to the various fields and learn about each to come to a better understanding and future determination of which road they will choose.
Tracy S. Bennett (Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty member at California State University Channel Islands) Take your mentors to lunch and listen. It’s amazing to me how often people fail to interview the people they want to be someday. And often when they are with them, they tell instead of ask. Mentors are an incredible resource. The sooner you can speak to them in your career the better... In grad school, stay organized and immerse yourself in the process. The first two years are very much about learning yourself. This insight is critical in order to recognize countertransference and transference issues in treatment.
Darren Sush (Psy.D., Associate Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology) The typical advice students hear is study hard, form groups, don’t fall behind on the fundamentals – and that is all very good information. But, from a long-term perspective, really try to self-reflect on major principles and concepts and apply what you learn on a daily basis to your personal life and career. If you enter a private practice or a professional environment where you are providing therapy, you will be asking your clients to do this on a daily basis – challenge yourself as well.

Professional Advice for Aspiring Psychologists

Of working professionals, ValuePenguin asked, "What would you tell someone who is considering a career in psychology?" Here are their answers.

Kori Propst (Ph.D., Owner of The Diet Doc) A career as a psychologist can be incredibly nuanced depending upon the areas of specialty. You would do well to consider your personal character strengths and level of awareness in regards to your vulnerabilities, beliefs, emotional and social intelligence, and the types of people that you'd prefer to work with.
Jennifer Gentile (Ph.D., Fellow at Boston Children's Hospital via Harvard Medical School) My fellowship supervisor taught me the single question of "How can I be helpful?" This works in a variety of contexts whether working with a patient, parent of a patient or and medical team.
Ildko Tabori (Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist) I received the best piece of advice about a career in psychology while I was in graduate school, and I have shared it with every student, intern and psychological assistant that I have ever trained. During a class titled "Professional Roles and Ethics," my professor made one simple statement: "Psychologists are notoriously bad business-people." I have remembered that one sentence and, throughout my entire career, I have reminded myself of it routinely. Being in a helping profession does not discount the fact that psychology is still a business, especially in a private practice. Psychology is not just about sitting in a cozy office chatting with someone for a 50-minute hour, throwing in a little therapeutic technique and then scheduling the next appointment. We still have phone calls to return, files and notes to maintain, reports to write, billing and fees to collect, consultations with colleagues and other professionals, and a number of other tasks to complete in order to maintain any successful business. If any one of these tasks does not get accomplished, the business can and likely will falter and fail.
Rima Shah (M.S., iCliniq) All kinds of people seek help: people who are forced to; people who trust in your services and people who don't; people who are aware and people who are not. Therefore, it's not an easy career emotionally. You need to be sensitive and empathetic but also strong.
Matthew Barney (Ph.D., Founder/CEO of LeaderAmp) I recommend taking a vocational interest assessment that can help make sure this particular career -- and your specific branch of psychology -- is a good fit with your natural passions. One that I like is the Jackson Vocational Interest Inventory because it is well validated and has information from the Department of Labor on the forecast employment prospects and pay rates of different areas of psychology, among other career options.
Nikki Martinez (Psy.D., Professional Counselor) You must be certain that this is the one and only thing you want to do as it takes many years of schooling, training and is a huge financial undertaking. To be able to do all that successfully, you must have no hesitations.
Larry Stybel (Ed.D., Founder/CEO of Stybel Peabody Associates, Inc.)

I first went into clinical psychology and got my master's. I then went into organization psychology and got my doctorate. One piece of advice is don't bother going for a master's degree. It is the professional equivalent of a low-paid junior professional. If you know that you want to focus on in the professional side of things, then go for a Psy.D. Remember a Ph.D. is first and foremost a research degree and not a professional practice degree.

Sanam Hafeez (Ph.D., Founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services)

There are many fields within psychology, so while an average person may only think of a therapist, a psychologist wears many hats. So anyone considering a career in psychology would be well served to explore the various types of areas they can be employed in and what might suit them well: You can be a therapist and even within that framework, you can be a cognitive-behavioral psychologist, which I recommend, a psychodynamic one or one with a more eclectic approach. You can go into research, academia as well as neuropsychology or a field lesser known but also very industrious called organizational psychology, which works on mass marketing, productivity of large companies, hiring tools. There's sport psychology, marital counseling, therapy geared toward the LGBT community, which is much needed, and school psychology, which is geared toward special educational needs of students.

Your Turn

Staying up to date on your profession is an important task when looking for a job. And while ValuePenguin is your definitive source for everything psychologists-related, even we can't stay current on every news happening within the world. Here is our own curated Twitter feed.

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