Date: Tuesday March 26th, 2024
Time: 4:00 - 5:30 PM PDT
Location: Online via Zoom

Event Details

This event featured the Department of Psychology's Dr. Matt Sigal (HQT) and current graduate students Robin Barrett (HQT) and Sherene Balanji (Clinical) who shared their experiences and advice about psychology graduate school.

Unanswered Questions

Unanswered questions received during our Q&A session have been compiled below. These responses are based on the speakers' personal experiences and might not be applicable to your graduate program application. For specific admission information, please refer directly to the graduate program you are applying to. Speaker responses have been abbreviated (i.e., RB: Robin Barret, SB: Sherene Balanji, PA: PSYC Advisors)


Is it possible to teach and do therapy? I really love both so wanted to know if any SFU profs do this/is it feasible?

SB: Yes it is!! There are a few different ways to go about it. In our department, Dr. Grace Iarocci, Dr. Alex Chapman, and Dr. Shannon Zaitsoff teach, do research, and clinical work. The Clinical Psychology Centre directors ( all do their own clinical work, while also supervising clinical students while we complete therapy and assessments. Another way to go about it, if you'd prefer to just teach and not do research, is to take on a Lecturer or Sessional Instructor role while working in a clinical setting on the days you don't teach.

What is the benefit of pursuing a master's? I'm concerned about how it may affect job opportunities, considering the extra tuition expenses.

PA: This will depend on your future goals and the type of work you plan to pursue in the future. If you are exploring your options, you may wish to connect with Career Services for help with career exploration:

RB: From a psychology perspective, I found that in my undergrad, the degree was focused on learning information related to theories etc, but in my masters, the focus has been almost exclusively on learning the skills necessary to be a compentent high-level researcher (and a way of thinking about research systematically and with nuance). For domestic students, student loans have been really helpful for me (no interest, and money to help with living expenses as well), but when you are accepted, you will also be offered money as part of the deal. Most students I know got roughly $6000 per year through graduate fellowships, in addition to extra bonuses that may be added. And you will be guaranteed work as a TA which will also help with costs. Overall, in terms of money spent vs money earned and given to me, you almost break even. You just need to cover rent and living expenses. As for jobs - a Master's degree immediately unlocks a lot of spaces for you. I'm currently applying to jobs that range from $30-60/hr and getting interviews because of the skills and connections I made during my masters degree.

SB: From a clinical perspective, you need to obtain a Master's degree to be counsellor or therapist. Most positions assisting people with mental health concerns require some sort of post-bacc training.

Is pursuing a  Masters to have higher potential earnings a poor reason to be interested in Graduate school?

PA: This will again depend on what your future goals are - just because someone has a Master's degree, doesn't necessarily mean they will become a 'higher earner'. It depends on several factors, such as your experiences, skills, industry/profession, etc. Graduate school can be long and expensive, so you'll want to do sufficient research into the graduate programs and careers you are interested in to see whether graduate studies is the right fit for you. It would also be good to be open to different career possibilities, as it is common for people to make a career change several times before they figure out what works best for them. You can also connect with Career Services to learn more about career options:

RB: Honestly, it's fine. But, I dont think it should be the ONLY reason you care about this. Grad school is about upskilling yourself and you will only get out of it what you put in. I applied because I was curious about something and wanted to explore it with research. Being able to get a better job after grad school was 100% on my mind as well, but the courses are intense and external motivators will not be enough for you to keep up with the workload. You need to be excited about doing lots of work.

SB: I agree with Robin - that's a totally understandable and logical reason to pursue a Masters but you should also be passionate about the topic.


Is there something specific researchers look for in applicants applying for RA/BI positions or any position to get experience?

RB: Willingness to learn, depth of thought, and generally an actual interest in the research field you are applying to work in. A lot of applicants I get have zero idea what our lab does. They're applying to get experience for grad school and dont actually care about the topics we research. Naturally, I reject those applicants automatically.

SB: I agree with Robin again - expressing a geniune interest is very important. I'd also recommend using any flexible assignments you have on topics lab's you're interested in research. For example, for my 300W term paper, I looked at adolescent eating disorder treatments and then used this term paper as my writing sample when applying to volunteer in Dr. Zaitsoff's Weight and Eating Lab.

Is working at a homeless shelter as a support worker relevant experience?

PA: This will depend on the graduate program you are applying for; if you are interested in the MA/MEd Counselling Psychology program offered via Faculty of Education, you can connect with them here: You can also check the BCACC (BC Association of Clinical Counsellors) for more information about becoming a registered clinical counsellor:

RB: Absolutely!

SB: Very!! If you're interested in clinical work, these experiences set you apart and highlight that you are comfortable with "high-risk" populations.

Besides the crisis line and being a BI, are there other "clinical" experiences you'd recommend? 

SB: The Looking Glass Foundation for Eating Disorders is wonderful! Big brothers/big sisters is also good. Any support worker positions or work with populations you're interested in (e.g., volunteering with seniors if you're interested in geriatrics) should be beneficial. Dr. Grace Iarocci's lab also frequently hosts day camp programs for children on the spectrum and they are often looking for volunteers so that's another good place to look. If you are interested in working in a neurodiversity affirming area, I would avoid BI opportunites and focus on the others. You can read more about the controversy surrounding ABA therapy here:

Do you need to be involved in research during your undergrad to become a registered therapist?

PA: This will depend on the graduate program you are applying for; if you are interested in the MA/MEd Counselling Psychology program offered via Faculty of Education, you can connect with them here: You can also check the BCACC (BC Association of Clinical Counsellors) for more information about becoming a registered clinical counsellor:

SB: Not necessarily - it depends on the program, if it's a thesis-based degree then probably but if it's clinical only then probably not.

Any tips on how to immerse yourself more in the psychology field in undergrad? How to be involved in volunteer research and such?

RB: Go to research fairs and talk to people. Go attend NOWCAM in Victoria this May if you can and talk to people there. Start to build your network now. If you're interested in a lab, ask to interview one of their current volunteers about their experience.

SB: Apply, apply, apply! It took me multiple applications to get my RA postions. Also try and take seminar classes where you can get to know the professor. Another good way is to speak to your TAs about their research since they're all in a lab and might be able to help find you a spot!

Any tips to excel in PSYC courses and to improve GPA? How important is GPA for graduate school?

PA: Depends on graduate program admission requirements and what their required GPAs are, as it will vary depending on the program. If you are a current Psychology student and want to discuss how to improve your GPAs, you can meet with the PSYC Advisors.

RB: Take PSYC 300W as soon as you can. It is the most difficult course in the curriculum but if you take it seriously and internalize the writing skills you practice in that course, you will be much better equipped to do better in other courses - After 300W try and limit yourself to courses in the 300 and 400 range as they tend to be more specialized allowing you to develop your understanding more so students typically do better at this level. In HQT, my supervisor tells me that there is a minimum threshold GPA to be considered but after that most profs do not care about GPA as much as your cover letter and references.

SB: I agree with Robin, I took 300W in my second year and it made the writing for every other course feel like a cake walk! Also, find courses that evaluate students based on your strengths i.e., are you better at writing papers than exams? Many upper division courses have final papers/projects rather than exams. For clinical programs, GPA is (unfortunately) incredibly important. You can see stats on the average GPA of each clinical cohort at SFU here:

How would you recommend getting academic grad school references if you’re at the end of your undergrad degree and didn’t engage in research?

PA: Aside from research, you could also connect with a professor by getting to know them through their classes, during office hours, attending events, volunteering, etc. You'll also want to make sure that you give your references enough notice, and to check in with them beforehand to see if they are comfortable and willing to write you a strong reference letter.

Who can write a recommendation letter? (Can a TA write one? Or a professor from a different department, outside of Psychology?)

PA: It would be best to reach out to references who can speak on why you would be a good fit for the graduate program and/or who can speak on your research/academic potential. This again will depend on the graduate program you are applying for - some may ask for a combination of academic and professional references. They should be able to speak on your academic competence and your ability to do well in the program (e.g. professors that you have worked closely with). If it is a Psychology graduate program, Psychology professors may be more relevant.

RB: References should be people who have seen your work and can make an honest judgement about how much of a good fit you are for the program. Professors have more prestige, followed by instructors, and TA's will not write reference letters in my exerience.

SB: I agree with Robin. However, TAs can write references for RA applications if labs require them. My 300W TA wrote me a reference to join Dr. Zatisoff's lab as she was the only person familiar with my academic writing.


Could you eventually get into a clinical psychology PhD program with a MEd in counselling first?

PA: Specifically for the Clinical Psychology PhD program at SFU, you would need to pursue a thesis based MA in order to be competitive. You can also email our PSYC Grad Assistant for more info (; For other Psychology graduate programs outside of SFU, please check with those institutions directly.

SB: Yes definitely. At SFU, our program is a joint MA/PhD program, but you can apply at the PhD level, and many people do! It can make you more competitive! You will however still need to take any MA courses that do not transfer from your MEd before beginning your PhD classes since the MA ones are pre-reqs. If you already did a thesis in a related area, then you can often bypass that requirement though!

Is masters in social work another route one can take after a psychology undergrad?

PA: Yes, if you wish to pursue a Masters in Social Work, this is one of many options our undergraduate students can take post-graduation. SFU does not offer a Masters in Social Work, but you can look into other institutions across BC or Canada that offer this program and what their specific requirements are.

RB: I've seen it :)

SB: For sure!! This is a common route. Make sure you pay attention to the focus of different social work programs when applying - some are more mental health based while some are more community/policy focused.

Is it possible to start a graduate program in experimental psychology but then switch to clinical psychology?

PA: For our PSYC Graduate program at SFU; just a note that these are two separate programs. If you do decide to make a switch from Experimental ->Clinical, that would mean potentially changing your thesis/project and/or your supervisor. You should check with your supervisor first before considering this change, and you can also email our PSYC Grad Assistant for more info (; For other Psychology graduate programs outside of SFU, you'd need to check with those institutions directly.

SB: It's possible but you would need to complete the MA clinical requirements, inlcuding about 8 classes and a 450 hour pracitucm. If your thesis in experimental was on a clinically relevant topic, you might get to bypass that requirement, depending on your supervisor.

Do you recommend a PSYD over a PhD? Is a PSYD just as good as a PhD?

SB: In clinical practice, they are seen as equivalent - you can become a registered psychologist with either degree. However, if you want to be involved with research or teaching, a PhD would better prepare you for that.

Sherene: did you ever want to go a M.Ed route and go into counselling psychology?

SB: I definitely considered it! I originally wanted to be a therapist, but then I realized I actually like the combination of research and teaching which led me to clinical. To be honest, I did not have the Education course requirements when I finished my BA to apply to the MEd program at SFU, so I didn't take that route. If I had known about the Counselling and Human Development Minor earlier in my degree, that likely would have been different All of that being said, I'm extremely happy with my choice because my favourite aspect of my work right now is diagnostic assessment (psychoeducational, autism, social-emotional etc) and I wouldn't have gotten training in that area in counselling since it's unique to psychologists.


Is it wise to take a break before going to grad school in-between your undergrad?

RB: I did it and got valuable work experience (and money), plus I was volunteering in a lab at SFU during my "break" year, and so I was able to generate 2 references while doing research after my undergrad.

SB: Yes very! It's difficult to transition straight to grad school and I would recommend working in a related field and/or travelling before you begin. It will be long haul with lots of commitments so it's good to explore before. The more experiences you have, the more competitive you'll be :)

Does it matter how long it takes to finish your undergrad? I am in my fourth year but won't finish until 2026.

PA: There is no timeline/deadline for you to finish your undergraduate degree! Every student's path is different, as are their timelines. Instead of focusing on timelines, we'd recommend making the most of your time at SFU, whether it be through your academics, extracurriculars, gaining relevant experience, research, etc. However, if you are an international student, you may wish to check with the International Services for Students office if you wish to take a term off (to determine how this may impact your student status). If you are hoping to discuss your program planning/graduation check, you can meet with the PSYC Advisors and we'd be happy to go over your requirements with you. Finally, if you are hoping to pursue a Master's program in the future and take a bit longer to finish your undergraduate degree (ie due to co-op, research experience, personal circumstances, etc) you could check in with your supervisors about this and/or be prepared to explain this in your personal statement when applying to graduate programs.

RB: Not at all. My undergrad stretched from 2012 to 2017, and I didn't apply to the MA program until Fall 2019. Professors will look at the kinds of courses you've taken to see what skills you might have picked up along the way, and so having a breadth of knowledge may actually play in your favour.

SB: It didn't for me and I had A LOT of anxiety surrounding this - almost to the point of preventing me from applying to grad school! I'm so glad I didn't listen to my anxiety on this one. I took 6 years to complete my BA hons (2014 - 2020) and no one ever inquired about it during the application process or anything. I also received the CIHR MA award and the Graduate Deans Entrance Scholarship despite my extended degree. If you're interested in clinical, I always say it's better to take longer and get more experience/ improve your GPA than to rush through.

Do you have to start your masters in the fall semester?

PA: This will depend on the graduate program, as every graduate program's start date is different. If you were interested in SFU's Psychology graduate program, both Experimental and Clinical graduate programs normally begin every Fall semester. You can check out our website for more information:

Are there other funding opportunities you'd suggest for undergraduate research?