PSYC GRAD SCHOOL 101

Date: Tuesday Oct. 6th, 2020
Time: 4:00pm to 5:30pm PST
Location: Online via Zoom

SFU's Psychology Department recently hosted PSYC Grad School 101 event via Zoom for students to learn more about graduate school in Psychology. The event featured Psychology's Dr. Rebecca Cobb (Clinical), Dr. Ryan Fitzgerald (Law and Forensic), as well as Clinical and Experimental Psychology graduate students who shared their experiences and advice.

SFU Psychology Graduate School FAQ

If you have questions about our Psychology Graduate program, please click here

Q&A 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 also been abbreviated (ie RC: Rebecca Cobb, JF: Jessica Ferreria, HL: Henri Lu, etc). Responses from our PSYC Advisors are noted as PA.

Preparing your application

How relevant are volunteer experiences outside psychology? (eg. student unions, mentorship, tutoring, etc)

PA: This will depend on how you can tie your volunteer experiences to your research and/or leadership.

Do you have advice for students who are coming back to academia after a long time in the work force and want to make their application as strong as possible?

RC: This is a pretty typical path for people interested in counselling - those programs often require a year of full time work and won't even accept applications without it. It is an advantage. If you are applying to other types of programs (Clinical, Developmental, etc.) then you might want to consider a Post Baccalaureate Diplomas to update your knowlege (depending on how long you've been away from school) and volunteer in a lab (as I assume you'll need to reconnect with profs who will write you letters). The advice we gave about how to be competitive for graduate school would still apply.

JF: Highlight your experience in the real world and work force as a strength. You are uniquely positioned to pose research questions that come from your observations about the world through your years of work. Highlight those insights and their strengths for creating research.

JP: When you write your personal statement or statement of interest, tie all of your professional experiences back to how they have taught you skills necessary for academia (e.g., time management skills, working with others, data management or analysis skills, writing skills, etc.)

HL: Regardless of if it's relevant or not, I think it'll be important to explain that work because it creates an important narrative and explains why you're wishing to return to academia. If your work is related to your desired program, then I think it is worth explaining it in a little bit more detail. That said, it will still be important to make sure that you are competitive in other ways that you will be evaluated on, such as research experience.

I hear a lot about volunteer experience but what about work experience? I’m a Mental Health Worker in the DTES, would that be just as beneficial as volunteer experience?

JP: Any experience, volunteer or work, that you can use to emphasize skills relevant to your graduate program is useful. If you are going into a Clinical program or researching mental health, working as a mental health worker in the DTES is a great asset - draw from what you learned and apply it to what you would do in graduate school. Anything that speaks to leadership, critical or analytical thinking, creativity, perseverance, mentorship, etc.

JF: Work experience in the mental health field is a huge asset if you are applying to a Counselling or maybe even a Social Work program. Often these programs require applicants to have several hundred hours (sometimes up to a year or more) of work experience in a "helping role." Work experience in a helping role may be seen as an asset for Clinical Psychology programs, but the most important thing is research experience (paid or volunteer) and a clear interest in research.

When applying for Canadian programs, do you submit your Canadian Common CV as your CV to the school directly or just in the funding application?

RC: The common CV is pretty much just for Tri-Council funding. Most graduate programs will have you upload a PDF of your CV.

PA: Depends on the program and what they are asking for, so be sure to clarify with them. Sometimes they're combined, sometimes they're separate. Our Psychology Graduate application information can be found here, and Graduate Awards and Funding information can be noted here.

Are there any specific admission requirements for international students?

RC: Not that I am aware of (except TOEFL perhaps if you don't have a degree from an English language university). It can be a slight disadvantage that you can't apply for federal funding. You will still be eligible for internal awards, but check on funding from your home country and verify the admission requirements with the specific school you're applying to.

If I am taking a bit longer to complete my Undergraduate degree, will people reviewing graduate applications take this into account?

JF: I took 5 years to do my BA and it wasn't an issue at all when I applied to graduate school because I also had lots of research experience and several conference presentations on my CV. It was clear that I took some extra time because I was gaining valuable research experience. If you take significantly longer to complete your undergrad (e.g., 7 years) then you may want to discuss with your reference writers if they could address this in their letters to make it clear what you've been doing during that time (e.g., overcoming adverse circumstances, gaining valuable experience) and you may also want to address it directly in your letter of intent/personal statement (be sure to get a supervisor's advice on this).

Honours

How do we find an advisor for our honour program? What is the honours program application?

PA: Typically, this is through coursework and working in research labs. Find faculty members who share common research interests as you and perhaps take a course with them or volunteering in their lab as a way to build that connection. You can find information about our Honours Program here.

JF: Approach professors that have taught courses that you are interested in and ask if you can speak to them about honours. Many professors prefer it if you volunteer in their lab for a while prior to taking you on as an honours student. It's easier to approach a professor about honours if you've already worked with them for a while and you'll already know how the lab works and what type of research is typical of other honours students in the lab.

HL: This process usually begins at least a year (if not more) prior to the year that you will be working on your honours project, as you will want to gain some basic research experience in a potential supervisor's lab. This allows you to see if their research is something that would be interesting to you, but it also allows a potential supervisor to get to know you a bit more (in terms of work ethic, interest, personality, etc.).

Will you look into holding an Honours Information session for students?

PA: Thank you for the feedback; we will be looking into holding a Psychology Honours Information Session in the near future.

Funding

For Canadian schools, are there other funding opportunities besides the Tri-Council Canadian Graduate Scholarships - Master’s Awards (CGSM)?

RC: This is the main external funding, but there are also Ontario graduate scholarships (for residents). We also used to have Michael Smith graduate scholarships in BC. You'd need to check their website about that program. Another possibility is Mitacs. There may be other smaller awards and scholarships too - search the internet.

JP: The Tri-Council are the main federal level funding options, but there are usually internal funding options at the institution you apply to (e.g., entrance scholarships, graduate fellowships, internal awards). For information regarding Awards and Funding from the Graduate and Postdoctoral studies office, click here.

Are there any differences between funding graduate students and non-funding graduate students?

JP: It is easier to go through graduate school if you have funding and makes you look more competitive if you get it. I strongly encourage students to at least apply to scholarships like the Tri-Council grants because if nothing else, it looks great on an application. There are usually opportunities to maintain funding during graduate school even if you don't get these grants (e.g., TAships, RAships, fellowships), so you can still make an income while in school.

Graduate Programs

How is a Master's in Clinical Counselling different than a Master's/PhD in Clinical Psychology?

JF: There are three main differences - degree length, research and training. Degree length: in BC, you can practice as a counsellor with a Master's degree, but you can only practice as a psychologist if you have a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Research: if you do an MEd in Counselling there is usually no thesis, and if you do an MA in Counselling you will do a thesis but the research is often qualitative. Meanwhile, Clinical Psychology requires both an MA thesis and a PhD dissertation project which are often quantitative (although qualitative research is becoming popular in some areas).

Training: Counselling programs generally focus coursework on counselling theories and skills and spend less time on assesment or research training. In contrast, Clinical Psychology programs vary with regards to how much focus there is on clinical training but always include coursework in assessment (in many places psychologists are the only professionals qualified to conduct certain types of assessments) and research skills.

For information regarding SFU's Counselling MA/MEd program, click here. 

To be a family therapist, is a Masters required or is a PhD also required? I am confused if a Master's is required for a PhD and if only a Master's is enough to begin a career at first?

RC: There are programs in the United States (and at least one in Canada, Couple and Family Therapy at University of Guelph) that offer a degree called Masters of Family Therapy. You might want to check that out. You can do family therapy with a Master's in Counselling.

PA: Depends on where you want to practice; please refer to local requirements for accreditation. BC Association of Clinical Counsellors information can be found here and BC Registered Psychology Association information here.

If you’re considering using your degree to influence public policy, would experimental or clinical programs be better?

RC: I think it depends on your career aspirations. I'd do a lot of reading about programs and try and talk to people in public policy.

JP: Both streams can enable you to produce work that can help change public policy - it depends on what exactly you are hoping to study that would guide you. If you are hoping to be a research-practitioner (i.e., a clinician who practices and takes clients but also is heavily involved in research), then you might want to do the Clinical program. If you are just hoping to produce research that changes public policies around things like education, then experimental would be appropriate.

Career

What types of careers can you pursue with a Psychology major?

PA: Psychology students can pursue a range of careers and this will depend on your own interests. Please also refer to Career Services for more information here.

JP: Psychology majors gain a lot of skills: critical thinking, statistical knowledge, writing, reviewing scientific literature, etc. These are all assets that can be applied directly in research or indirectly in a variety of different fields. You can certainly go through the traditional direct route in academica, but there are positions in industry, the nonprofit sector, education, development and the like where the skills of a psychology major can be applied.

Are there other paths to go down besides academia/teaching if I want to get a PhD in experimental psychology?

RC: I have colleagues who went on to work at Mattel (toy design, developmental degree), a colleague who worked for Match.com (doing relationship research with their members; social degree), another working at Rand (a think tank; social degree), and others who are working for the goverment and other NGOs (policy, stats)

JP: Lots of opportunities out there in industry/business, the nonprofit sector, government.

General graduate school advice

Do you have advice for networking/ connecting with potential supervisors and references in this new fully remote world?

RC: Try to find conferences in your research area, attend them virtually. They are creating opportunities for networking. Talk to your supervisor or grad students who you work with about who they know. You may have to cold email people to ask about opportunities.

JF: Look up faculty members and research labs here and at local universities. Find one that interests you and read about their research. Contact the professor/lab director and express your interest in their work and ask about opportunites in the lab. Be sure to include your CV and transcript when you email them. You may want to highlight what specific skills you could bring to the lab (e.g., data analysis, website or social media design/marketing, etc.).

HL: For potential supervisors, it helps to read through some of their recent research so you can briefly describe how your interests align.

How do you balance all the responsibilities you have in grad school?

JP: It gets easier over time as you start to develop competence and confidence in your abilities. Work backwards from hard deadlines and set several intermediary deadlines for yourself and with your supervisor-this can help you keep you on pace. It can also help you identify when you might be falling off pace and you can use that to re-prioritize your commitments to get back on track. Research is more important than course work in grad school; learn how to invest your time wisely and try not to be perfect at everything.

JF: Good time management skills and knowing how to prioritize things. It took me a while to realize I didn't need to read everything in detail and over time you start learning what to spend more or less time on. Learning when and how to say no so that you don't become overloaded is also important and it's a skill I'm still working on. It is also really important to maintain good self-care practices and have a healthy support system in place.

HL: Knowing what to prioritize and when to prioritize it. I'm okay with letting some things slide a little bit (e.g., doing readings) if I have more important deadlines to focus on (e.g., studying for exam).

What’s the procedure around contacting references? How soon after asking/sending the materials is appropriate to follow-up?

RC: Provide all necessary materials to your letter writers one month before due date. Give them a list of all schools with due dates, one week before due date send a reminder, if not submitted by day before send another reminder.

JP: Keep a list of the awesome things that you have done in the lab, volunteer, work, etc. that your reference letter writers can speak to and give that to your writers with enough time to write a glowing letter (at least a month). Be as concrete and specific as possible.

JF: When you ask someone to write you a reference letter ask them if they think they can write you a good letter. Many professors will tell you if they think they cannot write you a strong reference letter, but some do not and will go on to write you a mediocre letter. This is not going to help you stand out when you apply so it's best to check in with them.

Miscellaneous

Do you recommend re-taking courses?

PA: Depends on graduate program admission (what they are looking for) and what the repeat calculation is. If you are a current Psychology student and have concerns about how repeating a course can impact your GPAs, you can meet with the PSYC Advisors.

JP: Consider it in the context of your other courses. If it is a lower level course that you did in the first couple of years of your undergrad, it probably isn't worth retaking. The third and fourth years of your undergrad are weighted more heavily than the first two years. If it is a course that doesn't have much to do with your grad program of interest, it is also unlikely to be important. If it is a course that is central to your program of interest (e.g., methods, stats), then consider whether the grade is close enough to the requirements and if not, you may want to bump the grade. If you have a lot of other volunteer or research experiences or other aspects of your application that make you competitive, that gives you some wiggle room if your GPA is not as strong. You can have your reference letter writers speak to those strong aspects of your application and how they think they make you competitive despite a weaker GPA or some course that you may not have done well in.

Are there any non-research streams for forensic psychology as someone who may not necessarily enjoy academic readings?

PA: If you find a topic that interests you, the readings will not be bad. Generally speaking, if you're not into research, graduate school is not for you. Career Services information can be found here.

How long does it take to complete Directed Studies?

PA: A Directed Studies is only for one term. You can take multiple Directed Studies, but each must be with a different professor. Directed Studies application information can be found here.

JP: In terms of taking a directed studies course, these usually last one semester, at least at SFU. Honours typically runs a year (or two years in some universities, like UBC).