PSYC Grad School 101 (2021)

Date: Tuesday Oct. 5th, 2021
Time: 4:00pm to 5:30pm PST
Location: Online via Zoom

Event Details

This event featured the Psychology Department's Dr. Alexander Chapman (Clinical), Dr. Timothy Racine (Historical, Quantitative, and Theoretical), Dr. Marlene Moretti (Clinical), as well as Clinical and Experimental Psychology graduate students (Madison Edge Almond and Tiara Cash) who shared their experiences and advice regarding PSYC Grad School.

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 TC: Tiara Cash, TR: Timothy Racine, AC: Alexander Chapman, MA: Madison Edge Almond, etc).

Finding research or volunteer experience

Any tips for finding a position in a research lab?

TR: Many people will want to apply to clinical programs, but we have fewer clinical than non-clinical labs and it creates more competition for the clinical ones. So, be flexible. Experience in a lab is more important than the sort of lab it is.

Does anyone have recommendations for ways to get involved with volunteer opportunities within correctional institutions? Or perhaps any experience in this area that you would like to share?

MA: If you're interested about volunteering with correctional facilities, check out this page here: I actually volunteered with CSC throughout my undergrad and found it very fulfilling!


What are the career differences between a clinical psychologist and a research psychologist?

AC: A degree in clinical psychology is a professional degree, like an M.D., in which you're trained to practice psychological assessment and treatment. Clinical psychology programs involve a combination of didactic (courses), practical (supervised practica), and research training (completion of thesis and dissertation; other research work; coursework in research/stats). With a degree in clinical psychology, you can be a practicing psychologist, a researcher, professor, consultant, engage in administrative work (e.g., a manager in a mental health system), teach, train others in mental health services, and many other possibilities. A research psychology degree is an academic degree, and your didactic and research training focuses primarily on theory and research. You would not be eligible to practice as a clinical psychologist, but many career paths would be open to you, such as academia, research, consulting, business, organizational psychology, or any of a large variety of areas where research training in psychology is an asset.

Applying for Psychology Graduate Programs

Would it be more difficult if one chose to work for a couple of years first before applying to grad school?

TC: I actually worked for a while before deciding to come back to graduate school. It's all about how you translate your work experience to the graduate application and leverage relationships made during that time for this new journey as well.

TR: I do believe in exploring work and non-academic options first if that seems a better fit, but you will still need current letters of reference, etc. so it's probably not good to just fall off the map. Whether it will be more difficult to be accepted depends on the program or supervisor though.

AC: Only if the work doesn't enhance your application. Usually, students who prioritize research assistant work will strengthen their application and increase their chances of having conference presentations or even publications by the time they apply. They also receive often very valuable research experience that can set them up to hit the ground running in grad school. It can also help to work or volunteer in a clinical setting, such as a crisis line. In terms of how we evaluate applications, this is mainly icing on the cake, but for you, it might help solidify or direct some of your clinical interests.

Is it ever too early to get a reference letter for your grad application? Is getting a reference letter 1.5 years before applying to grad school too soon?

TR: I personally don't give letters "in advance" because the info can be out of date. The questions that we have to answer on these forms and in the letters are very specific and context dependent.

AC: 1.5 years may be too early, as letter writers usually don't provide you with the letter, but rather, send or submit it directly to the school you're applying to. If you've stopped working for the person, you could ask if they'd be willing to write you a letter when you apply for grad school in a couple of years. If there's been a delay, you could provide them with lots of information to jog their memory about you and your work with them. If you're afraid they might be dead by then, OK, ask them if they'd write it soon.

What would be your best advice to someone who does not hold a BA in Psychology. Would obtaining it be strongly recommended prior to applying for grad school?

TC: My advice would be to consider why you want the graduate degree in psychology and what your future scope entails. If you are looking to do more research in the experimental field, a different bachelors degree might not be an issue. However, that would depend on how closely related your research ideas are to the field of psychology and the supervisor you'd like to train with.

TR: It would be unusual but it really depends on the program. E.g., someone with a BSc in neuroscience might be a good fit for some supervisors. So, it depends and it would be a waste of time to get a BA in Psychology if you don't need one for your interests and goals.

For Dr. Chapman, you said start early -- could you elaborate on what timeline you think is appropriate for applying to grad schools?

AC: I'd suggest that, if you think you might be interested in a career in clinical psychology, it would be useful to start planning within your first or second undergraduate years to be in a strong position to apply. Usually, you'll be applying in your 4th or 5th year depending on how long it takes you to finish your degree or whether you do honours. A reasonable timeline could be: 2nd year (start volunteering in research lab(s), 3rd year (continue volunteering, try to connect this way with at least 2-3 professors you can get to know who can eventually write strong reference letters; consider doing some clinical volunteer work such as crisis line, etc.), 4th year (secure an honours supervisor; try to make enough contribution to research labs you're involved in to present posters or talks at conferneces), 4th or 5th year (work on applications, make sure you get good advice and mentoring about how and where to apply, feedback on your essays/personal statements, etc.).

What are supervisors really looking for in a statement of interest when going through applicants?

TR: For me, it is evidence of research fit and no red flags. Beyond fit, I use them more for discomfirming evidence and don't spend too much time thinking about them because most students have very strong letters, so they don't typically provide much additional information.

AC: Good, clear, well-organized writing, a strong fit with the potential program and supervisor, and an idea of who you are as an applicant (what you're really interested in, what are your career goals, at least for now; what you might want to work on in terms of research, etc.)

Do you all think grad school requirements, such as the high GPA’s will become less strict in the next few years since there seems to be a such a need of psychologists/therapists as a result of the pandemic?

TR: I think this is highly unlikely. More people with strong GPAs already apply than can be accepted so GPAs alone are not the most important consideration anyway.

TC: I don't think GPAs will be less desirable. I know a lot of universities are moving away from standardized tests like GREs & such. However, GPAs are the current marker for undergraduate success, so I think they will be here until there's a new form of evaluation.

AC: I don't think so.

Do international applicants stand an equal chance of getting accepted into Clinical Psychology?

TC: I'm not a clinical student; however, in my cohort there are plenty of domestic and international students in both the experimental and clinical tracks.

I am wondering about emailing supervisors prior to applying. In the initial email is it better to provide a broad perspective of our interests and how they might fit with the supervisor or is it better to be very specific and propose more detailed ideas?

TR: I personally did as a student and like it when people email me to inquire, but my advice would be to keep it brief and see how they respond. I will often ask for more info, etc. You can also follow up again in a week if you don't get a reply. People are busy...

AC: I can't speak for everyone, but I usually like fairly concise emails, such as a couple of paragraphs at most, that describe interests and how and why they're interested in working with me specifically. Specific research ideas or plans are fine, too. People can add their GPA if they want, but it's not necessary. Some students attach their CV, but I don't usually have time to review it before the formal application process is underway.

Can you start with an MA in counselling psychology and still work your way to a PhD in clinical psychology?

AC: Yes, it's possible but not typical. We usually look for students with a strong and genuine interest in clinical psychology specifically, and clinical involves a lot more research than counselling. You'd still have to meet eligibility requirements and would probably have to be clear about your rationale for why you want to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical rather than continue with counseling. Also, students who apply with existing M.A.s still need to meet all of our M.A. and Ph.D. requirements, so there'd be additional M.A. coursework and possibly practica to complete.