10 Tips to a Successful Clinically Oriented Career Rooted in Science

SSCP offers 10 tips from Dr. Enjey Lin on carving out a clinically-oriented career in psychology that is rooted in science.

Dr. Enjey Lin is currently a Clinical Instructor (in transition to Assistant Clinical Professor) in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UCLA, a Staff Psychologist and Attending Psychologist at the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is a board certified behavior analyst. Her research interests are in developing and assessing the efficacy of evidence-based interventions for individuals with ASD, and examining the interplay between core autism symptoms (e.g., impairments in behavioral flexibility) and co-occurring psychiatric conditions (e.g., anxiety). She received her graduate doctoral training in Clinical Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara under the advisorhip of Robert Koegel, Ph.D. She completed her predoctoral clinical internship at the Stanford Children’s Hospital/Children’s Health Council and came to UCLA to complete her clinical research postdoctoral fellowship training on two federally funded grants examining the development and efficacy of cognitive behavioral interventions and differential assessment of co-occuring emotion and behavioral regulation conditions in adolescents and youngsters with ASD under the advisorship of Jeffrey Wood, Ph.D. Through her current role at the UCLA CAN Clinic, she provides clinical assessments and interventions to individuals with ASD, conducts research-based assessments for several federally funded grants, provides supervision and training to trainees (predoctoral internship, external practicum, and undergraduate trainees), and is involved in the program development of clinical services.

Advice on 10 things:

1. Enjoy graduate school.

This is a rare time in your life that you get to learn and practice the areas that you love and are passionate about! Try to enjoy and immerse yourself in coursework, practicums, and research. Graduate school can be very stressful, but I encourage you to take this all in stride and take in as much of these experiences as you can both professionally and personally. You’ll grow as a person, and as a scientist and future psychologist. Looking back, I realize how much I have grown in my profession and as a person, and appreciate everything I learned—both the tough lessons and the fun ones!

2. Your future colleagues.

Take a look at your fellow students in your courses and labs (and even undergraduate assistants). They will be your colleagues for the rest of your career to some extent! As I develop in my own career, I realize how I often cross paths with former graduate students, and how small our world really is! We are all specializing in our respective fields, and therefore, the folks we work alongside with now will be the very people we will encounter and work with at some point throughout our careers. Be respectful and establish good working relationships with them because you will likely encounter/work with them in some capacity later in your career.

3. Be open to expanding your scope of training.

I know we go to graduate school with the intent to focus on a specific clinical area or population. I know I did—I knew I wanted to work with youth with autism spectrum disorder, particularly examining effective treatments. Take the time to expand on your scope of focus at times either in your research or clinical work, so you can be multidimensional. You may be surprised at how it all connects with your primary research/clinical areas of interests, gives you a broader scope of understanding of your field, and may inform your work in your specialty area, or even change your primary focus of interest. My work with typically developing youth with anxiety and depression piqued my interest in how these factors played forth in youth with ASD, which led to my interest in the intersection between and treatment of ASD core features and co-occuring psychiatric conditions.

4. Our clinical work informs our research and vice versa.

I realize more that these two factors are integral aspects of being an effective clinician and researcher. I have to say that in regularly working with families of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities, they inspire me to be a better clinician and person to provide and contribute to identifying effective treatments that will improve their lives and that of others. Their concerns and needs, and our experiences with understanding, assessing, or treating them, will guide our research endeavors. In fact, the faculty that I admire the most seem to aspire to this, and it makes them stand out in the field.

5. On a related note, appreciate the individuals and families that you work with through your various training experiences.

Take a moment to realize that the clients we work with share their lives with us in ways that they may not do so with anyone else in their lives. Wow, that’s pretty incredible! Make a point to truly hear them, appreciate that they are very courageous for entrusting us with their concerns (remember your “practice” therapy cases?), and learn from them because their lives inform not only our research, but our personal experiences as well. I know for myself, I am humbled by them; they are one of the most resilient and brave people that I encounter. Take the time to respect and value them.

6. Develop mentorship relationships.

Your advisor plays a significant role in your professional development, and they also serve as your mentors to guide your growth in your field. But, other professors can also play a mentorship role in your development for other facets of your training and growth. I valued my relationships with my advisor, but I also learned immensely from a few of my other professors who ended up being on my dissertation committee and who I ended up completing my postdoctoral training with! Each of these individuals played a pivotal role in my professional and personal development. So, don’t be afraid to reach out and take the time to develop relationships with those you admire. You’ll be surprised at how they will continue to influence your decisions (even if it is merely in spirit!) throughout your career. Continue to develop mentorship relationships even after graduate school. I appreciate the ones that I currently have fostered as these individuals have helped facilitate my continued professional and personal development and clinical/research interests.

7. Schedule time for the important things.

I have to say that this is very difficult to do, much easier to say. I realize that there are a million things that compete for our efforts and time. However, if we don’t block out time for the things that are integral to our success—research and writing, our days get filled up with pressing and important, but perhaps less pivotal projects or tasks. Find the best time of day to do this, and try to stick to a schedule. This makes us more effective with our times as well, but this way we protect (even if it’s a small chunk of time) the time we need to accomplish our more important goals.

8. Conferences.

I know, attending conferences can be nerve-wracking for anyone. Networking, and presenting posters and talks can seem intimidating. But take the time to introduce yourself to other colleagues, researchers you admire, and other people who have research/clinical work that interests you. These connections can really help you develop working/training relationship opportunities in the long run. This has definitely been the case for me as these interactions opened up doors for my postdoctoral training and current clinical faculty position.

9. Don’t forget about internship.

In the back of my mind, I always knew internship was coming up to culminate my graduate training, but I didn’t fully really realize it until it came time to apply. So, I encourage you to keep track of your hours and exemplary work samples that you can use for your internship applications. It was a lot of work to go back to track my hours and input them (thank goodness I kept my past schedules and our practicum training required us to submit quarterly hours for the clients we served in our practicum sites!). This relates to my previous tip to expand your training opportunities. This is truly applicable for internship as well, since sites will be looking to see your depth and breadth of clinical training with treatment and assessments. You want to be a multidimensional clinician, so try to get a few different kinds of cases under your belt.

10. Personal life.

Don’t forget to pay attention to and invest in your personal life as well! That means your friendships, family, romantic relationships, and self-care. Life is ephemeral; I realize this more as I get older that we need to appreciate and nurture these aspects of our lives as they serve as the glue for all the other fun endeavors we take on in our professional lives/training. I know I always felt guilty and torn when it came to choosing between graduate/training activities and personal life activities. But, sometimes we need a break from our work and need to put the care into our personal lives to be productive and a “whole” person.