I remember entering my first year as graduate student in clinical psychology full of questions: What materials would I need? What would the next six years look like? What did I need to do to be successful? I had found many resources and tips on navigating the graduate school application process but comparatively fewer on how to actually be a graduate student. Now, as a fifth-year student reflecting on my last four years, I have compiled some tips on what has worked well for me.
Your health and wellbeing come first. This is the first and most important tip I have. As graduate students, it can be easy to feel guilty when we prioritize ourselves over our work. But we can’t produce quality work when we are sleep-deprived, inadequately nourished, sick, disconnected from our friends and family, or struggling with our mental health. And in general, spending six or more years unwell and unhappy is no way to live.
- Insurance: Many graduate programs (including mine) don’t offer vision or dental insurance to graduate students. You can find reduced rate dental cleanings and exams on Groupon. You can also find reduced rate healthcare through medical or dental schools.
- Therapy: It is essential to take care of our mental health, but as graduate students in clinical psychology, we can face unique obstacles to accessing therapy. This includes financial barriers and worries about confidentiality (e.g., the only available and/or affordable clinic is run by the program that you attend). Advanced students in your program and/or your DCT may have a list of providers who offer sliding scale options in your area. Your university’s counseling center may also have special protocols in place for protecting your confidentiality if you become a client.
- Outside Interests: In addition to taking care of your basic needs, it is also important to pursue hobbies, relationships, and experiences that are separate from graduate school. I have found that doing so helps me to improve my overall welling, allows me to decompress and gain perspective, and that I return to my work with renewed energy and focus!
Schedule. I like to schedule each day using a color-coded google calendar. On Sundays, I block out my tasks for the upcoming week. I treat my research and writing time like a meeting – I have to show up for it. I also schedule my time off; otherwise, I find that my work tends to seep into my free time.
Collaborate. Every graduate program is different, but I have really valued having opportunities to collaborate with different labs, faculty members, and students. It has helped me to learn about research from different perspectives and gain new skills. I started most of my collaborations during my second year and beyond, but you can keep an eye out for potential collaborators during your first year.
Use University Resources. Many universities and graduate schools have internal grants or fellowships that are less competitive than external grants. You can apply to them during your first few years to get additional funding and learn about the grant-writing process. It can also be helpful to attend events hosted by your graduate school. I’ve particularly enjoyed the writing bootcamps that my graduate school has offered.
Double Dip. Try to turn your papers and assignments for classes into something useful for your research. For example, if a final paper for a class involves writing a literature review, pick the same topic as your master’s thesis. My dissertation was born out of a grant proposal assignment for one of my classes!
Talk to Advanced Students. These tips are just my thoughts and opinions – it’s important to talk to advanced students in your program. What has worked well for them? How have they navigated your specific program? Would they be willing to pass materials down to you (e.g., example cover letters from practicum sites they applied to)?
- If you don’t already use a citation manager, start now! This will help you to keep all your literature reviews and citations organized and will save you lots of time in the long run. If your university doesn’t offer a citation manager, then you can use Zotero, which is free.
- I highly recommend getting a second monitor to connect your laptop to. I didn’t do this until a few years in, but it has made doing research much easier and faster.
- Time2Track is a program for tracking your clinical hours (which you should do right when you start accruing them!). It’s easier to use than Excel, but it isn’t free. You can get a discount if you refer other students, and some programs may offer funding for it.
Some Additional Resources
- Dear Grad Student Podcast is a great listen for all graduate students (not clinical psychology specific)
- APCS Student Engagement Committee Clearinghouse is a document with tons of resources for psychology graduate students, including those related to professional development, research, clinical work, and more!
About the Author
Ana Rabasco, M.A., is a fifth-year student in Fordham University’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. She serves as the student representative for the Division 12 Publications Committee. Her research interests include better understanding risk factors and developing interventions for suicide and non-suicidal self-injury among high-risk populations.