Whether you're applying for postdocs, in the throes of internship, still tackling coursework or fine-tuning your dissertation, no doubt you're thinking about how you'll fare as a new psychologist. You may be wondering, "Am I ready?" or "Will I have a life outside of work?" or "How will I stand out from the crowd?" - uncertainties that are common among soon-to-be psychologists, experts say. To help you get off on the right foot, gradPSYCH asked early-career and seasoned psychologists what's worked for them and what they'd whisper in the ear of up-and-comers.
Here are the words of wisdom they passed on:
SHANE LOPEZ, PhD
Associate professor of psychology and education, University of Kansas
Psychologist since 1998
"Become known for something early in your career. It is hard to tell one new psychologist from another on paper, so it is important to make yourself distinct. This goes beyond finding a niche…it is about letting your personality and passion become part of your professional identity."
PHILIP G. ZIMBARDO, PhD
APA's 2002 president; professor of psychology, Stanford University
Psychologist since 1959
"You will have a big jump on your peers if you are able to teach introductory psychology well…few faculty want to teach it, and fewer are able to teach it well. The same goes for undergraduate statistics. Learn what makes some professors good and others mediocre and then strive to be charismatic.
"Do nothing alone….The next generation of National Science Foundation and National Institute of Mental Health funding will be big money for big science and little money for individual investigators. Jump on that train now before it even gets up a head of steam."
ROBYN LANDOW, PhD
Private practitioner, New York City
Psychologist since 1997
"Keep the connections you make at every externship, internship and teaching assistantship. Psychology is a small world - there isn't a month that goes by when I don't read that someone I worked with before is involved with something interesting. Go out of your way to send those people an e-mail at least once a year.
"Think outside the box. What you envision yourself doing and what you will do are most likely going to be different. I thought I would sit in an office all day and see patients. I never imagined paperwork or that I would leave the office for my work!"
SHARON BERRY, PhD
Children's Hospital and Clinic, Minneapolis
Psychologist since 1986
"Enjoy the balance psychology offers. Don't specialize too soon. The general training is an asset for the rest of your career.
"Find a way to take care of yourself throughout your training and career development. Balance is key - personally and professionally. Trust your instincts about the right work environment and leave toxic work places as soon as possible."
MARTIN E.P. SELIGMAN, PhD
APA's 1998 president; Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Psychologist since 1967
"Have contempt for what has gone before you in the field. If you have too much awe and are too impressed, it's a recipe for passivity and becoming a 'nachschlepper.'
"Stop being a student after you're an undergraduate. Avoid people who tell you what to do. All you should care about is your research and its originality. And don't pick a mentor who bogs you down with too many courses, obligations and prerequisites."
DOROTHY CANTOR, PsyD
APA's 1996 president; private practitioner, Westfield, NJ
Psychologist since 1976
"Immediately become involved in your state psychological associations and APA - at a minimum paying your dues. But better still, serve on committees, respond to calls for communication to legislators and participate in elections. I was fortunate that my graduate school faculty included a number of political activists who taught me the importance of advocacy for psychology. We tend to be oblivious to the number of state and federal laws that influence the ways that we conduct ourselves as psychologists."
DIANE F. HALPERN, PhD
APA's 2004 president; professor of psychology, Claremont McKenna College
Psychologist since 1979
"Psychology is a people interaction business. Maintain cordial and good working relations, and think about that upfront. Bad feelings can last a long time, so spend a good deal of time maintaining harmonious relationships with the people you work with."
MIGUEL GALLARDO, PsyD
Staff psychologist, University of California, Irvine, Counseling Center
Psychologist since 2001
"Remember why you entered the field of psychology and remain close to the things that you have a passion for. It is very easy to get caught up in the chaos that is created for us by other students, professionals and even our own minds, and then we often forget the foundation and basis for why we spend so much time striving to become a psychologist."
ROBERT J. STERNBERG, PhD
APA's 2003 president; IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, Yale University
Psychologist since 1975
"Be true to yourself. There will be a lot of pressure not to be - to instead do what this powerful person wants, what that institution wants, what this journal reviewer wants, what that grant reviewer wants, and so on forever. But I think the people who find personal success - meaning that they are happy with what they are doing and find meaning in it - are people who are true to themselves and do what their heart as well as their brain tell them they should be doing."
CYNTHIA GARCEA COLL, PhD
Professor of education, psychology and pediatrics, Brown University
Psychologist since 1981
"For those in academe, concentrate on tenure and what you have to do to get that. A lot of us at that time are thinking of having kids, so ask your school about taking parenting leave and its impact on your tenure clock. And don't be shy about asking your institution when there may be a position for your partner. Some institutions are more considerate of family issues than others."
DANIEL HOLLAND, PhD
2002 Fulbright scholar and professor of psychology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Psychologist since 1992
"Think about forging new career options outside of the traditional realms of education and health settings. Psychology is underrepresented as a discipline in a lot of international efforts. We need to become more engaged with international relief and cross-cultural exchange because we have a huge amount to offer."
NADINE KASLOW, PhD
Professor of psychology, Emory University School of Medicine
Psychologist since 1983
"Find a mentor whose commitment is to your professional development and who will help you achieve what you are interested in. It also helps to have a "cuddle group" - a group of friends, colleagues, classmates that can support you and who you can talk to about the challenges of being an intern, postdoc or new faculty member or clinician.
"It's also important to get involved in the community - volunteer at a domestic violence shelter or advocate for policies or laws that matter to you. Some of the most important, powerful things I've done have been efforts in the community, where I really feel like I am making a difference."
NORMAN B. ANDERSON, PhD
APA chief executive officer
Psychologist since 1983
"Find what you are passionate about and pursue it regardless of what others expect you to do. Don't try to be a clone of your mentor or anyone else, find your own unique path and passions. Once you identify your passion, and have a job consistent with it, work your butt off and produce, produce, produce. And don't be bashful about what you have to offer as a psychologist - you've had great training. Finally, remember you are more than your job. We don't live forever, so have some fun!"