Degree In Sight

Psychology graduate students with children often seek an internship that offers a reasonable workweek, understands child illnesses or emergencies or permits a part-time job to boost the family finances. So how can you tell whether a site is family-friendly? Recent parents say posing the right questions during internship interviews can offer insight. Here's what to ask:

  • What's the typical workweek? Former interns suggest asking this of the training director and the site's current interns, who are often more frank about workload.

"One intern told me right out, 'We have to work 60 to 80 hours a week; this is not the place for you,'" recalls mother-of-three Jana Wachsler-Felder, PsyD, of one interview experience. She sought a more traditional 40-hour workweek that would allow time with her children, and did find and match with one.

Inquire about weekend or on-call work as well, suggests Steven Branstetter, a fourth-year student at the University of Denver on internship at Harvard Medical School. During his search, he wrote about his young son in his application essays and then discussed his family priorities at each interview.

"You can't really say, I don't want to work evenings or weekends," says Branstetter. "But I still made it very clear that my family was a priority."

  • Do you have information on health insurance? The staff of family-friendly sites are most likely to know what the site offers since it's a key issue for parents, say recent interns.

"If they can't even direct you to the appropriate person, that's a huge red flag," that you may not want to be there, says Irene Lopez, PhD, who interviewed for internships while seven months pregnant with her son.

Along those lines, it's wise to inquire about maternity leave if you are expecting or planning a pregnancy, adds Wachsler-Felder. For additional guidance, consult the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers Web site, which features a recently developed document on pregnancy, maternity leave, adoption and family care for interns and postdocs at www.appic.org under "What's New."

  • What are the local child-care options? Sites that have information on local day-care centers or preschools have likely worked with intern parents in the past and are apt to be interested in recruiting more, say former interns. For example, the training director at the North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center gave Wachsler-Felder information about the onsite day-care center without her asking for it. She matched with the site, which she says was supportive of her parenting responsibilities.

A training director's response to your queries can also foreshadow how they'll handle child-care emergencies in the future, Lopez adds.

  • How do you feel about work-family balance? Interns' and staff members' answers to this question can offer additional insight on attitudes about family emergencies or obligations, say interns with children. In fact, former intern David Wood, PhD, a recent graduate of the counseling psychology program at Arizona State University, says asking about balance may have eased his fear that his site wouldn't accommodate his family responsibilities. Once he was on internship, he found that his supervisors-many of whom were parents too-cared a great deal about managing work and family.

"Some of my supervision time occasionally entailed my supervisors asking, 'How is your family doing?'" he says. "If I had known this, I would have made more of an effort to inquire about [balance] during the interview process. It would have saved me a lot of stress in that already stressful process."

-J. CHAMBERLIN