Cover Story

Applying to internships may be stressful, but the internship year itself is a valuable and even life-changing time. That's the message that graduate students took home from a question-and-answer session with internship training directors at APA's 2006 Annual Convention.

"My internship year was the most rewarding year of my career," said Emory University psychology professor Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a member of the board of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC).

Kaslow joined two other APPIC board members--Match Coordinator Greg Keilin, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, and APPIC Chair Stephen McCutcheon, PhD, of the Seattle Veterans Affairs Medical Center--to answer students' questions about the application process.

Read on for some of the questions and answers that came up.

Is it a problem to have diverse professional goals?

Diverse goals are not a problem, according to McCutcheon--in fact, they can be an advantage. "Most directors aren't drawn to people who are narrow or ideological," he said.

But, he cautioned, there's a difference between diverse goals and a lack of focus. "If you say you don't know what you want to do, that won't come across well," he said. "Instead, think about how your different interests fit together."

Kaslow agreed with that sentiment. "I still have diverse goals: I'm a scientist, educator and clinician," she said. But, she added, there is a limit: "You can't have 10 or 22 goals. At this point, some parts of your professional identity should be formed, but some should still be forming."

Is it all right to contact current interns before applying to an internship to get information about the program?

If you're sure you're going to apply to an internship, wait until you find out whether you've been granted an interview before contacting current interns, advised Keilin.

"It's friendlier to the site to wait," he said. "Most interns are very busy, and they might not have time to talk to everyone who's thinking about applying." Only contact current interns if you're undecided about applying, he suggested.

What if you want to change career paths or practice orientations? For example, from an analytical graduate program to an internship focused on cognitive-behavioral therapy?

That happens all the time, said Kaslow. "I think that's where the cover letter can be really useful," she suggested. "If you can explain, 'I've learned about that, but this is why now I really want to focus on that,' then I think you can make a compelling case. Let me know what competencies you have that qualify you [for the internship]."

How many practicum hours are training directors really looking for?

Despite the anxiety the topic provokes among graduate students, most internship directors don't consider hours the most important part of a student's application, according to Keilin.

"If you have 2,000 hours, or 1,400 or 3,000, I really don't care," he said. "If you have 100, I might be worried. But I care a lot more about essays and letters of recommendation."

Kaslow agreed that other qualifications usually trump hours. "It's the essay, the fit with the site, recommendation letters," she said. "We have never once in a ranking meeting discussed someone's hours."

McCutcheon added that in a survey of internship training directors, APPIC found that number of practicum hours ranked fourth in importance in a list of student qualifications.

For more on the APPIC training director survey, see September's gradPSYCH.

“It’s the essay, the fit with the site, recommendation letters. We have never once in a ranking meeting discussed someone’s hours.”

Nadine Kaslow
Emory University