Cover Story

It's a long road to a psychology doctoral degree. Below, faculty and recent graduates offer their advice on how to make it easier-and maybe even (slightly) shorter.

  • Find yourself a mentor. Sarah Vernon-Scott, PhD, a recent graduate of Lakehead University in Ontario, learned early on that the right adviser can make or break your degree timeline. Her first adviser, for her master's degree project, left the university for four months without giving her any contact information.

"I had to hear from others that he'd gone on sabbatical," she says.

When it came time to choose a dissertation adviser, she asked around until she found one who was, she says, "a much better fit." Talk to students ahead of you in the program to find out which professor's supervisory style and research will mesh well with yours, she suggests.

  • Know where you're headed. Take the metaphor "on track" seriously, suggests University of Cincinnati director of graduate studies Steven Howe, PhD. You should know where your train is headed-an academic career, a job in industry or maybe private practice. If you change your mind, you can always make adjustments later, he says, but "if you have no direction in mind, you're likely to get nowhere."

  • Keep your goals realistic. Students can get bogged down under the weight of their own expectations, says Vernon-Scott.

"You feel like you should do everything-you should have 20 publications and 10 years of clinical work before you leave," she says. "But my supervisor always said: 'A good dissertation is a done dissertation.'"

-L. WINERMAN