Psychology graduate school is a marathon. It's exhausting, but it can also become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Unfortunately, the rules of success are unwritten and rarely passed down. In my seven years as a doctoral student, I've had my share of successes and challenges. What follows are the lessons I've learned along the way that have helped me reach the finish line.
1. Overcome procrastination
Procrastination was the biggest challenge I faced in graduate school. I avoided work that caused me anxiety and fell into the trap of believing that if I didn't spend all day working, I may as well give up and start over tomorrow. Now, I have more realistic expectations. I have learned that you can chip away at large projects an hour a day. I've also learned to limit distractions by, for example, turning off my cellphone and Internet connection if I need to write. Sharing my goals with friends and family has also helped me stay accountable, celebrate progress and learn from setbacks. If you struggle with procrastination, check out psychologist Neil Fiore's "The Now Habit" (2007), which outlines the psychology of procrastination and offers simple ways to get things done.
2. Invest in your health
Exercise improves physical health, relieves stress, alleviates depression and can even make us more creative. Yet as graduate students, we often find ourselves too busy to take care of both our minds and bodies. Fortunately, there are simple ways to make time for our health. Most universities have free gyms for students. You can also find a local athletic group through Meetup.com. Be sure to take advantage of your student health insurance and get regular checkups and consider psychotherapy as needed. Last, take a break from psychology through unrelated hobbies. Weekend photography projects always gave me a welcome escape from my academic work.
3. Build a community
Your greatest sources of support are the people in your department. Start by getting to know your cohort — they may become your closest friends in graduate school. But don't stop there. Reach out to students who are one to three years ahead of you. Advanced students can give you an honest appraisal of what you need to do to progress in a program. In my department, students stay connected by organizing textbook exchanges, sharing notes and teaching materials, and supporting one another during grant-writing and the internship processes.
4. Get involved
The key to beginning your career in psychology is networking as early as possible. You've made a good start by joining APAGS. Now consider joining one of APA's many divisions. Also, consider joining a state psychological association, especially if you are practice-focused. You may also want to look into other specialty associations, which will give you an opportunity to network with nonpsychologists. When attending conferences, bring business cards and introduce yourself to others who share your interests. Last, consider running for a student representative position. Most organizations, including APAGS, are always looking to get more people involved.
5. Build a Professional online identity
In my experience, most first-year graduate students have at least a few less-than-professional pictures online. Start developing a professional identity by searching the Internet and removing unflattering content, setting up Google alerts for your name, and increasing your privacy settings on social media accounts. Next, consider developing a professional website with a headshot and links to your articles and presentations. By taking this proactive approach early, you'll be sure that future internship directors, employers, students and clients will see you in the best possible light.
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