Matters to a Degree
I earned my doctorate nine years ago. There's so much I wish I had known back then, with a brand new doctorate, that I now know. Here are a few lessons I learned the hard way that I hope can help you along the way:
Always keep an eye out for the next job
Your first job will probably not be your last; it is a first stop in the profession. Use it to get licensing hours or to start your way toward tenure. If it's not the ideal work environment for you, take heart: You can always find a better job later. Ideally, every successive position should take you a little closer to your dream job, but life isn't always so tidy. I have a colleague who accepted an entry-level position after graduating in what she thought would be the perfect work environment, but she ended up hating it. She was disappointed, of course, but she accrued supervision hours and enhanced her training in assessment and consultation. Now she's happy working as a pediatric psychologist in a children's hospital.
Maintain relationships with former faculty, supervisors and peers
Psychology is a very small world. You will probably find yourself asking former colleagues and supervisors to be references or to support your licensure applications in years to come. In addition, your colleagues may know people at a potential job and can provide you with inside information. In today's economic climate, your professional network is crucial to finding a new job. Use LinkedIn, Facebook or other social networking sites to stay connected to former colleagues.
Save your paperwork
Keep copies of your diploma, transcripts, license and license application. You may also want to hang on to your loan paperwork — including promissory notes and consolidation documents — because you'll need that information if you apply for federal loan repayment later. Don't like keeping bins of paper? Scan and save them digitally. You will be grateful to have these documents on hand — trust me.
As you start your career, seek guidance from established and early career psychologists. Mentors can provide you with support and advice about your career or personal life. It's helpful to find different mentors for different activities. I had mentors for becoming a pediatric psychologist, for becoming a bilingual psychologist and for changing careers to a more administrative role. Get involved in APA, an APA division and your state psychological associations to network and find mentors.
Save for retirement or a house
Most psychologists don't like to talk about money, but it is so important. If you wait until you earn your doctorate, you may be five to 10 years behind your classmates who started saving right after getting their undergraduate degrees. Start a small savings or retirement account before you finish grad school. If that's not possible right now, start saving when you get your first job. Take advantage of matching funds employers may offer; this is free money that adds up fast. I had a hard time saving money early on, so I started having $50 a paycheck automatically sent into my retirement account. I increased that to $150 when I got my first raise. Once I got settled in my first job, I started sending $200 per week to a savings account, which I eventually put toward my condo.
These are just a few of my suggestions for recent doctoral graduates. If you would like to share other suggestions, visit the APAGS Facebook page and join the discussion.