Internship Insider

Their journey started with spreadsheets listing hundreds of internship positions and ended with dozens of completed applications. In between, they requested letters of recommendation, drafted cover letters, ordered transcripts and counted clinic hours. They wrote, rewrote, revised and edited essays. Some shed tears, lost sleep and put personal relationships and exercise on hold. But these five internship hunters made it through the application process, and now the waiting for Match Day begins.

Lee V., 30

PsyD candidate in clinical psychology

Lee V. (Credit:Ivan Lizarde)A self-proclaimed "anti-procrastinator," Lee submitted all of his applications in early October. He also completed his dissertation, thanks to a flexible practicum and a graduate program that allows fourth-year students to dedicate most of their time to internship applications and dissertation writing. For several months, Lee spent almost every night narrowing down his list of nearly 500 sites to 19 using the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) and program websites, insights from current interns and his gut.

As a result, Lee heard from one site in early November, more than a month earlier than he expected. "It was really nice to know that my application wasn't a total disaster, that somebody liked it, so maybe other people will like it, too," he says.

Lee went through about seven drafts of his personal statement essay — the most anxiety-inducing part of his application — because it was the one chance for him to set himself apart from equally qualified peers.

"I kept imagining this director sitting down reading through hundreds of these," he says. "It was really difficult to be unique enough and honest and professional."

Now, he's channeling his nerves into interview prep and readying for the birth of his first child, due late this month.

There are a few "moments of horror" when he and his wife realize how much their lives are about to change, he says. "But mostly, it's still really exciting."

Emily V., 28

PhD candidate in counseling psychology

Emily V. (Credit: Juan Javier Castañeda)For months, every time Emily heard about an interesting internship program, she would add it to her list. It wasn't until she sat down to write her applications that she realized her list had grown to 30. "All of a sudden, I had way too many places," she says. "I had to comb all the brochures and really look for distinguishing factors." Eventually, she submitted 14 applications.

Emily's program offers a class dedicated to the internship search, which helped her catch "blind spots" in her essays and develop a support system with peers, she says. Her next step: taking advantage of the mock interviews her program offers. She is also beginning data collection on her dissertation, which evaluates an assessment for sexual trauma among members of the military.

Throughout the application process, Emily made self-care a priority by setting a firm bedtime and routinely exercising and having dinner with her husband. But the process still took a toll: She fell asleep at 7:30 p.m. the day she submitted her final application.

"The hardest thing was the obsessiveness that I found myself going through," she says. "You have all of these documents and you [worry], 'What if I uploaded the wrong one?' no matter how many times you check."

Now, she's relieved they're out of her hands. "Now, it's just a waiting game," she says.

Sommer T., 32

PhD candidate in neuropsychology

Sommer T. (Credit: Steve Smith)There is such a thing as too much advice, says Sommer, who received lots of it about her application essays from faculty and colleagues. But she soon realized that catering to others' expectations made her sound cold and detached, so she tossed those drafts and wrote in her own voice. "You're supposed to bring this narrative quality to the essay, which for me was difficult," she says. "Writing candidly about yourself is not something we [psychology grad students] do often."

Sommer applied to 15 programs, a few more than she expected, because one of her top choices cut its program just months before the applications were due. She's now working to finish data collection for her dissertation, which tests a new theoretical model of practice effects — improvements in test performance due to increased exposure to the test — among older adults with cognitive impairment. Next, she'll start prepping for interviews. But as she learned from her essay experience, the best thing she can do during interviews is remember to be herself, she says.

"Right now, I'm just trying to refocus on things like teaching and grading and research," Sommer says. She's also looking forward to catching up with her husband and friends, and getting back to knitting and exercise — things that "fell by the wayside" during the application process.

Matt P., 26

PhD candidate in clinical psychology

Matt P. (Credit: Andrew Itkoff/SILVER IMAGE Photo Agency)Matt found a positive side to the stress of the application process: It allowed him to get to know his potential internship sites better — and to get excited about them. "Just about all of them have some sort of unique training experience that I think would just be phenomenal," he says of his final 15. "I'm coming out of the application process pumped and excited and enthusiastic."

Though Matt had planned to restrict his search to East Coast sites near his family and boyfriend, he ended up applying to sites across the country. "After I expanded my geographic range, I was able to find other ones that were really good fits for the training I wanted," he says.

Fortunately, his partner will likely move with him. The downside? Matt's not sure how he'll pay for the plane tickets, rental cars and hotel fare if he gets interviews at those sites. "I'll cross that bridge when I get there," he says.

Because he applied to a variety of sites, Matt took more time than he expected writing cover letters that spelled out his specific qualifications for each. He also dedicated a lot of mental energy to classifying his hours of experience. For example, is a structured diagnostic interview in a therapy program considered therapy or assessment? "Questions like that can be a little tricky," he says.

Thankfully, Matt's training director and peers — who openly discussed their challenges and application plans — helped him answer such questions. "It kind of feels like 'The Hunger Games' where we're all thrown in the ring, [and] we're actually on the same side," he says. "It's kind of unsettling, but I think we're all going to do well."

Christian M., 29

PsyD candidate in clinical psychology

Christian M. (Credit: Orlow Kent Nygren)Christian had decided to apply to 10 East Coast internship programs, when, in late October, "my life changed," he says. Two of his family members in Puerto Rico were diagnosed with cancer and another attempted suicide — all about the same time Superstorm Sandy threatened his hometown, too. "It's hard being in the U.S. while family's there," he says.

So, Christian has abandoned his plans to land an internship in the continental United States in favor of returning home to support his family, where his internship options are more limited. In Puerto Rico, there are only three internship positions and only one that's APA-accredited. He knows it's the right decision for him, but it won't be easy.

"I've been living an independent life, but then I'm moving back to my parents," he says. "Adjusting to living with them again is going to be hard. I'm going to miss being by myself."

It's also going to be hard saying goodbye to his colleagues and clients at the Massachusetts clinic where he's been working during his program's fifth year. "They're really sad that I'm leaving but … they said 'the door is open' if I ever want to come back," he says.

Christian is also making significant changes to his dissertation proposal, which originally focused on child custody. After a meeting with his director in October, he is incorporating parental alienation into it.

Despite the interview process that still looms, he's remaining focused on helping his family. "I haven't had the time to think about myself," he says.

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