I remember when I first started graduate school. I felt excited, ambitious and optimistic — and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As we enter another academic year, I find myself reflecting on my early graduate school days and what I wish I knew then. That's why I would like to offer four guiding principles for thriving in graduate school.
1. Go beyond the ivory tower.
One lesson I have learned is that graduate school is about so much more than attending classes. Our most important work and development happen outside of the classroom. So, seek out enriching and diverse training experiences, including those not offered in your program. Devote ample time and energy to your clinics and research labs — you will get out of them what you put in. Participate in extracurricular opportunities that may not be required by your program, such as training in publication, peer-review or grant-writing. Many of the most critical skills we need as psychologists are not learned in the classroom.
2. Rediscover your adolescence.
Adolescence has colloquially been described as a period of "storm and stress." Despite this, it is also a period of development and discovery. This is a perfect parallel for the realities of our training. Graduate school — particularly in psychology — is a marathon that requires intensive training, discipline and some sacrifice. You will probably wonder at least once if you made the right decision and if the investment of time and money will be worth it. You may fumble through your first clinical encounter or stumble through your first independent research design. But through it all, you will learn, grow and navigate the training phase of your career. Try to enjoy the introspection and experimentation that accompany your search for a professional identity.
3. Don't compete, collaborate.
Graduate school can breed competition among peers. But falling into this mentality will only increase your anxiety. A more productive approach is to collaborate with your peers — particularly those who intimidate you. I have gained a wealth of information from working with people who knew more than I did or were more advanced in some way. Try to find at least one fellow student who will be there to share his or her work (a successful cover letter or grant application, perhaps), constructively critique yours, and mock-interview with you during application season. Collaborating on research projects has an added perk, by affording you time to work on multiple projects simultaneously, ultimately increasing your academic productivity. So approach your peers with openness and a collaborative spirit — after all, these are not just your classmates, but your future colleagues.
4. Remember that knowledge is power.
This philosophy is particularly useful for psychology training. First, it is important to know about the field at large, including staying up-to-date on important changes in health care and policy. Also, be informed about upcoming training, funding and leadership opportunities. Finally, know where to turn when you require guidance and support. The best way to accomplish all of these goals is to join APA, APAGS and your state psychological association. It is also a good idea to join the organization or APA division most relevant to your research interests. Joining a professional community is about more than membership or a line on your CV. Engage with and actively participate in these vibrant communities by reading their publications, joining their listservs and attending their meetings. This approach will keep you knowledgeable about the field, provide you with forums in which to present or publish your work, and give you invaluable networking and leadership opportunities.
Graduate school is an incredible experience that shapes who you are personally and professionally, and APAGS is here to inform you as graduate school transforms you. It is an honor and a privilege to be your chair, and I wish you a productive and successful academic year.
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