Matters to a Degree

Between the incredible amounts of reading, the challenges of conducting research and the time it takes to be a good teaching assistant, graduate school can feel overwhelming. And sometimes, we don't get the help that we need the most from our mentors, supervisors or instructors. Often our peers are our best source of support.

Whenever I felt overwhelmed as a graduate student, one of my most effective coping strategies was reaching out to my classmates. I gratefully remember several instances when more senior graduate students gave me great advice about how to handle a difficult advisor or manage a challenging clinical case. My classmates also helped me survive a very difficult statistics course. Later, when I was an advanced graduate student, I lent a hand to my classmates behind me, following the lead established by my predecessors.

The literature supports the importance of relying on peers as a coping strategy. Reaching out to friends and classmates were the No. 1 and 3 coping strategies, respectively, reported in a national sample of psychology graduate students, according to an article I co-authored in Training and Education in Professional Psychology®, May 2012.Helping your classmates behind you can be one way of paying it forward. But what if we could do more? Imagine if we created a culture of paying it forward throughout our profession. How great would it be if we all helped those around us. Such a world could be more collaborative and provide supports to each other that we might not get in our assigned roles.

In this spirit, I propose a challenge to all APAGS members: Ask yourself how you can pay it forward by helping a peer or classmate. I suspect that many of you already do that, offering to proofread the draft of a dissertation or a journal submission, or helping someone practice an interview for an internship or a job talk. But what if we all did that just a little bit more? How many more future psychologists could we help?

This type of planned helping can make a big difference. Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., created Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization through which mental health professionals provide voluntary services to current and former military members and their families. This project has grown into more than 6,000 volunteers donating over 50,000 hours of pro bono services, and Van Dahlen was recognized in 2012 as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World."

Helping others is also good for you. Two national surveys found that helping others moderated the effects of stress on health measures, including mortality, according to research by Michael Poulin, PhD, and Alison E. Holman, PhD, in the March 2013 issue of Hormones and Behavior.

APAGS would like to provide a space where you can publicly thank those who have helped you on your journey to becoming a psychologist. APAGS has started a new blog, which we are calling the gradPSYCH Blog. Search for the tag "Pay It Forward" and you will find posts about helping classmates and be able to send your stories about how a classmate or peer helped you in graduate school. If you want to see whom I would thank, read the first post under this tag, where I'll name my supportive peers. We'll also publish some of your stories. Submit your idea for a blog post thanking a peer or classmate and we will select a couple to be published on the gradPSYCH Blog.