Early-Career Psychology

A psychology degree is inherently flexible, but there is a way to make it even more so: Get a second degree--or extra schooling, training or experience--that combines psychology with another area like medicine, law or technology. Doing so can increase both your marketability and your career choices, experts say, allowing you to find a job in either area, or better yet, one that artfully combines both.

"Dual training can set you up very nicely for some fascinating career opportunities," says Geoffrey R. Marczyk, JD, PhD, of Widener University, who heads three PsyD/MBA programs and a PsyD/MA program in criminal justice there. For example, notes Marczyk, a combined psychology doctorate and JD can land you a position shaping public policy, while a PsyD/MBA can let you consult with businesses to improve organizational functioning and their bottom line. "Dual degrees can give you a lot of added educational value and dramatically increase your ability to address serious and complicated practice issues," he says.

While garnering a dual degree is the most comprehensive way to learn about the intersection of psychology and another field, it is not the only one, early-career experts emphasize. (Indeed, dual-degree programs are still somewhat rare, especially outside of the psychology-law arena, though they are gaining in number, Marczyk notes.) Other means include getting a combined degree--which typically involves a mix of clinical, consulting and school psychology--or finding internships, postdocs or jobs in a second area of interest. Below, early-career "dual citizens" discuss the roads they've taken and the benefits they've accrued in traveling the two-pronged highway.

First-rate second degrees

Some students know from the start that they love two areas and want to combine them. For them, a variety of schools and programs can meet this need. Widener probably has the most extensive dual-degree offerings, with opportunities to get a PsyD/JD; three kinds of PsyD/MBA degrees; a PsyD/MA in criminal justice; and most recently, a PsyD/MEd in human sexuality, for example. Besides Widener, five other schools--the University of Arizona (UA), Villanova University, Drexel University, the University of Nebraska and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology--offer combination psychology and law degrees, says Daniel Krauss, PhD, JD, who with his UA mentor Bruce Sales, PhD, JD, recently wrote a chapter on these programs in the Handbook of Forensic Psychology (Wiley, in press).

Krauss, who graduated from UA in 2000, knew early on the path he wanted to take, despite the eight years it took him to complete the degrees. "I had the sense that if I really wanted to apply psychology well to the legal system--to have it respected and the results disseminated to people who have an impact--that a law degree would make a huge difference," he says.

His instinct was right. After beginning his career in the psychology department at Claremont McKenna College, Krauss was awarded a U.S. Supreme Court fellowship in 2002, where he worked on the federal sentencing guidelines and was able to meet many of the justices. "I really got a sense of their personalities, the things they value most," he says. "It was an experience I couldn't trade."

Despite the fact his degrees could be plied in extremely lucrative ways, Krauss deliberately followed an academic track, he adds, because it allows him to impact the field more broadly. At Claremont McKenna, he teaches psychology to undergraduate students, many of whom will go on to become lawyers. "I feel like I'm preparing many of these future lawyers to have a better appreciation of psychological knowledge and the questions it can and can't answer," he says.

He also is publishing research articles on untapped areas where psychology and the legal system meet, including on helping juries to distinguish between expert testimony based on social-science data versus testimony based on unstructured clinical judgment. Without instruction, "juries prefer the intuitive, less scientifically accurate approach," he says. In several published articles--most recently, one in the December 2004 Behavioral Sciences & the Law (Vol. 22, No. 6, pages 801-822)--Krauss and colleagues are showing that if primed to think analytically, juries prefer testimony based on good science.

Two international graduates from UA's psychology, policy and law program further demonstrate the career lift a dual diploma can provide, notes Sales, who directs the program. Juichi Kobayashi, JD, PhD, '00, a criminal lawyer from Japan, entered the program so he could gain research training and experience in juvenile crime prevention. Partly as a result of his added psychology doctorate, Kobayashi now heads the juvenile delinquency prevention section of Japan's most prestigious criminal justice institute, the National Research Institute of Police Science. Another recent graduate, Lic. Martha Frias-Armenta, PhD, '99 (her title is Mexico's way of designating a JD/PhD degree), came into the program practicing law and teaching family law as an adjunct professor at the University of Sonora, Mexico. She is now the first professor of psychology and law in that country, says Sales.

Other psychology students add their second degree in a more pragmatic fashion. Bing Wu, PhD, '04, decided to get a master's degree in computer science while doing his doctoral work in visual perception at the University of Louisville after realizing he needed those skills to run programs for his experiments.

That decision proved life-changing, says Wu, who had previously focused only on basic science. "Once I got some experience in computer science," he says, "I started thinking about how I could apply my knowledge in psychology to other areas."

On graduating, he heard about an intriguing applied research program at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) that would allow him to combine his psychological expertise in visual perception with biomedical engineering. He took a postdoc there, and is now conducting research evaluations of a patented medical device called the Sonic Flashlight, created by one of his CMU mentors, biomedical engineer George Stetten, MD, PhD. The device combines an ultrasound scanner, a flat-panel display and a translucent mirror within a single handheld device to reflect ultrasonic images into their exact locations in the body. "If a doctor is doing an operation, he can just focus on what he's doing--he doesn't have to shift his attention away to a monitor like he would with conventional ultrasound," Wu explains.

Wu and colleagues--including his other mentor, CMU experimental psychologist Roberta L. Klatzky, PhD, Stetten and Damion Shelton, a graduate student in CMU's Robotics Institute--have been conducting a number of experiments comparing various features of the "flashlight" to traditional ultrasound, with Wu applying his background in space perception to explore users' perception of depth in the virtual space illuminated by the device. In a paper submitted to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' journal Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, the team demonstrated the superiority of the flashlight's approach in allowing users depth perception and accuracy. The research is paving the way for use of the device in mainstream medicine--a path Wu says he wants to explore further through other applications.

Combined programs open doors

Other early-career psychologists enter dual paths via combined and integrated degree programs, of which there are about 11 (see Monitor article at www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/combined.html). The advantage of these degrees is the breadth of training and practical experience they give, notes Craig Shealy, PhD, who directs the combined-integrated doctoral program in clinical and school psychology at James Madison University (JMU). "Internship directors and employers are typically not as concerned about which practice areas you come from," he says, "but whether or not you have the experiences and competencies to do the job."

Gary Hann, PsyD, who graduated from JMU's program in 2003, is a case in point. Now working full time in the active duty rehabilitation unit at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.--the only such unit in a VA in the country--he is convinced he got the internship leading to the position because of his varied training experiences.

Hann's internship site, which included rotations at both the VA and the Medical College of Georgia, "had the same motto I was taught in grad school: 'Treat the whole person,'" Hann says. "They wanted someone who had experience in a variety of settings with different viewpoints and modalities."

The combination of flexible training and following his own interests has proven a winning one. His patients, many of them young men with injuries that will affect them for life, "have given me a new devotion and drive toward being the best psychologist I can be," he says. "I feel an extra obligation to do very good work here."

Other paths to Rome

Many early-career psychologists find their way into dual areas in less structured ways--by finding the right internships, postdocs or job experiences, to name a few.

Jeffrey A. Harvey, PsyD, '03, found his interest in applying psychology to medicine piqued during an internship at the Howard University Hospital Transplant Center. Inspired by a 2002 article in the Monitor (http://apa.org/monitor/mar02/makinglife.html) highlighting the work of Howard transplant psychologist John Robinson, EdD, Harvey soon became immersed in the unique world of transplant patients, who are often at serious physical risk during the transplant and must comply with rigorous medication regimens for the transplant to succeed.

Harvey enjoyed two features of the experience that continue to influence his interest in psychology's role in medicine, he says. One was learning the medical culture and being treated as an equal part of the surgery team. The second was seeing first-hand the value that psychology can bring to such a setting--as happened with a woman he counseled who, on one visit to the transplant clinic, he perceived was having physical problems.

"Because I had known this patient for a while, I could tell her whole demeanor was off," Harvey remembers. On taking her vital signs--"something you don't do in grad school!"--he found her spiking a fever. He urged the chief of surgery to examine her, and she was in fact having a toxic reaction to her medications. "Being a psychologist in training, that was an amazing experience," Harvey recalls. Now licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and working with social phobia patients at the Maryland Center for Anxiety Disorders, Harvey still harbors a love of medical settings and may return in the future, he says.

Sometimes the path to the dual route is more circuitous, though no less rewarding. Jane Kasserman, PhD, is an early-career psychologist only in that her career has taken a dramatic turn from her early roots as a cognitive experimentalist. After trying markedly different jobs and training routes--including designing user interfaces at AT&T/Bell Labs and respecializing in clinical psychology--she finally landed a position she says is the right fit: management consultant for RHR International, a corporate psychology firm that helps businesses develop and retain senior-level talent and implement organizational change.

On taking the post in 1998, "I have not looked back since--this is where I want to be," says Kasserman, who says she loves the dynamic, high-level nature of the work.

She doesn't regret the route to her perfect dual job either, she notes.

"Part of me says, 'Gee I wish I had found this earlier on,'" says Kasserman. "But another part of me says, 'It was necessary, for whatever reason, to have had all of these experiences.' And you know what? I do value them. They inform a lot of who I am today and how I approach my work. I appreciate it all."