8 Useful Tips

Applying to a doctoral program can be is a stressful experience. It is completely do-able, however!  I put together some tips that I hope you can find useful  if you are considering embarking on the application process.

1) Don’t be afraid to get in contact with people who attend MSPP. Although it might seem intimidating, it is definitely worth it! While it can be great to speak with alumni as well, it may be most helpful to talk to someone who can tell you about new developments in the program, general information about the student body, and other information.

2) MSPP’s application involves more than one essay. Really take this time to let the school know about you and what you can offer. The questions are unique and may seem daunting at first. However, this format shows that MSPP is truly interested in learning about you.

3) Check out http://www.studentdoctor.net/. It is a helpful site that provides an open forum for doctoral students ( and future doctoral students) to communicate about the experience of applying. It offers information about different programs, as well. 

4) Although I just recommended that you contact others and converse, it’s also really important to visit MSPP first. You may find you have a completely different impression than the one you thought you had before when you read about it online, etc.

5) It can be difficult to find people to write you a great recommendation letter. Don’t find yourself scrambling at the last moment by making an effort to talk to professors. Also get involved in some form of research, clinical, or volunteer work earlier than your senior year (unless you plan on applying to a program after taking time off).

6) After you write your essays for the application, have somebody whose writing abilities you trust look over your work. They may catch some small error you overlooked (like copy-pasting a previous essay and having the name of the other school in the new essay).

7) Consider the location of the program. Will you be able to live far from family? Close? Endure long winters? Live near a city? Although the academic aspect of MSPP is extremely important, if you really can’t see yourself living in a specific location, don’t ignore that feeling. You will be starting an intense program and it’s super important to have support and feel comfortable in your environment.

8) Last but not least, breathe. If you don’t get in this year, there are always things you can do to bulk up your resume. Try volunteering, working, or applying for a master’s program.



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Time Management

When I was in high school, my dad would often pass by my bedroom and make a comment along the lines of,  “Your room is kind of messy. Is there something going on that is upsetting you?”  I remember thinking about his observation, but ultimately brushing it off and telling him I just had a lot going on and didn’t have time to clean.

In retrospect, he was spot on. The state of my room did suffer when I was feeling overwhelmed in some capacity. The correlation between the state of my room and, to some extent, the state of how I am organized in other facets of my life, holds true to this day.

That being said… my room was looking kind of messy last week, and I think I know why. It’s officially that time of year: the rush to finish assignments and take finals before a well deserved winter break. The importance of time management is increasingly becoming clear; if you can’t get organized, you’ll find yourself swamped and doing work the night before. I know enough about my learning style to recognize that cramming things in the night before is rarely effective.

The week before Thanksgiving break I noticed the mess, and decided I needed to organize my upcoming week to incorporate some of the assignments I have coming up. The following play-by-play was my attempt at having a life and organizing my time so that I would get work done and enjoy my Thanksgiving break in Philadelphia:

Monday: I was scheduled to see 6 clients on this day. One was a no-show, and I used this time to catch up on an assignment. Afterward, I went to a spinning class, which gave me time to just decompress after the day. I then did work in my living room. I told my roommate I wanted to watch a TV show with her at 9, so I made sure to get all of my work done before this. The TV show/general socializing was a nice motivator.

Tuesday: Tuesdays are a big day for supervision at my site. Individual, group, peer… you name it. This is (obviously) a great time to sort out any concerns you’re having with clients, and get advice from other people about cases.  Simply speaking about certain situations helped me to feel better about them.  Afterward I went to a Yoga class with a friend, which helped me relax.

Wednesday: Class all day long ( 8:30 am-7:30 pm).

Thursday: Internship. Went to a library (!) with a friend and found that, not surprisingly, I got a lot more done in a quiet environment. Also, noticing that my guitar stand was being used to hang necklaces on and that my guitar was hidden underneath some jewelery, I decided to pick up the instrument again and play for a bit.  It was nice to reconnect with something I once had more time to do.

Friday: As I am new to Massachusetts, it is pretty important for me to go out on the weekends, meet new people, have fun, etc. But Friday I made the conscious decision to stay in and get some extra work done. I felt better after doing so, and knew that I’d be able to enjoy my time in Philly more!

Saturday: I went to a local Starbucks and worked on a report. I didn’t get as much done as I did in the quiet library, but it was a nice mixture of people watching, work, and coffee. Afterward, I went to see a movie with a friend then went out for my roommate’s birthday in the city.

Sunday: Went to the library with a friend.  I also cleaned up my room!

Monday: Went to my internship, then headed straight to NYC to visit people, and then off to Philly for Thanksgiving!



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MSPP: Offering A Unique Experience For Students To Focus Their Studies

MSPP is unique in that it offers different concentrations, or tracks, that a student can choose to enter after their second year.  Along with General Studies, MSPP offers Health, Forensic, Child, Adolescent and Family, and Latino Mental Health tracks. This can be a unique experience for the individual interested in directing their studies with a certain interest in mind. Personally, I am following the General Studies track because my areas of interest in the field are less directed at this point in time and more broad. I admire those students who are passionate about a certain kind of psychology, or interested in working with a specific population. I interviewed two students who are deciding to enter the Forensic Concentration and Health Concentration in order to better understand what lead them to focus their studies. The first interview conducted was with Meghan Welsh (Health), and the second was with Laura Polhamus ( Forensic). I hope to conduct interviews with students who are a part of the other concentrations mentioned in the near future. A special thank you to Meghan and Laura for their participation and informative responses!

Jen: Why the Health Psychology Concentration?

Meghan: I guess I have always wanted to do work at Dana-Farber with actual medical illness, but knew that I didn’t want to go to medical school because I like the psychological aspect. I came to MSPP because they offered a health psychology track.

Jen: Did you have any experience with health psychology prior to your decision to enter the track?

Meghan: At the outpatient clinic where I work, we see kids with certain medical diagnoses and genetic disorders, so I’ve had some experience doing counseling with their families. In my personal life I’ve also known very close friends who have gone through intensive medical treatment and I’ve seen the psychological impact that can have.

Jen: How big of a role did the forensic track play in your decision to come to MSPP?

Meghan: It played a really big role. There were a couple of other schools that had health tracks, but I felt that this school was most connected with hospital sites in the area so I feel like it made a large impact on my decision to come to MSPP.

Jen: What are your future career goals?

Meghan: My hope is that this program will prepare me to be in a health setting and work with families and individuals who are affected specifically with medical conditions. My hope is to do the internship at Shriners or Dana-Farber and work in a setting similar to that.

Jen: Thanks, Meghan.

Meghan: You’re welcome!

( The following interview is with Laura Polhamus).

Jen: When did you realize that you had an interest in forensic psychology?

Laura: I had a teacher in high school who talked to my class about the subject. It was right when the whole forensic craze happened and she presented it to us as a growing field. I love the field because there are so many different ways you can go with it. From the beginning, I have been interested in chronically violent offenders because it is very hard to track the development of their behavior. After reading quite a bit about famous offenders, it always seems as though the people closest to them have no idea about the mental health status of the future offender. Since that first lecture from my teacher, I have wanted to study how this behavior begins and develops.

Jen: Did you have any experience with forensics prior to your decision to enter the concentration?

Laura: Somewhat. I had done two internships that were indirectly associated with forensic psychology. The first was with the United States Secret Service. I worked closely with polygraphists and agents working on threat analysis. Both groups had the very difficult task of deciphering information, and evaluating whether individuals were a danger to themselves or the community. The second internship I did during undergrad was at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, MD. Sheppard Pratt is one of the leading in-patient psychiatric hospitals in the country, and I was lucky enough to work in their dual-diagnosis unit. Many of the patients had engaged in criminal behavior, and it was my first real experience working with clients in a forensic setting.

Jen: How big of a role did the option of concentrating in forensics play in your decision to come to MSPP?

Laura: It played a huge role. I specifically looked for programs with a forensic concentration. My original intention was to go to school close to home in New York, but when I couldn’t find a forensic program I decided to come to Boston.

Jen: What are your career goals for the future?

Laura: It seems as though my career goals are constantly evolving. Ultimately, I would like to work for the FBI Behavioral Science Unit. Those are the agents that put together profiles of past crimes in order to have information that will help solve future crimes. I would love to be able to meet with offenders and try to track when this behavior first emerged. Past research has been unable to really point to one or a few transformational moments in the perpetrator’s lives. My goal is to be able to gather enough information about these individuals in order to come up with a theory on how these people became the way that they are.

Jen: Thanks, Laura.

Laura: You’re welcome!

If you’re interested in any of the specific concentrations, follow the respected links below. They will provide more detailed information about each track:

Forensic Psychology Concentration:


Specialty in Latino Mental Health


Concentration in Health Psychology:



Child, Adolescent and Family Psychology:



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Utilizing Resources

I have found that MSPP  fosters the kind of environment that encourages students to utilize various resources to obtain the support, guidance or information that they are seeking.  I have heard horror stories of programs that simply forget about the student, and don’t make their needs a top priority. It simply takes a lax supervisor here, a competitive student environment there, and suddenly the school experience becomes a nightmare. Below, I’ve listed some valuable resources that MSPP offers.

Supervision: So important! If you find that you aren’t receiving proper supervision ( i.e., it occurs once every two weeks, or lasts about 15 minutes, or isn’t productive) then do speak up! This can mean talking to your supervisor directly about how your needs are not being met, or talk to the internship coordinator at MSPP.

Clinical seminar: Clinical seminar is a valuable resource. Your clinical sem. class is a small group of students who meet weekly with a professor to talk about practicum/internship related topics. Sometimes there is a “go around,” where students go around and talk about different issues that have come up at their placement recently. It is also a time for supervision; students play their recorded sessions and receive feedback.

Professors: I am interested in a specific research topic. I asked a professor if any of his colleagues shared this interest, and he was able to provide me with a professor’s name. I then e-mailed this professor and set up a meeting. She was happy to meet with me and we had a productive conversation. I felt better after our meeting and not as “alone” in my interest.

Classmates- The student body at MSPP are so welcoming and nice, that you instantly feel comfortable. If you have any questions you can always ask a classmate!

MSPP’s library- I often see students perusing the book options. The location of the library is also quite central to the school environment. You can always migrate to the library if you need any assistance. This is an area where you are bound to find a professor/classmate/book/computer available.

As I continue in the program I am sure I will come across many other fantastic resources. As for now, I feel like the school encourages me to utilize all of the resources in order to get my needs met.

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Interview With An Organizational Psychology Student

I had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlyn O’Loughlin, a first year full time organizational psychology student.

J: There are many different directions someone interested in psychology can take. The public may better know options such as clinical, counseling or forensic psychology. Can you educate us a little about organizational psychology?

C: Organizational Psychology involves looking at organizations, how they function as a system, and how the people within them function. An organizational psychologist applies psychological theories and practices to intervene within the system to help it function more effectively and efficiently.

J: What is your background, and what drew you to study organizational psychology?

C: I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a major in psychology and minor in sociology. After graduating, I took a position as the lab manager at the Infancy Studies Laboratory in the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University. There I did a variety of different things. I ran a number of infant information processing experiments, collected data on infant and child auditory processing and utilized ERP’s. I gave various language and developmental assessments to children from 4 months to 10 years. As a manager, I was also responsible for new employee training and directing the daily activities of the lab and its members. While working in the lab, I became more interested in the management aspect of the position, specifically group dynamics and teamwork and how they related to the organization. That’s when I looked into organizational psychology.

J: What attracted you to the MSPP program? C: I had heard about MSPP before since I went to UMASS and was familiar with schools in the area. However, while I was in undergrad, I was more focused on a future career in clinical psychology. My friend was applying to the counseling program here, so I looked into MSPP a little bit more and found that they offered the organizational program. I liked the idea of the blended curriculum and structure of the program and the opportunity for field placement. I was also very excited about the prospect of relocating to Boston for this program.

J: Where is your field placement? C: It’s with the Office of the President at MSPP. I just started a project under the Communications Committee’s initiative and am very excited about it. Since my experience leading up to entering MSPP has been primarily with the mental health aspect of psychology, my field placement offers a comprehensive look at what organizational development consultants do. It’s exactly what I was looking for in a field placement. J: What are some of the topics you have studied this semester? What has been most interesting or the best learning experience for you?

C: Well, we’ve studied quite a range so far. We’ve started with organizational behaviors within individuals and the team. We looked at human motivational theories and group formation and the common roles that individuals play in groups, as well as some of the factors that can create or inhibit team effectiveness. Our second class was the Organizational Systems and Change Theory course. There, we looked at why OD consultants are brought into an organization. Mainly they enter because they are consulting to integration, differentiation and anxiety issues in the organization. We learned about the consulting process, OD values and ethics, and right now we’re looking at emotional intelligence, psychometrics, and the use of self as practitioner in OD consulting.

J: Can you tell me a little bit about your class? How many students? What are their backgrounds? C: Sure. There are 21 students in our class with varying years of experience in the field. Some are just out of undergrad and others are well-established in their careers and their family life. The majority of the class is working full time while also attending the program. They come from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and various areas in Massachusetts, like Cape Cod. The students have varying backgrounds in mental health fields, human resources, finance, pharmaceuticals, and the military. A few of them are already part of an organizational department team or are organizational consultants who are looking to fine-tune their knowledge and skills in the field.

J: Can you tell me about the blended learning format? How does it impact your learning?

C: It’s a very unique program because of the blended learning format. The majority of our assignments and our communication between cohort members is through e-mail, discussion boards, and live online lectures. It’s very interesting to not have set class hours. It helps when you’re trying to schedule your courses around workload, family obligations and life in general. It can also be challenging because you have to keep up with everyone who is participating. You need to be active in the discussions but you’re discussing topics at various hours during the day and throughout the week.

J: It almost sounds like an online program.

C: Right, but once a month we meet Saturday and Sunday from 8:00-5:30 and have an intensive learning weekend with final exams and various activities where we apply all the material. The professor is there to lecture in person. It’s really intensive and it’s great to solidify all the information we’ve been learning over the past month. It’s also nice to see my classmates in person and learn from each other. It really is an interactive experience. Everybody comes from different backgrounds, so we learn a lot of valuable lessons just from discussing the course material with one another.

J: Is there anything else you would like the readers to be aware of?

C: It’s a great program and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.

J: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve learned a lot and I am sure that those reading this blog have too.

C: You’re welcome!

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The Chicken Or The Egg?

If you’re considering applying to a doctoral psychology program ( or any psychology program, for that matter) consider this: how you think, view the world and interact with others will forever change. Like getting a tattoo, intensive educational training is, for the most part, permanent.

The question then becomes: which came first? The chicken or the egg? Simply put, were you psychologically minded before you entered the program, which is why you sought it out, or do programs make us more psychologically minded? Like the nature versus nurture debate, I believe it is a combination of the two. When I think of my own development I am very aware that I upon entering this field  I was thinking about psychology in relation to my everyday life. I also note that once I graduated from my master’s program, I thought about things on a different level. Now that I go to MSPP, my self-awareness as well as awareness in general is increasing.

Case in point: The other week I was in line behind a family at a coffee shop. There was a grandmother, her son, and his two small children. The woman turned to the son and began to berate him for not ordering quickly enough, whereupon the son turned to his eldest child and yelled at him for not knowing what he wanted to order.

“Family patterns” I immediately thought. The son is learning to treat his children in a similar manner in which he was raised, and continues to be treated, by his own mother. While this isn’t a complex insight, it’s probably not something I’d be hypersensitive to a couple of months ( or years) ago.  I turned to my friend after the family had gotten their orders and said, ” Did you notice that?”

” Notice what?”

” The patterns…”

” I was thinking about a pumpkin spice latte,” my friend replied, like a normal human being.

Huh. Intrigued by this notion that how I am thinking is now becoming a part of my daily life, I decided to conduct my own mini-experiment. I was curious if after leaving a graduate program in psychology, this almost new-found daily curiosity would decrease.

I was able to locate a couple of practicing psychologists ( “participants”) and ask them a few questions about how they thought before, during, and after their respective programs. It seems this was the general verdict: Entering a psychology program changes the way you think and the way you interact with others. You tend to become more aware of their feelings, maybe find your own emotions heightened, but generally, the level of intensity diminishes after you graduate.  Interesting and not too surprising.

I believe what I am describing ( being changed by your current professional field) holds true in many different professions. For example, some law students may tend to think about certain situations from a judicial perspective after they leave their program. Or, like the “chicken or the egg” perspective, perhaps they have always thought from a judicial perspective.

What seems apparent, comforting, and in my opinion just simply cool is that you’re coming in with a desire to learn and then you’re actually applying it. No longer am I sitting passively in a classroom, reading about a case study. Now I am out in the field, working with actual people. Understanding human interaction, such as the family in the coffee shop, seems understandable, even a part of the learning process. In a sense, as an individual you are a “changing-self.”

What MSPP provides in regard to this idea of the changing-self, is fantastic support. Through clinical seminar classes, supervision at internship and available professors, there is ample opportunity to explore this new aspect of yourself.  In fact, I find that you are encouraged to do so.

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Love The One You’re With

I applied for my first internship experience in the second year of my master’s program. I was excited; I had visions of being placed at a college counseling site,  meeting with clients who had a range of concerns, building rapport, etc. Possibly I’d have an office area, where I would put up posters of calming images…

Flash forward to when I was not able to get placed at a college site due to the fact that I  “had no clinical experience.” This was the statement made by several local college sites when they found out I had, well, no clinical experience.

The images that had flashed through my mind a week before were suddenly gone. Clients were erased from my would-be schedule, potential rapport building was gone, posters were ripped from my imaginary office, and I was left feeling more than a little lost. What now? I had wanted to be an intern at a college site for quite some time. It’s hard to build up something in your mind and then realize you aren’t fully qualified for the position. This is especially true with college sites, who often have fewer staff members and require a more independent, experienced intern.

I eventually was accepted as an intern at a hospital in Philadelphia. I was told that the first semester I would be placed at the outpatient drug and alcohol clinic, and the second semester I would spend time at the locked inpatient psychiatric unit. Was this the internship I had been hoping for? No. Yet I made the decision in that moment to  “love the one I was with” and embrace an experience that I hadn’t thought I would ever get, or for that matter, want.

I was very lucky in that I had an excellent supervisor who was open and took me on as an intern because, as he put it, ” how can you get experience in the field if no one will open the door for you?” The semesters that followed were a whirlwind of new experiences. I was hearing life stories from clients I could never  imagine. Client return rates were low in the outpatient drug and alcohol clinic because individuals would continually relapse. The  inpatient locked dual diagnosis unit was never dull, and I was working with a population I had never been exposed to. For somebody with “no clinical experience,” I was certainly getting a ton.

I liked going to internship because it was a new experience each day. I worked with other interns and I felt like we supported each other throughout the year, which was helpful. I learned that when starting out in any internship ( or job, for that matter), it’s important to have people you can process your experiences with.

During this internship experience, I was able to work with one particular client for the year, and felt myself grow as a clinician. What I imagined “therapy” to be like was not it at all. I had to meet my client where they were at, which was a great lesson to learn early on. When it came time to leave internship, I walked out of the door knowing that what I had been a part of would stick with me forever.

When it came time to choose an internship at MSPP, I felt I was ready to apply for an internship at a college counseling center. I currently am placed at a fantastic college site and am loving my internship experience so far. I even put up posters (!) and have an office (!).  Not having a place to call my own last year really made me thankful that I do not have to shuffle around and I believe it creates a sense of stability for me and my clients.

Although I am enjoying my internship now, I have found that my work at the outpatient and  inpatient  unit has been useful to me in a number of ways. First, it was an extremely educational experience. I learned crisis technique that I could not have effectively learned in the classroom. Second, I made connections with individuals and learned about life from a different perspective. Although somebody is diagnosed with a chronic mental illness, they are still people, and I think oftentimes society is not always understanding. Third, a client may come to my office and have a friend or family member with a mental illness. Knowing what the disease “looks like” is extremely helpful to me and helps me connect to my clients.

Will I choose to work in a hospital setting again? I’m not sure. Right now, I’m feeling comfortable at the college site. As I learn more about myself and can formulate my long term goals as a clinician, I am not sure I see myself in a hospital setting again. However, who knows? It may take one client, one class, or one life experience to pique my interest. I guess I will have to wait and see…

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