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You have considered all the options, and despite the prospect of 5­7 years of instant noodle dinners and sleep-deprived nights, you still feel excited about pursuing a doctoral degree in your field of interest. So, now what? How do you develop your vita and make yourself an attractive candidate to your selected schools? While the process can seem daunting, and does require a lot of work, the fundamental steps are actually quite simple: Get information, get experi­ence and get involved.

Get Information
As you seek to develop your vita and make yourself an attractive candidate for graduate school, getting the right information about what schools want is critical. Do the schools you are targeting value research experience, work experience, conference presentations or publications, volunteer service, or other professional experiences? What do they look for in a strong candidate? The simplest place to find out what your schools value in an applicant’s vita is by contacting the schools directly through their Web sites and their corresponding admissions contacts.

Current students can also provide invaluable information about the pro­gram and the application process. Information also can be gleaned from student listservs, professors, and professionals in the field. In addition to getting good background information about what schools value, applicants should also identify faculty with whom their interests match well. The student-mentor match can be critically important for success in the application process, as well as in graduate school itself. In gathering information about programs and faculty interests, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are happy to assist if you let them know how they can help.

Get Experience
You may wish to begin exploring research or clinical experiences depending on the focus of your target institutions. There is a wealth of opportunity available to gain research experience. You may be able to find paid research opportunities through local universities, hospitals, nonprofits, private consulting practices and even private clinical practices. Some information on these organizations may be available on their Web sites or in the yellow pages, but the best way to find these opportunities is to talk to people. Talk to your professors, fellow aspiring-grad students, professionals at conferences, and people with whom you would like to work. Don’t be afraid to chat with people at all stages of their career, as they can become your most valuable resources.

If you can’t find a paid position, volunteer. Unpaid experience can be as valuable as paid experience, as they will both give you exposure to typical aspects of clinical and research life. Be sure to try to align these experiences with your research interests. Typical entry-level research positions involve data collection and data entry.

If you are in a research position, consider submitting a poster to a conference. Be proactive. Take a risk and suggest an idea for a submission. A poster is a good line on your vita and can be a stepping-stone to a publication. A publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the single best way to boost your vita. You may also consider writing a senior thesis or submitting ideas to other outlets, such as organizational newsletters.

If you are looking for clinical experience, it can be gained in a number of ways. Examples of typical clinical experiences include hotline counseling or working at a crisis center. Most communities have numerous organizations that offer volunteer opportunities. Also, many facilities, such as hospitals have opportunity for paid work such as a psychiatric technician on an inpatient unit. When you get a position, you may want to negotiate some level of supervision by a staff member, as this may be useful down the road when you are soliciting letters of recommendation.

Get Involved
It is also good to join professional organizations, such as ISTSS, that are appropriate to your interests. Through organizational publications you can stay up to date on current topics and controversies in your chosen specialty. Membership can also put you in touch with professionals and students, and provide you with the opportunity to network and become an active community member.

The most important thing about applying to graduate school is to get started. Find motivators, and someone to whom you can be accountable. Find peers who are going through the same process. Team up and work together. Make a plan and take a step. Even if it just a small step, it can be one of the first toward a great career.

If you areinterested incontributing a student article for TraumaticStressPoints, contact Joanna Legerski, student editor at Legerski@gmail.com with your ideas.

Some Resources to get you Started:
Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. (2002). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Keith-Spiegel, P., & Wiederman, M. W. (2000). The Complete Guide to Graduate School Admission: Psychology, Counseling and Related Professions (2 nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Peters, R. L. (1997). Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or a Ph.D. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Reyes, J. (2005). The Social Work Graduate School Applicant’s Handbook: The Complete Guide to Selecting and Applying to MSW Programs. Harrisburg, PA: White Hat Communications.

Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., & Norcross, J.C. (2004). Insider’s guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology (2004/2005 Ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

To get involved in the student section of ISTSS, please contact Brian Allen, student chair, at brianallen63@hotmail.com or Mylea Charvat, vice chair, at mylea@mindspring.com.

Heidi La Bash received a B.S. in Journalism in 1998 and is energized by her career change and her current position as a research technician at the National Center for PTSD, Women’s Health Sciences Division in Boston, MA, where she recently authored a paper on deployment stressors in Iraq War veterans. Her research interests include: risk and resilience factors in trauma-exposed populations, gender differences in responses to and associated outcomes of sexual trauma, the role of media in psychology and cross-cultural perspectives in psychology. Heidi is currently in the arduous, but exciting, process of preparing to apply to clinical psychology programs in the fall of 2006.