Graduate school in clinical psychology requires juggling multiple roles: courses, research, clinical work, lecturing, writing, among dozens of other tasks.
To more easily acclimate, there are certain skills that I have found to be really important to have when entering graduate school in clinical psychology. Below are a few skills (some softer; others harder) that are useful to cultivate to successfully navigate all the trials and tribulations that grad school has to offer.
1. Being familiar with the research process
Surprisingly, a clinical psychology program doesn’t require too many pre-requisite clinical skills (being a generally caring and empathetic human is typically sufficient to begin); however, having a strong understanding of the research process is needed.
There is significantly less handholding for research and thesis development: you’re expected to know how conduct a literature review, submit an ethics application, determine a methodology to test your research question, and disseminate this work at conferences and publications. Of course, support from your supervisor will be available, but it’s important to have a good sense of the research flow from the start.
2. Writing well academically
I wrote ‘academically’ because there is a certain style of word choice, structure, and cautious interpretation that captures writing well in academia. This style may not map on well to other types of literary endeavours – God knows I’m terrible at writing poetry and fiction.
Generally, writing well academically means writing in a precise way with a clear and concise structure. Reading research articles in your field is a good strategy to get a sense of what gets published. If you’re having some challenges developing strong writing, HemingwayInCollege has some useful articles that may support your academic writing.
3. Having (some) knowledge of statistics
Having a foundational knowledge of statistics is also a very helpful skill in graduate school. Although nothing fancy is needed especially early on in your career, some basic understanding of statistical tests (e.g., t-tests, regressions, correlations, ANOVAs) can be helpful along with application of statistical software (e.g., SPSS or R).
One resource that I have found helpful in my work is Laerd Statistics, which goes through step-by-step on how to conduct different statistical analyses.
4. Presenting in a translational manner
As a bridge between the academic and the broader community, it is helpful to be able to discuss research in an easy-to-understand, translational manner. This extends to working with patients, presenting research to peers, or giving talks at conferences – people prefer learning in a digestible way.
Therefore, ‘theory-of-mind’ (also known as perspective-taking) is important to decide how your audience would like to absorb information.
5. Receiving and providing feedback
Another skill is to be able to receive feedback in an open and positive manner. As a trainee, it is your responsibility to take constructive criticism from supervisors (among others) and use it to further your own development.
Although easier said than done, remember that negative feedback is not a reflection on you as a person nor how your supervisor sees you; it’s simply part of a process to help develop your competency and do quality work.
Beyond receiving feedback, you’ll also be in a position to supervise more junior students (e.g., thesis) or mark assignments if you’re taking a teaching assistant role. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to provide constructive feedback that is actionable, engenders hope, and reinforces the students’ strengths.
6. Warm and empathetic communication style
Being empathetic and collegial goes a long way beyond just working with clinical patients. You will be working with a number of different people – faculty members, collaborators, peers, administrative staff, and so on.
Taking a friendly and kind demeanor in your interactions will ensure a smooth experience and make others look upon you more fondly. To be honest, a positive impression will get others to root for your success and open many doors. In a lot of life, it’s less about what you say, but rather how you say it and whether the people you are saying it to like you.
7. Time management and values clarification
Grad school is like a gas: it will take as much space in your life as you give it. Moreover, there are going to be many tasks all pulling for your time: readings, exams, clinical work, marking, research, among others.
Therefore, time management is important to ensure that you are keeping on top of your work. One strategy to proper time management is values clarification. This is essentially a fancy term that decides what is truly important to you to get out of graduate school.
For example, it was important to me to attend research conferences and conduct guest lectures in my first year. Therefore, I took a ‘good is good enough approach’ to other areas, such as class assignments and readings to make sure I got the experiences I wanted. Graduate school is certainly what you make out it and there’s no one path to succeed! Therefore, make sure you reflect upon your own path and what is most important for you to prioritize.