Navigating life after graduate school : Words of wisdom from APA

Advice from early career professionals on navigating the journey from graduate school to your first job.

By Jennifer Lee, MS

While at APA, I attended the workshop hosted by the SAB on Navigating Life After Graduate School . We were fortunate enough to have Robin Everhart, Lisa Ingerski and Erica Sood participate as panelists. Their advice as early career professionals on how to navigate life after graduate school to your first job in pediatric psychology was helpful. As many students were unable to attend APA this year, I wanted to share their words of wisdom with you.

Postdoctoral Fellowships
Applying for and completing a postdoctoral fellowship is not necessary in pediatric psychology, but many find it a helpful professional development opportunity to further their competency in research and/or clinical skills before applying for a jobs. For postdoctoral fellowships, much like internship, the fit is most important. Make certain that the skills you will acquire are skills that you desire and need for your career. Some individuals stay at the site where they completed their internship if it is a good fit, and others apply for fellowships at new sites. Applying for an F32 Fellowship is an additional mechanism to assure you have a postdoc position you desire. When you are interviewing for postdocs, ask directly what the expectations are for research-clinical balance and work-life balance. Most will be up front with what they have to offer. If you are concerned about maintaining a balance, have the expectations included in your contact. Your supervisors on postdoc want you to be satisfied with where you are and what you are doing, so it is to the benefit of both parties to be clear about expectations on the front end.

First Professional Position
When it comes time to prepare your job talk, know that practice is most important. Give your talk to those both inside and outside of your field. If you are applying to a job in a medical center, individuals unfamiliar to the type of research you conduct and the role of psychology in a medical team will be listening. Have a clear, accessible message that explains your unique attributes and plans for your career. When it comes time to make decisions about where to go, a ccept a job where you have the potential to be happy. In a difficult job market, it can be tempting to take the first offer you receive, even if it is not the job you were hoping for. Try to find a job that is consistent your long-term hopes and goals, while still being flexible. This may mean accepting a job that is a hybrid of your long-term goals and current job options. For some, this could mean a job at a location that has potential for creating a research program and working additional clinical hours until you can establish a research program. For others, this may mean working in an area you had not anticipated, or with an illness population you do not have expertise with at the moment. All of these opportunities serve to make you a well-rounded, skilled clinician and researcher for the duration of your career in pediatric psychology. Build the skills you do not already have and need to get your dream job. It is also helpful to know whether there is precedence for advancement within the position you have. Stay true to what you love and what makes you excited about coming to work, and be flexible with other opportunities that will help you grow as a professional.

I was told that the most surprising and intimidating part of your first role as a licensed psychologist and independent researcher can be the amount of autonomy you are afforded. It is the first time that you are legally and ethically responsible for the activities of those you are supervising. Reaching out for the support of colleagues during your internship year, postdoc and first full-time position can help to guide this process. Don’t forget that it is important to mentor those who are earlier in their careers than you and to take advice from those more senior. I know it’s been said before, but in a field as specialized and interconnected as pediatric psychology, networking is invaluable. Whether it is seeking colleague consultation on a case, gaining another perspective on a program of research or grant application or merely having support and encouragement during difficult transitions, the words of a more experienced colleague can help to guide your way.

As for final take home message, the following words of advice were provided: Stay calm and relax. Something will work out, even though it may not be exactly what you had envisioned. Rely on your mentors as a sounding board to figure out whether a certain position has good potential for professional growth or if it makes more sense to wait and pursue another option.