Posted on 29-01-2010
Filed Under (Applying to Graduate School) by Anita Kelly

Caroline Rycyna graduated from Notre Dame with honors in 2007. Caroline’s story is a touching one because she had 5 interviews for top doctoral programs in clinical psychology in 2007. But she didn’t land any placements that first year. Her story is one of persistence and ultimately of landing a spot in Ohio State’s excellent clinical PhD program. I hope that you will find it inspirational as you apply to graduate school yourself! –Anita

What follows is in Caroline’s own words:

In the beginning of my senior at ND, I applied to approximately 15 programs, most of the clinical psychology programs, and I was invited to interview for 5 of them. I attended all these interviews with eager anticipation, but I quickly discovered that I was not as confident in what I wanted to study for the next few years in school as others. All of my applications, for the most part, had extremely varying research interests, and I quickly realized during the interviews that I was not as passionate about the professors’ research as I should have been. When I found out I did not get accepted, I was naturally upset. Going to graduate school for my clinical Ph.D. had been my plan since I was in 7th grade, and I felt a little lost. I was repeatedly told not to take the rejection personally, that it had become ridiculously hard to be accepted into these programs, especially coming right out of undergraduate, but I could not help but feel a little blow to my self-esteem, since this goal had always been such a personal one. 

Following the suggestion of some of my professors, I applied for research jobs. I chose the Boston area because there were a multitude of them available, and I had always liked Boston, and one of my sisters lived less than 2 hours away. I applied on job site websites for research positions at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), McLean Hospital, and Brigham & Women’s. I remember submitting my CV to 10s of them at a time, just hoping for some sort of response. After I submitted once for the position of a research coordinator in the Pediatric Psychopharmacology Research Unit in the Psychiatry Department at MGH, the HR representative emailed me the next day expressing the department’s interest in me. A few days later, I did a phone interview, and then they invited me to interview in person. When I interviewed, I met with the psychologists and other research assistants with whom I would work, and I liked them immediately. I accepted the employment offer and began my job in the beginning of July of 2007.

I worked on a team of 7 other research assistants and two psychologists. For example, I coordinated an individualized CBT treatment study for 18-24 yr olds with bipolar disorder as well as a family neuroimaging study looking at children (6-17 yrs of age) at risk for bipolar disorder. My friend, Marisa, coordinated a longitudinal study investigating the relationship between temperament in 2-5 yr olds and risk for later psychological issues, particularly externalizing disorders (i.e., bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, ADHD, ODD). We also had studies looking at kids at risk for anxiety. Needless to say, I was fortunate to be exposed to a variety of quality of research which helped me to decide what I might want to pursue in graduate school. In addition to our team, several other psychiatrists had their own research projects involving individuals with adult ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, PDD, and others. Some research assistants in the lab conducted cognitive assessments and administered clinical interviews (e.g., SCID-IV and KSADS-E) to both children and parents. 

I was lucky enough to both coordinate and also do assessments for the other studies in the department. One of these studies was a family study of children with pediatric bipolar disorder. I found myself particularly drawn to these families and their stories and always was touched by their struggles with acquiring the best treatment for their children while combating the public’s opinion of this controversial diagnosis. I found the same enjoyment in working with the families for my neuroimaging study, as some of the children actually had the BPD diagnosis, while others were partially affected with issues such as depression and/or ADHD. After a year of working with these families, I knew for sure that I wanted to conduct research with this same population. 

My mentor there was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss possible programs that might be a good fit. She mentioned Dr. Mary Fristad’s research at The Ohio State University and how it might be a good fit. I immediately did some research about Dr. Fristad’s work and found her psychosocial treatments for families with pediatric bipolar disorder to be a perfect combination of my interests. Ohio State immediately became my #1 graduate school choice. For the next few months, I worked hard on my applications, thankfully with the help of my friends who were also applying at MGH. I ended up applying to 13 schools, which I was a little unsure about because most of my other friends were applying to more. However, this time around I was looking at programs which involved research on childhood mood disorders, especially pediatric bipolar disorder, and there were not that many in areas of the country where I would consider living. I decided earlier on that I would not be applying to anywhere I could not see myself living because it would be a waste of my time, money, and effort. Thus, I submitted 13 applications and crossed my fingers hoping for the best.

On January 13th, Dr. Fristad called to invite me to interview, and I was ecstatic! For the interview, I read some of her articles and familiarized myself with her research. When I met her and the other faculty, as well as heard more about the program, I had a feeling that OSU was where I belonged. A week later, I received an email with my admissions offer, and I struggled to decide whether or not I should go to my last 3 interviews. (I went to another interview the same weekend as OSU’s, which totals to 5 interview invitations.) I decided to go to 1 more, which I ended up not liking. It was during this third interview that I realized OSU was where I wanted to be. And the rest is history! –Caroline Rycyna

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Posted on 22-01-2010
Filed Under (Appropriate behavior) by Anita Kelly

I have invited Sam Stryker, a first-year Notre Dame student and reporter for the Observer, to write a reaction to last week’s post. Here is what he has to say about making the right impression in class:

It’s very easy to say that being smart is “in” at college, and in order to succeed in class one must sit in the front row of class, raise one’s hand at every available opportunity and try to show off to the professor how smart you are in front of the class. I however will argue that in doing so one in fact could be making an incredibly stupid choice. Now why would sitting in the front of the class be such a risky proposition? Because in order to be a truly successful human being, one must achieve both the respect of one’s peers and one’s superiors. Remember, when you get hired down the road by some corporation you are being hired for what you have achieved as a person, not just a student. There will be an interview component and I heartily believe that personality is as valuable a trait as scholastic achievement. Though Dr. Kelly would advise me from saying this, I know for a fact that I am not the smartest person in any of my classes and in fact I am in the bottom half in terms of academic talent for some of the classes (I am in the Honors Program, so I would be surprised if I was). You know what? I am completely fine with that. In fact, I know I can be more successful in life than a lot of the kids in my classes who receive better grades than me. Why is that? It’s two things. One, I know I have the respect of my professors. The brown nosers of the class may have this one down pat, but I do too. When I raise my hand in class, I do so because I have something to contribute to the class that will further the discussion. It may be an idea I have, or outside knowledge I think is important. The key difference between a brown noser and me is that I am not TRYING to look smart. It’s all about appearing effortless. This is how you gain the respect of your peers, something that brown nosers tend to ignore. Your peers will be your friends, your coworkers, and your networking when you graduate from school. It’s very easy to suck up and act all nice to a professor who is older than you and holds a position of power, but one can truly learn something by how one treats their equals. When I see someone brown nosing, I lose respect for them because they are treating the professors like they are stupid and can be easily buttered up. Brown nosing shows little to no true knowledge of the topic being discussed, because in and of itself it is about showing off in the most shameless way possible. In summary, being smart is “in” and college. There is just a very precise way of doing it—don’t look like you’re trying too hard! And remember, you want to gain both the respect of your peers and your professors, because your relationships with both determine how far you go in life, not just one or the other.  –Sam Stryker

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Posted on 15-01-2010
Filed Under (Appropriate behavior) by Anita Kelly

On separate occasions this week, two students told me almost exactly the same thing: “There are so many students around here way smarter than me.” What’s funny is that it turns out that both these students have really high IQs.

In addition, over the years, many students have told me on the first day of class that they are not particularly interested in studying anything.

So, the question is, “Why would students meeting a professor for the first time shoot themselves in the foot by telling the professor that they are not that smart or motivated?” After all, professors do not grade papers blind and can be heavily influenced by the impressions you give during class. If you tell professors bad things about yourself, they are likely to believe you. And this negative impression has the potential to hurt your grade.

I believe that the answer to this question lies in what you had to do to make friends long before you came to college. You had to look like you weren’t conceited or trying too hard in high school to fit in, because the motivated and brainy kids weren’t the most popular.

But now you are in college. Smart is definitely “in”. It’s time to consider shedding any ”dumb” persona. Instead of sitting in the back and acting barely interested in the class material to fit in with your current friends, you could try sitting in the front and formulating brilliant questions for your professor. Beyond impressing your professors, you might discover that your brilliance is downright attractive to your classmates. 

Also, please never, never tell a professor that you did not do well on the SAT. Professors can be total geeks when it comes to standardized testing and may conclude that you are not smart because of that darn test score.

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Posted on 08-01-2010
Filed Under (Overcoming barriers) by Anita Kelly

The following question came yesterday from Brittany, a student in my upcoming Personality class:

“What are some good techniques that can be used to avoid procrastinating and to get studying and assignments done more efficiently?”

Well, Brittany, let me start by noting that procrastination is extremely common among college students. You have so many assignments and activities competing for your time. Plus, you are young, and thus need more sleep than you will later in life. This combination means you are frequently tired and feeling guilty about not getting more things done. I myself was a huge procrastinator in college, but now my husband calls me “the non-procrastinator.”

Some experts on procrastination say that the key to organizing your time and getting things done on time is to make a list of all the things you must do. You can make the to-do list for the next day before you go to bed. Then, when you wake up you can begin to tackle the items on the list. You keep reviewing the list and checking off items as you complete them. It’s a simple trick that might work.

But perhaps you don’t want to make lists and force yourself to organize your time. If that’s the case, you can decide right now that you know you a procrastinator and plan your procrastination. You can say at the beginning of the semester that you are only going to give yourself 2 nights to write any paper and 2 nights to study for any major exam. Through planning your procrastination, at least this way you won’t always feel guilty about not getting to your assignments (because it’s part of your plan for the semester). Do give yourself at least 2 nights for a big paper, though, because you will get insights on the paper in between the times you work on it.

If you think that these recommendations are too simplistic for your personal form of procrastination, then you could try reading the book Awaken Your Stronger Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage by Neil Fiore, PhD. It is well-reviewed and can be ordered at http://www.amazon.com/Awaken-Your-Strongest-Self-Self-Sabotage/dp/0071470263/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262968117&sr=1-11

If you try any of these recommendations, please let us all know how it works for you!

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Posted on 01-01-2010
Filed Under (Appropriate behavior) by Anita Kelly

The new semester is right around the corner. What can you possibly do to increase your performance in your courses that you haven’t tried already?

Well, have you considered the following?

Professors grade your in-class participation and your papers subjectively. And they can be influenced by the seemingly small things you do in class. So, this semester, I suggest you try the following: 

  1. Come to class a little early every time.
  2. Sit in the front.
  3. Associate yourself with the smart, conscientious students.
  4. Ask well-thought-out questions.
  5. Look interested whenever your professor and other students are speaking.

I know this sounds manipulative. But you’ll find that when you act this way, you will genuinely become that conscientious, dream student that professors love. Try this for one whole semester, and let me know how it works out for you. Sticking to it may take as much resolve as your toughest New Year’s resolution, but you may be amazed at the results.

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