So you’re a psychologist, now what?

While my postgraduate psychology training has equipped me with many skills, much less time was spent on the nuts and bolts of setting myself up as a psychologist. Suddenly I have to get my head round registration, indemnity insurance, Medicare numbers, award levels and figure out whether work opportunities are suited to a very early career psych.

Here’s what I’ve learned  in case its of use to anyone else starting out.

Registration

It varies on where in the world you are, but chances are that there is a lot of paperwork between you and being able to call yourself a psychologist.

Tip: Presume nothing and ring the registration board about anything on the form you are unsure about. Generally presume it will take at least a few weeks to get processed.

Indemnity insurance

What is it? Legal protection for you as a professional. In Australia its mandatory. Some work places will cover it for you but you’ll generally need your own if you are working in private practice.

Tip: If you are a member of your local psychology organisation, you may be eligible for a discount on professional indemnity insurance. But do shop around.

Medicare numbers

If you want to provide services under Medicare you need a Medicare Provider number. To get a Medicare Provider number you need to be registered and have a place of work. This can leave you in a bit of a Catch-22 when you are applying for registration, on your first job hunt and therefore without a place of work!

Tip: You need a Medicare Provider number for each place of work. It can take up to six weeks.

Award levels

PUBLIC SECTOR

If you are going into the public sector in Australia and have a postgraduate degree, the entry level positions in the public sector open to you are at AHP2.

PRIVATE SECTOR

There are many different arrangements in the private sector from independent contractor through to salaried staff member. Private practices  often (but not always) advertise positions for people who have previously worked in the field for a couple of years and/or who hold an endorsement in a specialty area.

Tip: Read the fine print. Not all AHP2 jobs are entry level and some private sector jobs are aimed at new grads.

Where to start?

That seems to be the million dollar question, everyone has an opinion and these opinions often conflict. I suspect the only clear answer is “start somewhere.” Having said that, here are some questions that might help you out:

  • Is your CV up to date? Do you have three professional referees? What clearances do you have that allow you to work with specific populations?
  • Do you want to pursue endorsement in a specialty area? How might that work?
  •  Is supervision provided? How might you obtain it?
  • Do you have any preferences? Rural vs metro; public vs private sector; child vs adult; assessment vs therapy; part-time vs full-time; a specific population you particularly enjoy working with?
  • Where are your competencies? Do you have skills in particular techniques, therapy formats (individual vs group) or environments (team vs solo practitioner)?
  • And of course, what opportunities are available?

Best of luck, any hints and suggestions welcome!

 

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The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog

Now that I’ve some time on my hands, I’m reviving the Psychology Book Club and trying to make a dent in my to-read pile.

This week’s selection is “The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog” by Bruce Perry and Maria Szalavitz.

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The Whistle-Stop Tour

  • Intended audience: Health professionals, people interested in psychology or trauma.
  • Content: 275 pages of case studies about psychiatrist Bruce Perry’s experiences working with young people affected by trauma.
  • Readability: Easy to understand. Nb. some case studies may be distressing/triggering.
  • Practicality: There are layers here, probably one to re-read to get the most out of it.
  • Cost: Kindle $AUD 9.67; paperback copy from the Book Depository $AUD 13.70
  • Publication details: Basic Books 2006
  • Overall rating: ★★★★★

The Extended Review

I first heard about this book being described as a ‘must read’ for those interested in working with childhood trauma when I was beginning my postgraduate training. It was recommended to me again more recently in the context of trauma more generally. Now that I’ve finally gotten round to reading it, I can say that it does not disappoint.

Perry describes his experiences working with a range of children and their families affected by trauma. These are real people in very challenging circumstances and so this book is not a light read. However, the resilience of the people behind each story really shines through.

The frank and reflective style of the authors provides some great insights into what worked, what didn’t and why. Perry also touches on the evidence base for various approaches and the links between brain and behaviour without presuming any prior knowledge. Really there’s something for everyone in here whatever your therapeutic orientation or stage of career.

Personally, I’ve walked away with some more nuanced ideas about supporting young people through trauma disclosure, a greater awareness of the impact of the timing of trauma and an interest in the neurosequential model.

In sum, the insights in this book translate beyond working with children or people affected by trauma, so if you’re a health professional, it’s really worth a read.

If you’ve read ‘The Boy Who Was Raised as Dog,’ what stood out for you?

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Hello from the other side…

Everyone talks about life after the PhD. We fantasize about what we’ll do with our new found freedom. But what is it actually like?

Week 1 – All systems go

The first week after submitting my PhD was pretty darn weird!

I had none of the “I should be writing my thesis” guilts or the “oh no I stuffed up and should have included X” worries people had warned me about. It was my body not my mind that was firmly stuck in thesis writing mode. I just couldn’t shake the night owl sleeping  habits I’d adopted in the writing up period.

I didn’t do all that much. Well, I did, but none of the things you fantasize about doing like that long awaited Netflix marathon, throwing a party or, running off into the sunset ;). I did compete in an arts competition, donned a celebratory tutu (long story, cool experience) Then I waded straight into a hailstorm of admin to apply for my psych registration, various jobs and to deal with all the day-to-day tasks that had fallen to the wayside. BORING!

Week 2 – Catharsis

The second week was definitely better. I felt like I was on an extended weekend. I walked around my  local area noticing all the changes I’d missed when I’d been holed up with my thesis. I took great joy in lobbing all my old thesis drafts into the recycle bin and realising that I could actually say ‘yes’ to social events without having to factor in writing my thesis.

Week 3 – Lost at sea

I found out I’d gotten a job interview. My sleep was slowly becoming more civilised. But, I was also starting to get pretty bored. So I started doing fun things that had been on my to-do list. I’d fancied having hot chips on the beach, so I did, except there were gale force winds and the surf was so rough there was no sand to sit on! The chips were good though :D.

Week 4 – I’m a what?

To my utter shock my psych registration came through about three weeks early! After nine years of study, I was finally a psychologist. Very surreal. I had my job interview too, I think it went well but learned I would not find out the outcome until Christmas, possibly later. In the midst of it all two of my friends move/d interstate. It was lovely catching up with them and exciting to see them off on their next grand adventures, but I’ll miss them.

Verdict

Life on the other side of my PhD isn’t really at all how I imagined it. I’m not worried about my PhD mark or when I’ll receive it. I have no compulsion whatsoever to write my thesis and it feels sort of wrong being back on campus to run errands or clear my office. It’s almost as if on the day I submitted that part of my life became The Past. As a good friend said to me today, now to just concentrate on enjoying “limbo” the period in between finishing my degree and working as a psychologist.

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I finally did it

I did it. I finally did it. Four years 8 months and 14 days after starting this journey, I finally  submitted my PhD thesis.

The lead up to finishing was horrible; there were lots of last minute revisions requested and red tape. Everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong with printing it. The whole thing was one giant comedy of errors. Right up to walking in to find the office for submitting PhDs had been inexplicably shut for the day.

This is the day that was, for the sake of posterity…

The day before I handed up, I did the final read through, proofing and formatting. I also ran off one copy to duplicate at the uni the next day.  This last job was a nightmare. My printer would not print landscape pages. Saving the file to a .pdf did not work either. So, I had to manually adjust the settings on the printer for each landscape page and then manually realign the page numbers. Doing so stuffed up all the page numbers on my automatically generated contents page. Every time I shifted between landscape and portrait and back again I gained or lost multiple pages. In the end, I had to manually create my contents page. All in all I was up until about 1:30am printing my thesis. All 264 pages of it.

I woke up at 5:30 am and was at university by 8:30am. I spent the morning photocopying. My university requires three hard copies and a digital copy of each thesis. The fourth is an insurance policy in case anything goes wrong. Which it did. The photocopier jammed and chewed up one of my pages! I finally finished making the copies by 10 o’clock. Due to my aforementioned .pdf debacle I then had to scan the hard copy of my thesis to create the pdf which was also required for submission.

I then wandered down to the library where the binding service was located. The wandering was somewhat difficult as the theses weighed more than my laptop did, and I was already weighed down with that too. It took about 40 minutes for the three copies to be bound. This period was a bit amusing. The silence in the library was broken by the repetitive noise of someone shearing through my thesis to carve out the holes for the comb binding. Everyone was looking around as if to say, what on earth are they doing in there?! During this time I compiled all the .pdf files I had made earlier into one document. The adrenaline had kicked in by that point and my hands were shaking. As you can imagine, that made the task rather difficult! Things became even more laughable when I tried to send the .pdf file to the head of faculty as requested. The file was .6 of a MB larger than that which can be sent via email. Undaunted, I compressed the file but that destroyed the quality of the image. It made reading my thesis look like it would without wearing my contact lenses! VERY BLURRY. I ended up uploading the file to Google drive and sending a link to the file via email.

I returned staggered back to my office with three bound copies of The Beast. I could not believe how thick my thesis turned out to be! I’d assumed it only looked so bulky because the papers weren’t aligned properly. But no, it is actually an epic. It clocked in at about 50K words, minus the references and appendices. I’d thought it would be about 30K. Then I printed out the last bit of paperwork I needed to submit that I’d received that morning and took a few selfies. It was weird. There was no one in my office. In fact, apart from the lovely admin people I’d chatted to briefly while binding, there was not a soul on campus that I knew.

The sun was splitting the trees as I walked across the courtyard with its garden gnome water feature, yes, really. I climbed up the stairs to the place where I submitted my first university assignments to submit my very last one. How poetic eh?

*Cue scratched record noise.* Instead of being greeted with the usual hive of activity up at the office, there was a sign informing me that it was shut, all day, with the suggestion I use the phone to ring someone else. Eventually locating the phone I first rang the person I had previously told I was submitting that day. No answer. Then I managed to get through to a lovely lady who I actually knew. Turned out most of the office was sick but she was able to help me. It was very anti-climactic. She ducked back inside the office with my thesis, signed a form, gave me a copy and it was done.

We chatted for bit and then I wandered down to a secluded spot of the uni with the piece of paper heralding my new found freedom. I took a lot of selfies. I’m not much of a selfie person but you only submit your PhD once. So I improvised a tripod using my handbag and made good use of the phone timer. Being a dancer, there were quite a few leaping for joy shots among them.

That done, I ducked back to my office, submitted the paperwork for the uni to sign me off to apply for my psych registration and finally bumped into a fellow student I knew. I had a quick bite to eat trying to process everything that had just happened and made way down to the seaside to catch up with a friend. She had a present for me from a group of my friends which was lovely. It started sinking in by degrees that I was done. I celebrated with my family that night over dinner.

The whole experience of finishing has been overwhelming. It doesn’t feel real. 22 years of studying done. It’s been exciting, terrifying and at times quite sad. I’d lost a lot of people very important to me over the last couple of years and it just wasn’t quite the same not being able to share my news with them today. All in all though, I was euphoric to be done.

I’ll probably keep this blog going in some shape or form re: the job hunt, settling into work etc. but for now…

Honourable Mentions over and out.

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Contemplating a PhD? Please read this.

My university allows high school students to shadow academic staff for their work experience. I think it’s a great idea. It got me to thinking though, what do they or anyone contemplating entering academia, need to know? Here’s my two cents.

The fundamental thing anyone contemplating academia needs to know is that there are many, many, many more PhD students than there are academic jobs. Stats vary, but only about 40 to 50 percent of the people who complete a PhD will actually get a job in academia. The few who manage to secure a job, almost always have to travel interstate or overseas to do so.

From my own observations, the few who break into academia have this in common:

  1. A lot of first-author publications, usually in high impact journals (essential).
  2. An ‘in’ with a research group – perhaps they did a mini-post-doc during their PhD at another lab or, secured a highly  prestigious scholarship often used to cherry-pick future employees (advantageous)
  3. Teaching experience (advantageous)
  4. Conference presentations, media coverage of one’s research, involvement with research organisations in the field (advantageous)
  5. Industry skills.  Many of the psych PhD’s I know who did manage to get an academic job also had a qualification as a psychologist which gave them an edge, particularly for the more applied type post-docs (possibly advantageous)

The more of these boxes you tick, the greater your odds of success BUT, it is entirely possible that you still will not find work in academia.

It is also very important to remember that not finding work in academia often has very little to do with your capacity to be an academic. With so many brilliant people completing PhDs and so little funding, the supply of PhD graduates is just way too high for the demand. So if you are one of the vast majority who have found a career outside of academia (not by choice) know that you  were just as capable as the people who did get in to the ivory tower.

I’m a big fan of being practical. So, given the odds of academic work are so low, what can you do about it?

  1. Choose a project and team that will help you tick those boxes I mentioned. From day one, develop a clear plan about how you and your team (your supervisor, research higher degree support services, uni career counselors, journal club, partner, family, friends) are going to get you ticking off those boxes. That plan will change, and repeatedly. But as they say, a dream without a plan is just a wish.
  2. Make sure you have a solid, viable, ‘Plan B.’ If you take one thing away from reading this post, please, please let it be this!  This is every bit as essential as point #1. The most obvious Plan B though there may be others, is to have a clear and viable pathway into an industry related to your PhD. How? Make connections, do internships, choose an applied project, do a research project proposed by an organisation involved in that industry and/or, do a double degree that will give you an automatic qualification in industry like I did.

I haven’t written this with the intention to scare you.  What I am hoping is that you might go into the decision-making about whether to do a PhD more informed. These issues are discussed far too infrequently in academia, despite their consequences for incoming PhD students.

Anything else to add? Any stories about breaking into industry, in particular?

Honourable Mentions

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Writing up – Welcome back to adolescence!

Having written an honours thesis, I thought I knew what I was in for with the final write-up phase of my PhD. Granted, I understood that it would be a lot more intense this time round, but surely not all that different? Wrong!

The write-up is probably the most bizarre part of the whole PhD and that’s saying something because the whole degree is pretty bizarre; spend four years on a project with only one goal: demonstrating an original contribution to research. Who spends four years on any project with only one official deadline with the risk of getting scooped or finding nothing new by the end? Me, apparently. But I digress.

Through a series of unfortunate events my write-up timeline leaves me needing to churn out a chapter of my thesis, more or less from scratch, each fortnight. If you’re writing a traditional (giant book form) thesis like me, a chapter could be the giant literature review / introduction at the start of your thesis, a write-up of a study you’ve run or, the giant discussion / conclusion at the end of your thesis. The discussion and intro chapters can be a bit shorter, but generally each chapter is the length of an honours thesis. I have six of these chapters to write…

Without further ado, this is why the write-up phase reminds me of society’s caricature of the teen years:

  • I am a total night owl. I am up to the wee hours and struggle to surface from bed before 10 a.m. As a self-confessed lark, this is easily the most amusing part of writing up.
  • I wear a uniform. So the standard write-up uniform of pajamas or exercise gear might not be quite the same as my high school uniform, but still.
  • I consume the weirdest foods at the weirdest of times. I find myself eating biscuits at 3 a.m. or having lunch for breakfast. Sometimes I forget to eat because I get so caught up in my thesis! And then there’s the writing sessions fuelled by Snake lollies. Another novelty for me, as I would ordinarily go for months without chocolate or lollies, I just don’t have a sweet tooth.
  • I get lost in day-dreams. Sadly this time round these ‘day-dreams’ are thesis related notes to self about how to fix up chapters etc. and generally, they lead to being scatterbrained about all things non-thesis. Like the time I put scissors in the pantry…
  • Mood swings. One moment I’m on top of the world because I finally finished a chapter, the next I discover my statistical software has turned part of my data into Latin. It swings in roundabouts.
  • I’m worried about getting my assignments in on time. Whether it be chapter drafts or the final thesis, it’s a constant battle to push through all the speed bumps in my way to get this thing done once and for all. As a result I have no days off and have now experienced pulling all-nighters on an assignment for the first time in my life.

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To those of you out there in the midst of writing up your PhD, I salute you. Do you relate to any of this?

For those of you about to embark on this phase, I sincerely hope your experience isn’t like mine. Some of my experiences of the write-up phase are a byproduct of my unforgiving timeline and huge thesis,* but the general consensus with other PhD students is that most people will experience these things to some degree at points throughout writing up. On that note, I can’t stress enough about how important it is to take care of and be kind to yourself. You are more than your PhD and more important than your PhD.

*I’m doing a Clinical PhD so my thesis should be only two thirds the scope and length of a standard PhD. As it is, one of my four studies would have been enough to substantiate a full PhD.

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Clinical Psychology placements done, forever!

Hi all,

I’m quite proud to say that a few months ago, I finished my last ever psychology placement. This means that I’ve now completed over 1500 hours worth of assessments, therapy sessions and everything else that makes up the day to day activities of a trainee psychologist. What is particularly special about reaching this milestone, is that the last time I thought I had,* I wasn’t able to celebrate or reflect on it because I had to rush overseas for a family emergency.

I think it’s really important to acknowledge milestones no matter their size and particularly PhD related ones because they are so few and far between. So presented with the opportunity, my placement buddy and I celebrated with party poppers, plastic winner medals and party horns! The photo we took of the two of us after we’d walked out of the clinic for the last time, grinning from ear to ear, is one that I will always love. It reminds me of all the steps that got me there, the people I met along the way, and all the ways in which I grew as a person and a therapist.

It’s hard to even begin to articulate how pivotal that final placement was for me. At the time I knew that it was changing how I wanted to operate as a person and as a therapist, and it continues to do so even now. I learned so much about how to be a therapist, not just the nuts and bolts of therapy, but clinical decision making, my strengths and weaknesses and how to craft my own style. I had the privilege of walking beside clients on their journeys and learning from them, my supervisor and colleagues how best to assist. I learned the value of process work and self-reflection, and most importantly, I learned that I could be a therapist. It remains the highlight of my degree and among one of my life’s experiences that I am most grateful for.

One of the main consequences of the whole experience is that my ideal career path now looks very different. I began an Honours degree in psychology thinking that I wanted to do a Clinical PhD. Ultimately though, I saw myself focusing on diagnostic assessments in the area of autism. Early on in my Clinical PhD I figured I’d split my career between research and clinical practice in autism assessment with perhaps a bit of therapy work with typically developing children thrown in the mix. Now, thanks to this last placement, I want to work as a psychologist in adult mental health while also doing autism assessments. It’s a funny turn of events for someone who had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do and why from a young age! I don’t have any regrets though.

What I wished I could have told myself at the start of my placement journey/found useful:

  • Read ‘The Making of a Therapist’
  • No placement is too far away
  • Ask students about which placements they have liked / disliked and why
  • If you feel you’ve missed out on developing core skills, approach the university with your concerns, it will be worth it.
  • Stay on top of your log-book
  • Do not feel obliged to make work for yourself at the start of a placement to meet your weekly hours. You will more than make up for them as your case load builds.
  • It will be hard. You will feel incompetent. This is a good thing, it means you’re learning and self-reflecting. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • If anyone says they are 100% confident / perfect as a therapist, they are lying! It’s that lack of complacency and self-review that makes a good therapist.
  • Make like a sponge and drink in whatever learning opportunities you can.
  • Share, hoard and organise resources you come across as you go along
  • Your supervisor is an ally – if you’re stuck, tell them why. Tell them what you’re working on. Ask for feedback. Give them feedback about what is and isn’t working.
  • Celebrate the milestones, the big and the small.
  • Develop a self-care routine – debriefing is a really important part of that, so is tea 🙂

    teapot

    Teapot. Image created by phdancer.wordpress.com

*If you’re understandably confused by how you can mistakenly think you’ve finished all your placements – follow the link to ‘Looking Back on 2015.’

 

 

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