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When I reflect on my experience in graduate school, I still sometimes wonder whose bright idea it was to design an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited internship requirement that expected students to uproot their lives for the position, all the while continuing to meet the demands of coursework and dissertation deadlines. Who in their right mind? This person had certainly never been a graduate student before! When I get over the audacity, I think about the things that I wish I would have known before approaching internship. Below is a compilation of a few key factors and steps in the process to provide you with an overview before you take the plunge.
For starters, I wish I really understood the extent of flexibility I would need to possess in order to navigate the country in pursuit of each milestone. Between graduate school, internship, and fellowship, I moved across four different states. Life and business strategist, Tony Robbins once wisely said,“ Stay committed to your decisions but stay flexible in your approach.” This could not hold more truth in the context of obtaining an internship. Although it depends on the opportunities available in the city you reside in, you will likely need to relocate for your internship. Therefore, it would behoove you to have an idea of what regions of the country you are open to living in.
Life and business strategist, Tony Robbins once wisely said,“ Stay committed to your decisions but stay flexible in your approach.” This could not hold more truth in the context of obtaining an internship.
Most importantly, you should think about the experiences you want to have while on internship. For example, do you feel that your training has gaps in serving rural populations? Veterans? Native Americans or other special groups? While flexibility is the name of the game, do not entirely neglect your personal preferences. Do you have family or friends in particular parts of the country that can offer support in your transition? Are there any limiting factors in your life that interfere with a big move? Are there particular regions that may make it challenging with your personal values or ideologies? These can all influence where you will apply and ultimately move to.
Moving is expensive but add internship application fees, travel fare for interviews, and tuition into the mix and you could have yourself a moderate financial crisis. Unfortunately, you will not know exactly what to expect, which makes it difficult to plan. You might submit a dozen applications and land only two interviews in nearby cities or you might submit a handful of applications and land an interview at every site across multiple parts of the country. I had one supervisor liken the experience to throwing spaghetti at the wall. It’s a total trial and error method that puts you in a position of only being able to plan for the worst case scenario. In the year or two preceding, consider methods to accrue flight points. Consider friends, family, or colleagues who may be willing to host you during your interviews. Each application decreases in price as you apply to more but this could still cost several hundred dollars by the end of it. Put aside some savings!
Choosing Your Sites
You will need to create an account with the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) to search the directory of available positions. Once comfortable with navigating the site, I recommend creating a spreadsheet with the sites you are considering. You should organize it by state/city, application deadline, rotations offered, requirements for the site/application, strengths and weaknesses for each site, and your own initial preference ranking. Deciding on the total number of internships will depend on the number of sites that appeal to you, your budget, and the time you have to devote towards applications. Contrary to what you may think, applying to more than 16 sites does not statistically increase your chances of matching, according to APPIC experts. Keep in mind that there are a number of listervs that offer match news and the APA website has a wealth of informational resources including but not limited to, topics such as: Cities with the greatest competition, balancing your application list to include competitive and “safety” sites, issues regarding the current match imbalance, and using match prep services.
Submitting Your Application
By the time you are prepared to start your applications, you will have a curriculum vitae for reference of your experience and a good record of your practicum training hours. These will be your kryptonite as the generic application will require you to break your hours down to a science. You will be asked to write several essays (e.g. diversity essay, clinical orientation statement), as well as a personal statement. Think deeply about the personal experience you will share but avoid the tendency to give a chronology of your life. Similarly, do not simply restate your CV. It should go without saying that over-sharing or providing controversial information should be avoided. If you are unsure of what may be too much, consult your advisor(s). Your essays should be reviewed by a least two mentors and any colleagues who hold acumen in editing. Once the generic pieces have been completed, you will need to check if your site requires any additional materials. If not, you’re ready- hit submit!
Congratulations, you have landed an interview! There is no stranger feeling than the mixed emotions that accompany your new found self-worth, including relief, excitement, and intense anxiety, all bundled into one party ball! Arrange your travel and start to get organized. If you haven’t already taken extensive notes on the site, now is the time. Get to know the staff and faculty you will be meeting . Have a list of questions ready to go, and brush up on your DSM 5. My interviews were mostly conversational but I had heard through the rumor mill of a few sites that enjoyed quizzing as an interview tactic. Once you have interviewed, take the time to reflect on the experience. Remember, you are interviewing the site as well. Consider the rank order you might use for each site without factoring how they might rank you. As many of your advisors will tell you, playing the game of mind reading and ranking your list based on how you feel the site perceived you is a dubious game. Be honest with yourself about how much of a fit the site is and rank accordingly.
The day you and all of your equally exhausted colleagues have been waiting for has arrived. If you’re anything like me, I needed space from my classmates and time to myself in a calm environment in the days preceding Match. Consider the way in which you respond to stress and prepare yourself to be in the be in the best emotional position as you get closer to the day. Some people like to commiserate, spending more time with their peers in unified support. Some people retreat; others enjoy keeping active. You decide. Match results are typically posted on the APPIC site but you will also be emailed and will likely be called by the training director of the program you matched to as well. Rejoice and relax! Take some time to celebrate and give recognition to the accomplishment. Soon enough you’ll have to start making plans to move so take the next month or two to really let it seep in. If you did not match, this is also the time to celebrate! You have worked just as hard as everyone else and you deserve that acknowledgement and time to regroup. The good news is that you have gone through this once before and will have most of your materials together when you re-apply. Also know that you are not alone. There is a HUGE internship imbalance and match statistics are at an all-time low. Find the right support whether it is among your advisors or other peers who did not match.
Take some time to celebrate and give recognition to the accomplishment.
Above all else, set a real expectation that this is a slow and steady process that starts with graduate school as you begin to build your CV. The development of your training creates the story for your application, which is pretty cool if you think about it. While it is a stressful process, it is achievable. In the meantime, do let me know if you ever figure out who this ‘Internship Creator’ is and we can use the guerrilla tactics that were fine tuned in the process to collectively take them down!