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Guest Post! A Week in the Life of a School Psych Grad Student

One of the fun things about being a grown up school psychologist is that I get to interact with interns, prospective grad students, grad students in school psych, and newbies. I get emails from people all over the world inquiring what the profession is like, and what grad school is like. I have too much distance to really write about grad school at UC Berkeley (I think my amygdala is still holding on to the bad parts and my hippocampus remembers only the really golden moments). I loved my program, but sometimes I have PTSD being back in the city of Berkeley. As I walk to a local restaurant, I imagine a professor hopping out from the bushes and asking me to collect more data and re-write all the chapters my dissertation and I have a panic attack.

So, to get a more authentic perspective, I asked a student from my alma matter, Leo White, to write a little sumthin’ sumthin’ about what it is like in a Ph.D. grad school program in school psych. Leo also has a blog, which is not exclusively school psychy, but has some great posts about life in grad school. Plus I think there’s some interesting bike posts because he’s like a freaky “I’m going to bike to Marin County 30 miles away today!” kind of person. And these people fascinate me because I would only do that if someone was chasing me and a bike was my only mode of transit.

Before I post Leo’s guest post, I have to say the following:
1) I have deep concerns about Leo’s caffeine intake.
2) I think he has really captured the chaos of balancing academics and practice, and feel like this is good prep for balancing the roles in the actual job; and
3) I wish Leo was my intern. I can always use a good “Sweetie-get-off-the-roof-coaxer” in my life.

Without further ado, I give you Leo:

Rebecca and I talked briefly about me writing a guest post as a current School Psychology student. Intimidated about having for follow Rebecca’s witty and informative posts, I hesitated. Nonetheless, I think this type of post would have been helpful for me a few years ago as a prospective student, so here goes…

As a grad student at Berkeley, each step of my school psychology program has been starkly different from the last. My first year was almost exclusively academic—coursework, term papers, attending talks from visiting professors, and sitting on committees that I did not completely understand. Next year, my focus was much more applied—serving internships for consultation (i.e., working collaboratively with teachers to work through student issues) and assessment (to use Rebecca’s term, Testival Time).

Now in my third year, I want to share my latest week with you.


Monday: The internship site, a non-public school setting for emotionally and behaviorally challenged students where I work as a clinician, is off today. This day off of work means I can put in some much-needed time studying for my qualifying exam*, which is less than three months away. So, I find my way to a coffee shop with my headphones (my chatter/music/lady-talking-on-her-cell-phone-cancelling headphones) and I plug away. Unfortunately, the day felt so much like Sunday that I almost forgot to read for my classes tomorrow. As a result, I switched gears and reviewed my class-assigned readings over dinner.

Tuesday: In my program, we have Super Tuesdays, a day devoted to all things Berkeley School Psychology. First, I finished my readings before classes. Then, from nine to noon, I attended class with my four cohort members. We discussed termination with clients and group therapy. Some of our discussions applied to my internship, and some did not. The remainder of the day was spent with another student creating a survey for a local high school; I am stoked, because my advisor is letting me use some of my own measurement scales about student engagement and motivation on his survey**. I also met with my advisor to review my progress on my reading list for my qualifying exams. Despite his strong feedback, I’m still freaked out. So I go back to the coffee shop to study.

Wednesday: Today, I was back at my internship. My day consisted of meeting with clients, most of whom wanted no business meeting with me. On the positive side, today was a calm day, so there are no physical restraints or fights. I am able to test of student’s cognitive functioning, and I completed the requisite paperwork that accompanies working at a non-public school (AB3632, anyone?). The back half the day is full of clinician meetings (again some of which are helpful, and some of which are not). During unhelpful sessions, I scribble notes about my qualifying exams on the borders of my papers.

Thursday: In my work with my clients, rapport can be a rare commodity, and so I strive for it anyway possible—even if that means driving a client and his Grandmother to San Leandro for a court date. So rather than going to the non-public school, I am working as a taxi driver/social worker/clinician. The court date goes well, and afterward I have a really productive meeting with the client, his grandmother, and his probation officer (Success!). I come back to the school for individual supervision with my clinical supervisor. The meeting is interrupted, because two students have managed to get on the roof of the school. I go outside with another intern to cajole these kids down to solid ground. Unfortunately, this was not a topic covered on Super Tuesday.

Friday: I have no internship on Friday, which means I can work on a publication today. My advisor and I are writing about the relationship between ethnic identity and academic achievement—interesting but complex stuff. After a few hours of writing, deleting, and re-writing, I realize that I haven’t read for my qualifying exam since Wednesday. I grab the headphones, order a mocha, and get back to the grindstone.

[… and close scene]

Hopefully, I’ve been able to show that my days and efforts are inherently splintered. We are trained as scientist-practitioners, which means that I have applied and research responsibilities. Half of my week is direct contact with students, and the other half is academic (i.e., training, reading, and writing). The splintered-ness can be stressful, but all told, the practice informs my research, and vice versa. I don’t always know what I’m doing, but the training, supervision, and experience are heading me down the road toward competence (I think!).

*The qualifying exam, also known as Orals, is the last big hurdle before I can begin work on my dissertation. The qualifying exam consists of four professors having a three-hour discussion over your research areas of interest.
**Nerd alert, I know. To be clear, data or the prospect of getting data is a graduate school victory, a dance-worthy victory.

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Comments on Guest Post! A Week in the Life of a School Psych Grad Student

  1. Tanya says:

    I thought it was interesting to read the difference between the phd program and my ed.s program but nice to see some similarities.

  2. Thanks to both of you for the post! I am glad that your guest, Leo, was a guy; as I have said before, there just isn't enough testosterone in this profession (probably something to do with the fact that much of the focus is on feelings and emotions-whatever), nevertheless, I was pleased to see my peeps represent. I can't wait to coax my own kiddos/poppits/patients off roofs some day (did I really just say that?).

  3. Joy says:

    Thanks for sharing. It's nice to read a post from a fellow grad student.

  4. Nick Daniels says:

    Thanks for the information. As a specialist level school psychologist it is interesting to compare and contrast different programs. I have created a site for perspective school psych student to discover programs and get advice on the field of school psychology Again, thanks for the awesome content on this blog.

  5. Leo says:

    Hello! I don't know if you even check this blog anymore, but thought I'd give it a shot nonetheless!

    I was wondering if I could pick your brain with a few questions about UCB's school psych PhD program. I've heard that, while UCB's SP program is excellent, they do not allow for APA-accredited internships, which may significantly impact future opportunities in the field. Do you have any thoughts or insights with this?

    With Thanks,

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