Noba Blog

For Educators: Starting up a Low-Budget Psychology Lab

July 1, 2020

By Jovana Vukovic

Ideas for educators on how to start up a lab without any funds and provide research opportunities for undergraduate students

An image depicting gears that are interlocked that contain various items inside them. The items include: a puzzle piece, a magnifying glass, a pie chart, a dartboard with an arrow, a building, a light bulb, a graph, payment cards, calendar, briefcase, people, building blocks, check-off list, and a bar chart.

Providing research opportunities for students at the beginning of their undergraduate studies is valuable in preparing them for their future careers. These opportunities expose the students to the various aspects of conducting psychological research, such as ethical conduct in research, writing IRB forms, conducting literature searches, properly filing consent protocols, collecting and storing data, working with participants in the lab, contributing to data analysis and writeup, and the peer-review process. At the very least, students may gain transferable skills while testing out the grounds and deciding whether they would like to continue to pursue psychology. At best, they will be motivated and prepared to run their own studies in the future.

Should you find yourself in a teaching-focused faculty position, you may be interested in providing these research opportunities for students, however, teaching-focused positions may require of you to teach five or six classes per semester. This would leave very little time for you to focus on conducting and supervising research. Other teaching positions may be temporary or seasonal, and as such, institutional access to research activity may be limited. Indeed, many institutions do not expect temporary professors to conduct research. Alternatively, you may be starting out in your new tenure-track position, but you have no current funding for your lab. In any case, whether you are adjuncting or starting up your lab at an R1 University, your time and budget are likely very limited. This article is for the educators who despite significant energetic and budget constraints, want some ideas about how to get started with research activities for undergraduate students. 

Here are some tips to get your students involved in undergraduate research.

1. Start with one step at a time and be kind to yourself in the process.

Arguably, the safest place to start is with survey research. Surveys could be designed to be simple and low in cost. If you would like to explore your research agenda, you may wish to allow students to come up with their own research ideas. Working with a few students one-on-one during office hours may allow you to flesh out the literature on the topic, formulate hypotheses and design the method. Some institutions do not grant access to larger search engines such as PsychINFO or Web of Science. A good way to come around that is to use open source libraries like Kopernio and Unpaywall ( Alternatively, privately messaging authors via ResarchGate ( is a great way to get access to published studies or even unpublished proofs that you may not have access to otherwise. It is important to remember that the creative process of coming up with research ideas may take more time than anticipated. It is easy to get stressed out and fall trap to a version of the planning fallacy if this process is forced. Should there be an overturn in the student researchers in the meantime, that’s okay.

Here’s a picture of students working on conducting their own study in a very low-budget lab:

Broward College students Kristopher Jean-Jerome and Dabniel Padin are working on the Qualtrics link for their survey about students’ perceptions of safety on campus. The idea came about through conversation in regular lab meetings, and the students conceptualized and designed the study with light supervision. They conducted thorough literature searches, met with librarians, synthesized the literature on the topic, and wrote and submitted an IRB proposal. The student researchers are eagerly awaiting data collection and analysis, with plans to present their findings at a conference. [Image used with the permission of the author].

2. Consider different options for collecting survey data.

Should you want your data to be automatically stored on a spreadsheet, SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics are great options to put the surveys online, and you don’t need a lab space to run these studies. However, if there are no funds for these online survey options, you may go back to the traditional paper-pen surveys and potentially collect data in the classroom after IRB approval. Often, paper and pen data may need to be stored in a locked cabinet in a locked room on campus as per IRB approval. Additionally, all researchers will require PHRPP (!/) certification before the start of data collection. You may have to plan to pay for this out of pocket ($40 per researcher at the moment). If your institution does not have an IRB Board, you may have to consult with the Dean and potentially seek IRB approval from a nearby institution. The first step may be to contact colleagues who have active lab programs and inquire about protocols.

3. SOTL studies may not require lab space.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) studies allow professors to focus on testing out teaching interventions. These studies may be kept low budget as you may not need a space for these. For example, you may want to test out whether a group activity increases student engagement and achievement by tracking grades pre- and post-intervention. SOTL journals may be moving toward accepting more objective measures of outcome variables. You may find this link useful in planning for a SOTL study:

4. Join the open science replication movement.

Psychological Science Accelerator – is an organization that was started by one faculty member and has grown to a worldwide network of researchers whose mission is to make science better, more transparent and inclusive. Some of these large-scale replication studies may not require lab space and are already set up for you and your students to join. Membership is free but intellectual contributions within a year are required. Becoming a member of PsyAccelerator may keep you in the loop and provide research opportunities for your lab.

5. Preregistration may be your friend.

Along with the open science movement, preregistration ( of studies is becoming common. A benefit of preregistering your studies is transparency, peer-review before data collection, and opportunities for you and your students to publish your work regardless of whether the data support your theory-driven hypothesis. Although not without its critics, there is a case to be made for improving psychological science via preregistration (see Lakens, 2019).

6. Consider joining a National or International Honors Society for your Institution.

By joining Psy Chi ( or Psy Beta ( you may be able to contribute to large scale data collection for studies in progress. If your institution is a chapter of Psi Chi or Psy Beta, you may want to approach the Primary Advisor to learn more about how your students could get involved in these research activities. Alternatively, you may apply to open a chapter at your institution. Please note that you may have to pay for membership out of pocket.

7. Data analysis software shouldn’t cost a paycheck or three.

a. If you haven’t been able to get SPSS downloaded onto your work computer due to the high licensing costs or institutional software restrictions, do not despair. A great option is the program r, and it is available in many downloadable forms, or even online (see You may learn how to use it by completing an online course (such as or taking a course via Linkedin Learning should your institution subscribe to it. In any case, this could be a fun lab activity for the whole group, and you could learn along with your students. Please keep in mind that you may not be able to use your own computer to analyze data as per IRB approvals. As such, you may need to secure access to a computer at your institution.

b. If you have qualitative data, open source programs similar to nVivo include AQUAD 7 (, GATE (, CAT ( and RQDA ( Some of these have tutorials on how to get started so you’ll need to spend some time figuring out which one best suits your needs. Many of these programs were designed by fellow faculty who donated their time and expertise in support of equity.

Three students sitting facing each other at a desk with laptops in front of them laughing
In conclusion, if you are strapped for time and money, you may wish to explore some of the ideas presented above if you are interested in providing research opportunities for your undergraduate students.


Lakens, D. (2019). The Value of Preregistration for Psychological Science: A Conceptual Analysis. Retrieved from 10.31234/


Jovana Vukovic, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida - one of the nation’s most diverse colleges, and a distinguished institution in terms of granting degrees to minority students. Jovana is passionate about bringing research opportunities to students and helping students achieve their career goals. You can contact Dr. Vukovic here: [email protected]

Formative Feedback on Online Teaching: Tools for Pandemic Pedagogy (i.e., Pandemigogy)

April 29, 2020

By Virginia L. Byrne and Alice E. Donlan

The move to remote, online teaching and learning has been challenging and stressful for all of us. These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emails, Zoom meetings, and the frantic design of remote courses that provide students with what they need to continue their learning journey for the semester. During this time, there has been a flood of resources on how to start teaching online. While some of these resources have been tremendous (particularly the Chronicle of Higher Education posts by Flowers Darby and Jeremy W. Newton’s earlier Noba post), these pieces reinforce that what we are doing isn’t online teaching or distance education, it’s pandemic teaching (i.e., pandemigogy).

While these resources have helped us get online, not every online teaching tip and trick will fit your discipline, your class, or your students. No article or teaching guide is a panacea for supporting your students as they navigate the daily stress of the pandemic. Which is why we recommend, in the next week or two, to ask your students for feedback.

A young woman sits a computer
In times of uncertainty and learning a new skill (i.e., teaching online), just-in-time feedback is essential (e.g., Hattie & Timperlay, 2007). Formative feedback provides instructors with insights into what is working and what could be improved in the course. Unlike end-of-semester student evaluations, asking students for formative feedback is helpful because instructors can identify and address issues to make the class better now. Many instructors we have spoken to are checking in with their students about what’s working and not working, some are even assigning a “traffic light” or “stoplight” reflection as an exit ticket. A stoplight reflection is when students reflect on one thing that is going well in the course, one aspect that could be improved, and one thing that isn’t going well.

While these open-ended writing reflections are great, instructors often need more specific feedback on how the course is going. That’s why we designed the Mid-Semester Evaluation of College Teaching (MSECT).

A young woman sitting at a computer
We designed, piloted, and validated an evidence-based formative feedback tool that you can use in your remote, online course this semester, and in face-to-face courses in the future. The Mid-Semester Evaluation of College Teaching (MSECT) is a brief, evidence-based formative evaluation tool for faculty to gather anonymous feedback from students across the 4 dimensions of effective teaching established in the Fearless Teaching Framework: inclusive Climate, life-relevant Content, engaging teaching Practices, and fair Assessments.
Four puzzle pieces which read "Climate, Content, Practice and Assessment"
The Fearless Teaching Network. Image used with the permission of the authors.

A psychometric validation of the MSECT instrument for online teaching (i.e., the MSECT-O) will be published in the June 2020 volume of the Online Learning Journal. Using the MSECT-O, faculty can identify what is working and what could be improved before end-of-semester evaluations are sent out. This gives faculty time to improve the student experience and resolve issues right away.

The MSECT-O is a 12-item online survey that gathers mid-semester feedback on the four pieces of teaching effectiveness identified by the Fearless Teaching Framework.


1. My instructor creates an online classroom that is supportive for learning.

2. My instructor makes the class accessible to students with many different needs.

3. My instructor creates an inclusive learning environment where everyone is welcome.


4. The content in this course is relevant to me academically, personally, and/or professionally.

5. The instructor helps make the content of this course interesting.

6. I have the prior knowledge necessary to be successful in this course.


7. During online classes, this course includes in-class activities other than lecture.

8. My instructor helps me understand new content by connecting it to things I already understand.

9. My instructor motivates me to put effort into the course.


10. The assessments (e.g., quizzes, exams, papers) in this course are graded fairly.

11. My instructor provides me with timely feedback on my work.

12. The expectations for the assignments are clear.

We encourage instructors to use the MSECT-O items to gather formative feedback from students. In combination with open-answer items, such as the stoplight activity, instructors can identify areas for improvement and learn more about what students are needing during these stressful times.

After students complete the MSECT-O survey, block some time to read their feedback during a time when you won’t be rushed or stressed. Reading student feedback can be difficult and students might write feedback that is painful to read. Make sure to take care of yourself as you digest this feedback and remember that, to many students, you may be the first instructor to ask them for their thoughts on how the college is handling the pandemic crisis. Parse out what feedback is for you and what feedback is just them needing to vent.

Middle aged woman with a computer and a coffee
When you have synthesized their feedback on the course, send out a message -- or better yet, a video of you! -- to your class. Thank them for their feedback and the time they took to share with you. Let them know that you hear them and their concerns about the university’s responses. Then clarify what aspects of the feedback you will incorporate and which aspects you are unable to incorporate this semester. Being transparent about what you will and will not do confirms that you did, in fact, read their feedback and you are taking it seriously. Finally, celebrate the wins. This semester has been tough for you and your students. Celebrate the things that are going well. Thank you for all that you do for your students.

                   Remember to Celebrate What’s Going Well!


Virginia L. Byrne, Ph.D., researches climate and equity in online and technology-enhanced learning experiences at the University of Maryland, College Park. Virginia's work focuses on the online teaching practices can promote more meaningful online conversations and civic engagement. She earned her Ph.D. in Technology, Learning and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. Reach out at or you can follow her on Twitter at @virginialbyrne and Instagram at @dr.virginiabyrne

Alice E. Donlan, Ph.D., is the Director of Research at the University of Maryland’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center. Alice leads the research, evaluation, and assessment efforts at the TLTC, and collaborates with faculty and programs across campus to understand ways to improve teaching and learning outcomes. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development with a specialization in Educational Psychology and a certificate in Measurement, Statistics, and Evaluation at the University of Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter at @alicedonlan

Teaching through Crisis: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom During the COVID-19 Calamity

March 17, 2020

By Jeremy W. Newton


Image depicting the COVID-19 Virus
The world is gripped by crisis – and news of the ongoing Corona Virus (COVID-19) situation is changing hour by hour. In between the stories of panic and despair, there are moments of hope, whether it be Italians serenading each other from their apartment balconies to help alleviate the stress of the times, or news of successful virus tracking and management coming from South Korea. Teaching and learning in higher education during this crisis can be an additional success story with appropriate strategy employment. It is both comforting and exciting to see the creation of so many new social media groups of college instructors working together to take on their new teaching situations- hopefully you’ve found a few and are using the advice to enhance your courses as we head into these challenging times.

There are any number of resources now available to support your transition to online teaching. This post is not about that – I encourage you to look elsewhere for the technical support you might need to support your transition. This post is focused on teaching while the world is in crisis and insuring that we put our best foot forward. There is something to be said for promoting normalcy, and even though it is an adverse health risk to share the same classroom as our students – the continuation of teaching our courses allow us all to follow a schedule and pattern that is familiar, and that familiarity may contribute to at least some sense of calm during the collective health crisis of our lifetime. Remember- almost all memorable events for students have been cancelled, whether it be March Madness, spring academic honors celebration, many student academic conferences, concert experiences such as Coachella, and at some universities - entire graduation ceremonies. The virtual classroom may be the only place where normalcy and routine may occur in a college student’s life. With that in mind, please consider the following as you overhaul your class curriculum for the online environment.

Don’t exacerbate your students’ stress. I know that you’ve heard that online courses are stereotyped as being easier than their face to face counterparts. There’s no need to try to make the class more rigorous than what you were originally planning. In normal situations students choose to take online classes. The COVID-19 situation has been thrust upon all of us, including students that have no interest in taking courses online. We have to transition those students into this new environment, even though they never intended to take classes.

Do check in with students- these are unique and trying times. Remind them of their options when it comes to mental health services- Your university should have given you updates on these situations as you headed into closure. If it not immediately clear – search for it in your email. My university has batched support emails at various junctures as this process has unfolded, and so there’s a good chance you’ll find the information you need buried in your inbox. Counseling services may be in a unique situation given the stress levels of your college community, so check in with those services to see if there have been any changes to their availability.

Image of two people video chatting using a computer and web camera

Keep your class changes simple. There will be temptation, of course, to use all of the bells and whistles that technology has to offer. If teaching online has not been a focus of your career, consider how your best teaching strategies, idea creation moments, and classroom information might translate to the online environment. Does it? Great, then do so using your basic understanding of the technological platform available to you. Now is not the time to radically change the presentation of your course materials. A radical shift in teaching strategy would be more than just suddenly overhauling your course mid-stream, it would be doing so in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, while also having to completely change the learning environment of the student against their will. After all – your class has likely reached a certain level of normalcy and routine at this point, particularly if you follow a typical spring semester schedule– an attempt should be made to preserve that normalcy for the sake of the routine of your students. I’ll note that those of you on the quarter system may be in a different situation altogether – perhaps changes can be more intentional if you are at or near the beginning of your teaching calendar.

Image of empty teal seats on the dais in a classroom

Do take advantage of this once in a lifetime teaching opportunity. Even as we live through the anxiety created by this pandemic, the situation also presents us with unique learning opportunities. You can ask your students to share their stories about living through this crisis, for instance – how might they be strategizing to be less anxious in the face of COVID-19? Are there stories of resilience in the face of certain quarantine? How are individuals impacted by social distancing measures? Perhaps your students are already in the process of collecting data on some aspect of human behavior as part of a class project or senior thesis. Is there another dimension of study created by this unique situation that a student might incorporate into their research? Are there class projects that might be expanded or altered in a way to offer coverage of the pandemic? The information overload that comes with the coronavirus crisis is palpable. Help your students make sense of it. There is much to learn here. Why not seize this opportunity to do so?

Be kind, supportive, and hopeful. Your students have already invested much of their time into this semester, and now they face a crisis situation unparalleled by anything that any of us have seen before. Keep an open mind and heart when students approach you about accommodating unique situations. Certainly, you want to keep your course interesting and challenging – but work to support the resilience in your students, rather than shut them down and out of success in your virtual classroom. Sometimes you can be the example of resilience your students might need to be successful in the classroom and beyond.

Though it may not always seem this way, there is much potential opportunity in the face of adversity. As we work to overcome this crisis, look for ways to enhance your teaching experience while preserving the routine that you have already established with your students. I wish you all the best of luck as you try to create a successful learning situation for your students, even as we don’t yet know how the COVID-19 situation will resolve in the months to come.

An image of a white crocus flower springing forth out of the ground


Jeremy W. Newton, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, about 56 miles from Kirkland, Washington- arguably the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. He was trained at the University of California, Davis as an experimental psychologist with expertise on stress and memory, and more recently has focused his studies on the scholarship of teaching and learning, with emphasis on success in introductory psychology. You can follow him on twitter at @newtpsyc

Facing a tough crowd: Holding a mini conference to improve research communication skills

January 15, 2020

By Rodney Schmaltz

A closeup image of a microphone
When I tell students in my senior seminar course that they will be presenting demonstrations based on their research to junior high students from an inner-city school, the reactions mirror most of the five stages of grief. First, there is denial, then anger, bargaining (a lot of bargaining) and finally, when I fully explain why they are doing this, acceptance.

The students in this course are all involved in research, either as part of the Honors program or as an independent study project. Over the years I have been teaching this course, I noticed that students are very good at explaining their research project but lack the ability to connect the project to broader themes or explain clearly why the research matters at a societal level. It’s not a lack of understanding per se, but rather an inability to frame information in a way that is accessible to people outside of their field. In a sense, students were not able to give the “elevator pitch” of their research. Those who are well versed in research should be able to present information clearly to peers at a conference and should also have the ability to translate this information such that anyone from grandparents to younger people will understand it.

To help my students develop these skills, I invite a class of junior high students to attend a mini conference that is hosted by my class at the end of the term. The students in my course are assigned to create a short five to eight minute demonstration that highlights a key concept from their research. The demonstration does not have to be specifically about the hypothesis they are testing, rather it has to be something that will help a younger student understand the area of research in general. For example, one of the students in my class was studying brain damage and visual-spatial neglect. This is a complicated topic, but she created a demonstration that was highly engaging for the junior high students and provided them some insight into her research. She had the students wear glasses that adjusted their vision similar to a person with spatial neglect, and then asked them to throw balls at a target. If they were able to hit the target a certain number of times, they won candy.

The students in my class have said that this exercise helped them think differently about their research and to be more confident about discussing and presenting their work. I’ve had more than a few students say that conferences don’t seem as intimidating after you have been faced with 60 junior high students.

A zoomed out image of a speaker on stage and the audience
It’s incredibly rewarding to see how engaged the junior high students are, and how the students in my class rise to the occasion and are able to take a complex topic and make it meaningful for a younger audience This has also been a great way to engage the community. I provide the junior high students with transit passes, as well as a pizza lunch. The event is sponsored by a local company that was founded by a former student at our university. I encourage instructors to look at potential corporate collaborations to facilitate events such as this.


Rodney Schmaltz is an Associate Professor of Psychology at MacEwan University. His research focuses on pseudoscientific thinking, with an emphasis on strategies to promote and teach scientific skepticism. To see Dr. Schmaltz’s TEDx talk on empathy and skepticism, see

Equity in the Classroom

January 9, 2020

By Deepti Karkhanis and Rika Meyer

As instructors, we are always looking for ways to achieve equity. In other words, instructors strive to provide equal opportunities for success to their students. This can be achieved through accessible course design, thoughtful and equitable practices, and academic resources. However, sometimes it can be overwhelming to start putting equitable practices into action. Therefore, we decided to put together some clear, tangible tools you could use today to start making changes and promote educational equity in your classroom and at your institution.

Calling on students

In psychology classes, we cover many topics that personally relate to everyone. Instructors typically ask students to apply what they learn in class to their life and pull examples from their lives to help them understand a concept. I think this is a great way to show the utility of what we learn in class. However, we need to be mindful of practicing inclusion in a way that it doesn’t hamper student morale. To implement this, I don’t call on my students by name when I ask questions to the class. I do this because when instructors do this, it usually immediately increases anxiety in the student that is called on. This doesn’t always mean I have the same students speaking up in class. I think you can continuously work on the classroom environment to enable students to feel comfortable speaking up. For the students who never speak up in class, I already have students type/write down their responses that I can immediately see on my iPad in class. Therefore, I can give them a voice by bringing up points not made by the students who already willingly shared in front of the class.

About a year ago, one of my international students came to my office hours and thanked me for that practice. She said that the academic environment she was used to was not one where there is a lot of discussion, so the transition to a classroom where it was split into lecture/activities/discussions each class, she was intimidated with speaking up. However, in small group discussions, she participated in lively discussions and was one of the most engaged students in the classroom. Each student “participates” differently, who are we to say that ‘raising your hand’ means engaged?

An image of colorful paperclips
For instance, one way that equitable class participation can be practiced such that each student is given an opportunity to share their idea and/or ask a question is the “paperclip” method. Provide each student with two or three paperclips at the start of class that they can use as talking chips. Each time a student contributes to the discussion and/or asks a question, they turn in a clip with the goal being that all students use up their clips. This strategy encourages students who tend to monopolize classroom participation to save their clips for their most thoughtful questions and comments. One could also extend this method into participation notecards, which less vocal or shy students can turn in at the end of the class or even pass it down during class so the instructor can read out their thoughts and/or questions.

Re-thinking your late-work policy

An image of an hourglass and a clock
Why do we have late policies? Instructors will usually say, “To teach them the importance of turning things in on time,” or “To teach self-reliance.” We agree that those are important skills to learn. However, many students of color face more challenges and daily hassles compared to a typical student. For example, having to stay home to care for a sick child, working a full-time job while being a full-time student, or having to take two buses to school for 2 hours instead of driving 30 minutes to campus. Non-traditional students also have additional challenges. For example, an older, non-traditional student may be writing a paper for the first time in 30 years. Perhaps they may need more time for an assignment like that. These types of anecdotes made me re-think my late policies. To address this, one can have students come and speak to the instructor if they need an extension before the due date comes. This encourages students to seek the help they need and allows me to get to know them better. One could also consider using a late-work contract for paper submissions wherein a student commits to turning in the work on a later date so that as an instructor you are not stressing about missed grading. Or even perhaps turn the writing assignment into an opportunity to learn writing (see Learning Writing by Rewriting blog post on Noba).

Guest speakers and videos should represent professionals of color.

Several of us resort to a combination of lecture and activity when teaching a course. From both the UDL and equity perspective, it is a good idea to show short videos during class time to help further explain the concept(s) being taught. When choosing videos to show, be mindful to look for speakers that are coming from different backgrounds, nationality, and even accents. It allows for students to be receptive of professionals from other parts of the world. It also helps validate and motivate students of color in our classrooms to see themselves at higher posts in the field. On the same lines, it is a good idea to invite speakers (when possible) to present research or real-life content to the class. Again, looking for speakers in the community, who are inspirational and belong to marginalized sections of the society can help promote educational equity.

Normalizing failure.

A hand holing a piece of paper with the words "I can't" written on it and a pair of scissors in the other hand cutting the piece of paper.
When striving for educational equity, it is necessary to create an environment when it is safe to fail. Life is already very demanding and stressful for our students, and adding to that stress level doesn’t help learning. Taking out time to pause and share people’s failures and what they learned from it, is a good way to normalize and neutralize it. As their instructor, providing personal anecdotes about failing reminds the students that no one is perfect, and that failure can be seen as an opportunity to grow. Is it a good idea to celebrate failure? Yes, absolutely! If a class bombed a group discussion, it is a good idea to focus on the 1-2 positive points made rather than focusing on what students got incorrect. The misconception(s) can be corrected during lecture and/or future assignment.

Open Educational Resources

Mindfully selecting and using textbooks that are OER, and monitoring the costs of the textbooks assigned by our colleagues can help increase access to content among students. There are several repositories where instructors can find the various OER texts in psychology. For e.g., Open Textbook Library

Bringing snacks and water to class, especially during test days

Food insecurity is a growing problem in the college student population. Although many campuses have been working towards reducing this insecurity with food banks and the availability of affordable food, students are still coming to class hungry. Bringing healthy snacks (e.g., fruit, crackers), particularly on test days, not only helps to address this issue in the classroom, but also helps to create an environment where students feel like they are cared for and understood. One can also incorporate class activities that involve healthy. For instance, I demonstrate the ‘schedules of reinforcement’ when teaching the Conditioning and Learning Noba Module by bringing in protein/cereal bars to reinforce class participation behavior.

Equity can be a hard goal to achieve in the classroom without actively critiquing your syllabus, activities, and assignments. Is your syllabus demonstrating inequity to begin with? What are ways you can make your class as a whole equitable? Are we creating a welcoming and inclusive learning environment? These are ongoing challenges we should tackle as instructors. Some instructors may ask: “Am I making my class too easy?”, “Am I teaching them the skills necessary to be successful professionals?” While these are all questions we should be asking, at the same time, we should also be asking, “Are we creating barriers to learning?”, and strive instead to make learning fun and accessible to all.

A poster that reads "Learning is fun when" Providing these responses: "You can choose when you learn", “you love what you do”, “it is fun to fail”, “the environment is inspiring”, “you feel safe”, “you are appreciated for who you are”, “it becomes a healthy addiction”.
Image Credit: Sharkey134~enwiki. Describes the different conditions necessary for learning to be fun. This poster was created by the Fun Academy to illustrate the Fun Learning philosophy.


Deepti Karkhanis is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Bellevue College, WA. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Psychology from Delhi University in India, and her Doctoral degree in Applied Developmental Psychology from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. She is a developmentalist whose teaching interests include Lifespan psychology, General psychology, Cross-cultural psychology and Positive psychology. Dr. Karkhanis explores a variety of pedagogical topics such as collaborative testing, student-teacher rapport, positive psychology in classroom curriculum, and teacher training on social justice and educational equity.

Rika Meyer is an Assistant Professor in the Child and Adolescent Development Department at California State University, Northridge. She received her BA in Psychology from UCLA and her MA and Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She currently teaches Developmental Impacts of Abuse and Neglect and Helping Children Cope with Medical Environments. Her research interests include chronic pain and stress in children, adolescents, and their families, and ways to promote academic success from childhood to emerging adulthood.

How to Read Scientific Papers

November 13, 2019

By Noah Jacobson and Robert Biswas-Diener

Scrabble tiles spelling "Research" on a pile of other Scrabble tiles
Although you undoubtedly learned the basics of the scientific method in primary school, you probably don’t have tons of experience reading scientific articles published in professional journals. These articles can be intimidating, tedious, and downright confusing. It can be easy to get lost amidst fancy figures, daunting statistics, and technical vocabulary. The key to navigating the tough terrain of scientific articles is to understand their various parts and to approach reading them in a systematic way.

Fortunately, the blueprint of a psychological research article is relatively universal. With the exception of a few specific types of articles, such as literature reviews and meta analyses, psychology articles consist of five basic sections: an abstract, introduction, methods, results, and conclusion/discussion. Below, I will explain each of these parts. Learning this universal structure lends itself well to clearing up confusion and understanding these technical articles.

Parts of an article


The abstract of an article isa simple summary of the entire article. It is usually a single paragraph long and appears right at the beginning, just after the list of article authors. Abstracts generally describe the topic in which the researchers are interested, such as prejudice or the way children learn to read. In just a few sentences, the abstract provides an overview of the study (or studies) that the researchers conducted and a summary of their main findings. Abstracts are helpful in that they contain a snapshot of everything you need to know about the study in order to determine whether you want to read the study in greater depth. This can save valuable time if you are evaluating a number of articles for their potential inclusion in a term paper.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to write a paper on the links between health and happiness. You search several databases for key terms and find dozens of articles on the topic. You cannot, of course, read all of these papers. There simply isn’t time. Instead, you can review abstracts to get a better sense of those that might be the most relevant for your paper. You might be able to exclude, for example, research on children because that is too niche for your paper. You might focus, instead, on those papers that deal specifically with the immune system or those that talk specifically about positive emotions. Abstracts help you preview and organize your approach to curating and synthesizing research.


Psychological research papers begin with an introduction. You can think of the introduction as the “why” portion of the paper. That is, the introduction places the current research in the context of past research. This is called a “literature review” and researchers often spend a couple pages describing the findings of previous research and supplying references for these earlier studies. This helps researchers make a case for why their current research is relevant and important. They might argue that their research helps fill in a gap in our existing knowledge, or adds new evidence to support a theory, or helps clear up a confusion created by contradictory results from earlier studies.

Let’s take a look at a specific example. In a 2001 article, researchers Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener investigated the happiness of people living in poverty. That’s pretty straightforward. Even so, they wanted to provide readers with background to better understand the issues related to their study. The introduction to their article includes economic, historical, and social information about Kolkata, India, where they conducted their research. It also contains a brief review of the research literature showing that income is related to happiness and they provide some potential explanations for this relationship. Finally, they make an explicit case for their study by saying that their research extends earlier studies by using a unique sample: people living in dire poverty (Biswas-Diener & Diener, 2001).

The introduction is a great way to learn about the major findings in a field in the span of just a few short pages. It can also be a helpful resource for identifying other articles that might be relevant to your project.


An image of five test tubes with substances of varying colors bubbling inside them
The introduction section gives way to the Methods section. This is where articles start to get technical. As the name implies, this is the portion of the article that describes how the researchers conducted their study. Typically, the methods section is—itself—divided into a number of sub-sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the study. Most methods sections describe the:
  • Sample. This is a description of the people who participated in the research. Older articles refer to these people as “subjects” and newer ones refer to them as “respondents” or “participants.” The methods sections usually gives a brief description, such as identifying if they are students, or retirees, or people who share a clinical diagnosis. The researchers usually report on the relevant demographic variables related to the sample such as age, gender, educational level, or national or cultural background. There is usually a table of numbers that acts as a visual description of these background variables.
  • Measures. Here, you can find a description of the various measures that the researchers used. These can include standard tasks (such as the Stroop Task or the “Uses for a brick” task), questionnaires (such as the “Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale”), or biological measures (such as saliva cortisol samples or genetic markers), or behavioral observations (such as seeing how close strangers versus friends sit to one another). Typically, researchers provide a brief description of their measures, with references to the ways that these measures have been used or validated in the past.
  • Procedure. Not all studies include a description of procedures. Experimental studies—those conducted under controlled conditions—often do. This is especially the case if the researchers are using deception or creating an artificial situation. For example, social psychologist Dov Cohen once had a colleague “accidentally” bump research participants as they passed each other in the hall to see how they might react (Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996).

Interestingly, you do not necessarily have to read an entire research article in the order it is written and this is especially true of the methods section. It may be that you simply want to get a broad understanding of the research and reading the introduction and the results is sufficient for your purposes. It may be that you circle back and read the methods section once you have determined that the article is relevant to your interests. If you ultimately include an article for discussion in your term paper, you should definitely read the methods section.


Graph depicting the results of Cohen and colleagues (1996) Culture of Honor Study. To learn more about it, please read the original study cited in the References or visit the Research Methods in Social Psychology module on the Noba website.
Image Credit: Noba Project
The results section follows the methods section. The results section is usually one of the most technically complex and mathematically oriented sections of any research article. The results section can be intimidating because it includes Greek symbols, long equations, and numbers galore. For example, you might come across a head-scratching phrase such as “F (2, 77) = 8.39, p < .001.” Don’t be frightened! Psychological researchers use a variety of statistical analyses to determine if research findings are “significant” (a term that means the results were not due purely to chance).

Understanding the results section can be made easier by remembers key sources of information to keep an eye out for: figures and tables. These clear graphics present the numbers in an easy-to-digest and more visually-friendly format. Figures display a relationship between things using an illustration. For example, a figure might show the number of suicides for each age group across multiple years. This is an easy way to see how the suicide rate has changed over time and to identify specific parts of the population (age groups) that have changed the most. Figures can include charts such as bar charts, graphs such as line graphs, and plots such as scatterplots. Tables, by contrast, provide lists of numerical findings in columns or rows. Common types of tables include demographic variables (such as average levels of age or income), the average results of key variables (such as the average self-esteem scores of participants who completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale), or correlation matrixes (in which the strength of a relationship between a variable and all other variables is reported).


An image outline of a human head with gears inside it and a question mark beside it
The final section in a paper is called the discussion (and sometimes the conclusion). It is here that the researchers discuss their overall findings. There are elements of the discussion section that commonly appear across all types of papers, although they are not explicitly labeled. Keep an eye out for:
  • Summary. Here, the researchers repeat their main findings and discuss them in the context of their original hypothesis or their relationship to earlier research.
  • Explanation. Here, researchers occasionally provide some theory to explain their results. Sometimes these are hypothetical and sometimes they emerge from data gathered in the study itself. Researchers also sometimes admit that their study results were contradictory or unexpected. In these cases, they try to advance some explanation of why this might be the case.
  • Limitations and further study. Almost all research articles, conclude with the twin pillars of limitations and suggestions for further study. In the limitations portion, researchers identify the strengths of their study but also acknowledge that there are weaknesses as well. They might point to the sample, for instance, as a way of suggesting that their findings are preliminary and will not necessarily generalize to all people. A discussion of the limitations of a study should not be interpreted as invalidating the study. Instead, it is an acknowledgment that science works like a patchwork quilt, with each study providing a simple piece of the overall fabric of knowledge. Researchers typically conclude with a few specific suggestions for further research. If you are interested in a career in research, these statements can be a gold mine of open areas to explore!

In Conclusion

Like any difficult skill, reading psychological science - or any science for that matter - gets easier the more you practice. Learning what is most valuable and what can be passed over saves both time and effort without sacrificing clarity. Once you get the gist of a paper continue on and review the paper in greater depth. Remember, just as an explorer relies on a GPS to find his or her way, you too can rely on the landmarks of any scientific article to keep you on target.


Biswas-Diener, R., & Diener, E. (2001). Making the best of a bad situation: Satisfaction in the slums of Calcutta. Social Indicators Research, 55(3), 329-352.

Cohen, D., Nisbett, R. E., Bowdle, B. F., & Schwarz, N. (1996). Insult, aggression, and the southern culture of honor: An" experimental ethnography." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(5), 945-960.


Noah Jacobson

Noah Jacobson is a psychology and neuroscience major at Grinnell College. He currently works as a research assistant and Peer Educator for Grinnell College’s Department of Wellness and Prevention. He enjoys running, cooking, and spending time in nature.

Robert Biswas-Diener

Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener is the senior editor of the Noba Project and author of more than 50 publications on happiness and other positive topics. His latest book is The Upside of Your Dark Side.

Metacognition and the Value of Making Connections

November 6, 2019

By Dia Chatterjee

On making connections:

Students often learn difficult concepts as discrete pieces. These discrete pieces of newly acquired knowledge are important building blocks of learning – so it is a time-honored tradition among students to memorize definitions, focus on breaking down complex systems of ideas into individual components. Unfortunately, for a lot of students, the learning often stops at this point. While this form of learning that rests on reducing the larger whole into its component parts is an important first step in acquiring new knowledge and skills, halting the learning process at this stage is obviously counterproductive to deeper learning. That said, then there are students who are more concerned about understanding why ‘thing A’ relates to ‘thing B’. They often engage in eager attempts to learn the big picture ideas. This form of learning is critical for deeper understanding of concepts, but cannot really occur if the more discrete pieces are glossed over.

A nexus depicting various points of connection that are denoted by a different color to show association
Why should it be ‘either-or’ – on the power of “And”:

The question I had been struggling with was how do we move the needle on helping students maximize on both these tendencies? How do we get them to focus both on the discrete pieces and building integrated network of ideas? How might we show them how the different definitions, topics, and processes described over an entire term connect together? Is there value in highlighting such connections for students? And if so, what form should this take?

For the past two academic terms, I have let my students go on a journey of self-discovery. My instinct told me that students would learn better if they engaged in some meta-cognitive thinking about these ideas independently. I decided to put this intuition to a test by implementing weekly study guides where I asked students to connect the definitions learned each week to materials learned in weeks past, and to their own life experiences outside of the class. This blog is a summary report of what I have seen bloom in my classrooms so far.

Chaotic first few weeks:

I realized that asking students to be intentional about making connections across their learning may have been an easy task in my mind, but to them, my ask did not translate well. During the first few weeks, they kept coming back to me with questions about not really understanding what they should write in their study guides. I would repeat the intentionally vague prompt, asking them to make of it what they could to begin with, reminding them that they would not lose points for exploring their own relationship with the materials taught in classes:

Define two-three concepts that spoke to you from that week’s lectures in your own words. That is, what ideas stimulated your intellectual curiosity? You can attempt to see how various concepts fit into your life/work? What makes them meaningful to you? I believe that which we are curious about, and that which we can apply to our own lives, we learn and retain better.

I had to keep nudging them to keep their eyes open to the fact that “Psychology is all around” them, and that if they really paid attention to the class materials, they will start picking up on the connections that the study guides ask them to make. Even with this framing, and even after explaining the assignment again and again, there were those who took a while to really “get it”.

An image of a brain with multi-color connections inside
Explorations in meta-cognitive thinking:

Then came the weeks where between their writing and my feedback, they start engaging in meta-cognitive practices and approach the “Aha” experience of what we mean by making connections. Different students start adopting different styles of writing about the topics under discussion. I have seen the “objective reviewers” who tell me about the state of the world around them while carefully avoiding sharing how the class materials may impact them, or how they may walk away from concepts enriched. I have seen the “immersed writers” who find it incredibly hard not to connect ideas to their own daily lives and who get steeped in the topics in ways that neither them nor I thought possible. Then there are those who I call the “non-believers” – these are students who are not at all impressed by the format of the study guide, will not buy into its intended purpose no matter how much feedback I give them, and will continue regurgitating their definitions like this were a long-form flash card for each unit. In my own explorations with pedagogy, I have made room for all three of these prototypical responses as I do like to pay heed to individual learning styles.

Journaling and journeying to the “self”:

By the end of the term, students realize how the study of psychology permeates their lives. The study guides I receive after the midterms are rich narratives of their own struggles with the material, and many times, struggles with life itself. In these study guides, outside of just reinforcing the concepts learned in class, what they find are outlets for reflection and journaling. I find that the richer the connections to their own lives and the lives they observe, the more meaningful the class materials get for them. In following such writing strategies, they learn that the materials presented are larger than just discrete definitions to be memorized for a test, instead they have practical significance to the lives they lead. I find them bringing up ideas they learned early in the term and connecting these to the materials they have learned later in the term. They share their unique learning journeys by way of organizing the learning experiences in their own unique ways. For example, to some, the units on brain and nervous system may not have made much of an impact early on in the academic term, but these become pivotal when discussing co-morbidity of disorders.

By-products of taking the by-lanes:

There are some benefits of this approach that are interesting by-products. For example, I had not intentionally created this exercise to enable the shy, quiet, ESL, and/or more introverted students find a voice in the classroom. And yet, what I find is that students who never raise a hand in class when I open the classroom for discussions, submit study guides that are a rich and nuanced connections of ideas. They cite the class discussions in their study guides, and use this as an opportunity to “contribute” to class. As a diversity researcher, it is not lost on me that this form of a pedagogical tool helps me draw out voices that are otherwise lost in the haze of extroverted students or students for whom English is their first language. I describe the highlights of some of the study guides in my opening class each week, making sure that these diverse voices are given the space and time to make an impact on other students.

Image of stick figures depicting people standing in a circle using different color pencils
Another pleasantly surprising by-product of this strategy is that weekly study guides build in a low-stakes writing component. This assignment was not designed to be writing intensive, and the study guides are not graded down for poor writing. However, I share feedback when needed and provide information on APA guidelines. I find that over time, students are able to submit higher quality of writing overall. The non-threatening nature of this assignment helps them open up and realize that writing is just like acquiring any other skill set: creating plenty of opportunities for spaced practice and having a willing mind to learn and absorb are the two first steps to effective skill acquisition.

The feedback from the students is another testament to how well this concept works as an educational tool as they report using this method as a study approach for their other classes as well. Early in the academic term, students express dismay at having to write each week – some agonize over how they cannot understand what to do with this assignment, while others think it just a waste of their time as all they were doing was regurgitating their notes anyway. Then once the assignment starts making sense, they undergo a transformation: they express dismay when a holiday hits or during exam weeks, when they realize that they don’t have to write a study guide for that week. Many insist on turning in their study guides even when none are assigned, and when I ask them why they may want to do more, I get answers that range from: “I retain more this way,” to “I find it more fun to learn about ideas when I can see the connections,” to “I don’t just want to memorize concepts, I want to understand them”. A consistent theme that emerges here is that the value of making connections is not lost on them, and in fact, once properly oriented to appreciate the value of meta-cognitive thinking, they cannot help but engage with learning in this form as it leaves them feeling more enriched.

Image of thought bubbles in different colors

Dia Chatterjee is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Salem State University. She completed her PhD in Organizational Psychology at Michigan State University. Dia’s scholarly interests include identity management and diversity, careers, and creativity. In addition, she has worked with several organizations on issues such as organizational strategy, performance management, organizational change, and assessments. As an Organizational Psychologist, Dia takes a scientist-practitioner approach to both her research and pedagogy. In her classrooms, she focuses on building conditions whereby her students can engage in active learning on (a) how evidence-based practice can benefit from scholarly research in psychology, and (b) how rigorous scholarly research can stem from various organizational problems. 

Applying to Graduate Programs in Clinical Psychology: A Guide for Prospective Students, Advisors, and Faculty Part II

September 12, 2019

By Parky Lau, Joseph Rootman, Jill Robinson, & Lesley Lutes

Part 2

Evaluation Criteria

An image of an outline of two heads one large and one small, the small one in front of the large one with a backdrop of the night sky and stars
Although the admission criteria are fairly standardized among institutions (e.g., at least an A- average, research experience), there is a fair bit of ambiguity as to what makes an application successful aside from the quantitative scores observed in GPA and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores. In the following text, we examine the general evaluation criteria relevant to application development: 1) Academic Background, 2) Graduate Record Examination and Psychology Subject GRE, 3) Skills and Professional Development, 4) Personal Statement, and 5) Tri-Council Funding Application for Canadian Graduate Programs. Note that these criteria are distinct from what students are evaluated on come interview day, such as preparation, professionalism, fit for clinical work/program/supervisor, and other factors outside your control, but a complete review of these factors are beyond the scope of this guide.

Academic Background

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The quality of undergrad institution is likely set in stone. However, for more keen students beginning their undergraduate education, it is advisable to pursue a 4-year honors degree in psychology. No matter the prestige of the institution, students should strive to excel in courses, participate in research, work towards publication, and become involved in the psychology department.Although an honors degree may not be necessary at all institutions, honors programs tend to confer many academic and professional benefits for students, such as designing a research study, writing a thesis document, presenting research at academic conferences, and being surrounded by like-minded individuals who can support and inspire one another to succeed. The vast majority of students will hold an honors degree before entering graduate school. If a student is too late in their program to enroll in the honors program before graduation, they may want to explore the possibility of pursuing a postgraduate honors degree or other avenues of obtaining the necessary research experience. Students may pursue directed studies projects with professors, complete undergraduate upper-level statistics courses, and work in a lab that will allow the student to see a research project through from the initial phases to end product. Additionally, as noted earlier, obtaining an MA within a relevant field, gaining further research experience, and applying to clinical programs at the Ph.D. level may be a reasonable pathway to clinical programs for students feeling unprepared post-BA. Not all institutions will provide students with this opportunity, so it is imperative that interested individuals speak with their academic advisor early in their program.

Undergraduate institutions generally require a minimum cumulative GPA of A- over the last two years (or at least 80%); however, successful applicants typically have a substantially higher GPA. Although having lower marks does not necessarily preclude anyone from admission, especially if they have strong credentials in other areas (the same applies with GRE scores), it is important to note that certain institutions may use this as a benchmark to cull applicants if there is a large volume of applications (which is the case for most programs). For example, UBC uses a minimum first-class standard of 80% GPA as a requirement for entrance to the program. Nonetheless, applicants should not be discouraged but they should be aware that several low or failing grades, especially in psychology-related courses, will not bode well for any application. If this is the case, it would be advisable that the student pursue a terminal master’s degree program in a related field before applying to the clinical program in order to demonstrate competence, success, and productivity at the graduate level.

Graduate Record Examination and Psychology Subject GRE

An image with an outline of a head with a puzzle piece missing and a hand on the other side of the image holding a puzzle piece.
GRE scores on the general test are broken into three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Although a scaled score is calculated, what is most important is standing relative to other individuals (i.e., percentile rank). Applicants should attempt to aim for at least the 80th percentile in each section to be competitive. Looking up the statistics of previously admitted students may be more useful than a specific percentile demarcation. This data can often be found under the “student admissions, outcomes and other data” section of institutional websites of all accredited programs. Applicants with lower scores should remember that the GRE is only one part of the application and is unlikely to be the sole deciding factor in admissions. However, given the low acceptance rates, test scores are one of the main metrics used to remove people from the interview list. The Psychology Subject GRE is typically weighted less and is unlikely to be the deciding factor in gaining admission. However, the Subject GRE can be an important factor, especially for applicants that majored in a topic outside of psychology - a low score, in either case, can be a red flag. If you received an undergraduate degree outside of psychology, it is imperative that you take the Psychology Subject test to demonstrate your aptitude for psychology. In many schools, the Psychology Subject GRE is optional, but this varies by school. If an applicant scores well on the subject test, it may offset a less than desirable academic record by demonstrating proficiency in the foundations in psychology and its associated sub-disciplines. If you come across a school that does not require the GRE, be wary as this may be a big red flag. Many of the for-profit schools (as opposed to non-profit public schools) will not require the applicant to submit GRE scores. If it seems too good to be true, it likely is! In other words, if you are not required to put in the grunt work, the education you will receive may be subpar (and expensive) compared to schools that have stringent requirements for admission.

Preparation for the GRE tests will vary from student to student. Plenty of test preparation courses are available (Kaplan, Magoosh, Princeton Review) to help individuals learn the content tested on the GRE. That being said, it is worth noting that the material covered in the general GRE is not inherently difficult to grasp; rather, the variation in test scores comes from speed and accuracy which can only be attained through practice. For students who consider themselves to be poor test takers, that expect to have some trouble with GRE material, or who are not well-suited for independent study, the Kaplan or other courses are likely to be well worth the cost and may be necessary for success on the GRE. This is another case of short term (financial) pain, for long term (financial) gain. In addition to learning the content tested on the GRE, preparation courses also teach “test logic.” An alternative option is to use free online courses (e.g., Greenlighttestprep) or purchase used preparation materials from students who have taken the test in the recent past. For this path of independent study, a local GRE tutor may be a supplementary option for difficult material. Practice tests (e.g., Princeton, Manhattan, Magoosh, ETS), on the other hand, are extremely valuable, if not necessary, in assessing progress. Finally, if an applicant has received their scores and is unsure if they are sufficient for acceptance into desired institutions, we recommend they contact their potential supervisors to ask if they would recommend retaking the test before putting down a deposit for another date. Speaking with supervisors may also be helpful for students torn on taking the psychology GRE which is often optional. Recommended study resources for both the subject and general GRE are listed in the appendix. In summary, students should strive to excel the GRE tests. The short-term financial pain of purchasing a Kaplan study course or attending tutoring sessions may be well worth the long-term professional gain!

Skills and Professional Development

An image of small wooden tiles that spell out "Mental Health".
In this section we discuss the necessary skills and qualifications desired by MA/Ph.D. graduate programs in clinical psychology. Although clinical psychology programs adhere to the scientist-practitioner model, first and foremost students are trained as researchers. The important thing to note here is that clinical programs intend to train their students as clinicians from the bottom up, whereas they have more rigorous expectation concerning incoming students’ abilities and past experience as researchers. Consequently, capacity as an independent scientist is the most important quality to cultivate during undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Research experience can be obtained in many ways: volunteering in psychology or related research laboratories, completing directed studies (i.e., working in labs or undertaking small research projects for course credit), or completing an honors thesis. Importantly, we would embolden those considering applications to join labs in which they have a budding interest and take the initiative to demonstrate to the supervisor their capacity as a researcher. Research Assistants (RAs) often feel grateful for their position and typically perform a variety of tasks such as data cleaning and entry, transcription, and running studies. RAs should feel comfortable asking for more responsibilities and opportunities for professional development should they want to broaden their experiences. By becoming involved in a research lab, applicants put themselves in a position to take on more responsibilities, which may cascade into paid/leadership positions and tangible evidence of contributions (e.g., co-authorships on presentations and potentially scholarly publications). Arguably, the best way to gain admittance into graduate school is to demonstrate a capability to conduct graduate-level work. The gold standard here would be a publication or several presentations, but any evidence that the applicant can think like a scientist (study development, hypothesis generation, etc.) would also lend well to an application. In that way, the nature of lab’s focus (e.g., health, cognitive, animal-based) is less important; rather, obtaining experience and applying yourself will foster these invaluable skills and allow supervisors to write strong letters.

Given the emphasis on research potential, applicants should demonstrate their proficiency to conduct research - namely understanding and applying research methodology and statistical analysis. Applicants should strive to do very well in courses involving research methods and statistics and should not be afraid to take additional advanced courses (or retake one of these critical courses if they did not obtain a strong grade – if permitted). Application committees will pay particular attention to grades in courses related to research methodology and statistics. In conjunction, applicants can also take the initiative to help their supervisor or graduate students design research materials and ask to assist in analysis. A letter of recommendation that speaks about how a student helped design a study or present research at a conference will go a long way in furthering an application.

Applicants may wonder whether they should delve into a single stream of research in one lab or volunteer with multiple labs to gain experience - the age-old question of breadth or depth. The answer, albeit arduous, is that a mix of both would be ideal. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, and both can lend well to an application. The benefits of gaining depth into a field of research will inform an appreciation for the work being conducted. An applicant’s extensive training and research may be looked upon favorably by potential supervisors who study a similar field during application periods.

Although depth in training is invaluable, applicants should not neglect obtaining a breadth of research experience as well. Research labs often operationalize and examine variables and hypotheses in different ways and train their RAs to do a variety of unique tasks. Consequently, they will develop a large range of marketable skills. Working in multiple labs may also confer a more nuanced understanding of research, however, quantity is not analogous to quality. Students should strive to excel in whatever position they hold; doing a great job as an RA in one lab will hold more weight and confer a stronger letter of recommendation than performing less than optimally in 2 or 3 labs.

Lastly, clinical psychology programs are multi-faceted and often require that students wear many hats each day and throughout the program. Students may find themselves in a lecture in the morning, meeting a client afterward, consulting on research in their lab, submitting an abstract to a conference, and spending their evening writing an academic paper. As such, programs are seeking individuals with exceptional organization and time management skills. Learning to effectively switch between different hats in your roles as a graduate student is an incredible skill that will serve you well throughout your career. Students who succeed in graduate school are those who are self-directive and able to manage a heavy and demanding workload. The workload of clinical psychology programs can lead to burnout, mental health concerns, and general unhappiness if not managed appropriately. Students who are successful in these programs are those who are insightful about their mental health, self-care, and work-life balance. Programs are not looking for students who are immune to stress and mental health issues. Instead, they are interested in the students who have insight into their own health and are able to make adjustments when less than ideal circumstances crop up (as they will in graduate school). Students who demonstrate high degrees of self-awareness and self-reflection and who are proactive in caring for their physical and mental health are the students that succeed in graduate school.

Personal Statement

An outline of a head with the sky and clouds inside
The personal statement is perhaps the most time intensive portion of the application outside of the GREs. With that in mind, we recommend applicants start drafts in September. While each school requires a unique personal statement tailored to that program, a lot of programs have several different required questions which tend to ask variations of the same question. Typically, a program will ask a question to the effect of “What makes you a good fit for our program?” Responses to this question will vary from person to person but there are a number of areas that we recommend covering. Specifically, the primary goal is to prove that the applicant can think and act like a clinical scientist as evidenced by research experience, coursework, GPA, GRE, and any other experiences and skills they have obtained. Applicants will also want to outline goals for their future and how this specific program will help them attain those goals.

First, many people start with a personal anecdote about why they want to pursue clinical psychology but launching into a deeply personal montage may be regrettable. These introductory statements should be used to quickly lead readers to the reasons why clinical psychology is appealing to the applicant. Applicants must be conscious of how much information they disclose. They should refrain from saying that they are interested in Clinical Psychology because of their own (or a loved one’s) past experience with mental health concerns (refer to the “Kisses of Death” mentioned previously in the article). Rather, they should express their passion for a specific area of research and focus on the innate desire they have to conduct meaningful research. While some applicants end goal may be to focus on clinical practice, these MA/Ph.D. programs are interested in applicants that are passionate about research as well. It is important that applicants present a balanced picture of themselves. If applicants have no affinity or interest in research, it might be advisable to pursue other career options (e.g., Psy.D.).

Following this, the bulk of the statement should highlight how past experiences have been preparatory for entering a rigorous clinical psychology graduate program. Here, they should point to their overall GPA (highlighting their psychology marks) and any awards or scholarships they hold. Applicants should avoid simply restating their CV. Instead, they should expand on what they learned from their research experiences and link them to their success in the MA/Ph.D. program. Recycling old ideas should also be avoided. If one research experience taught the student to run proper analyses, applicants should make sure that the next experience they speak to expands on and provides them with new knowledge or opportunity. Applicants should aim to cover time management, self-motivation, experience working with clinical populations, writing and communication skills, professionalism, statistics training and experience with study designs. Applicants should use concrete examples to prove that they have the experience to manage the rigor of a clinical psychology graduate program.

Finally, applicants will want to end their statement with a section that refers to the reasons why this program is the best fit for them. Here, they will primarily be discussing the fit with their supervisor(s) and their research program. It is also good to briefly point out other unique portions of the program (refer to their clinical handbook) that are of interest. Most programs request a statement of approximately 2 single-spaced pages in length. Applicants should use all the space given. Applicants should aim to have someone edit their statement and incorporate useful feedback. Applicants should scour the document for typos (e.g., repeated words, mixed up letters, etc.), grammar, and formatting before sending it off.

Tri-Council Funding Application for Canadian Graduate Programs

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The Tri-Council funding application is relatively straightforward. First, applicants need to decide which funding agency will best fit their research proposal (i.e., NSERC, SSHRC, or CIHR). For clinical students, CIHR (clinical research) and SSHRC (social research) funding agencies often fit the bill. Applicants should review the agencies respective mandates to ensure they are applying to the proper agency. Applicants may also send a summary of their proposal to each agency to determine whether their proposal fits within the mandated guidelines of the agency. The application requires two academic recommendations, a Canadian Common CV (CCV), and a hypothetical research proposal. The doctoral award also requires a list of research contributions, an online application, and a recommendation from your department head. Creating a CCV requires applicants to input their current CV into the format required on the government website.

The hypothetical research proposal will likely be a maximum of 1 to 2 pages in length (not including references) and should include the following sections: background, objective and hypothesis, methods, and significance. When considering a potential project, the most important factor is feasibility. Applicants should choose a research project that is manageable and can be completed throughout their masters. Moreover, applicants should keep in mind that no one will hold them to this project; rather, this proposal is a means of assessing their ability to formally write like a scientist. Few resources are available to guide applicants through writing this proposal, but they should seek out professors and graduate students in their program for guidance. Their scholarly writing center, college of graduate studies, or library may also host Tri-Council application writing workshops as these grants often span several disciplines. For more resources, prospective applicants can find the Tri-Council Funding awards information and application process at the links in the Appendix section.

Funding Opportunities in the United States

Funding opportunities in the United States vary greatly from program to program in the following areas: tuition, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. In regards to tuition, there are some programs, such as Louisiana State University that provide full remission of tuition. Some programs also guarantee teaching or research assistantships. For instance, Arizona State University typically provides doctoral students with 20 hour-per-week graduate teaching or research assistantships. While a full discussion of differences in funding of clinical programs in United States is beyond the scope of this guide, The Graduate Study in Psychology, 2019 Edition book provides a more comprehensive discussion of these individual funding opportunities. With respect to federal agencies, there are also funding opportunities from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Final Thoughts

A young woman resting her head on her arm which rests of an a pile of books
Before concluding, a few miscellaneous pieces of advice are worth noting. Applicants should remember that it is very common for individuals to apply multiple years in a row, with acceptance rates ranging between 5% and 8% of all applicants per year. Students should not be discouraged if they have been rejected on their first, or even second, try and they should take the time in between application years to bolster their experiences. If need be, applicants should rewrite the GRE or volunteer with different populations to gain clinical experience. Applicants should feel comfortable reaching out for help. Graduate students and your supervisors have been through the process and are often willing to help in more ways than might be expected. Finally, applicants may wonder if they should take a year off before applying. While in theory, applying in their final year of undergrad cannot hurt, applicants must recognize that this application process is no small or inexpensive feat. With that in mind, applicants who juggle the application process with their coursework might be negatively impacting their ability to excel in their commitments. If they are struggling to balance 5 courses, study for the GRE, complete an honors thesis, and volunteer in a research lab(s), their applications may suffer. Many people take a year or more off after completing their undergraduate degree. The most important thing is not that you take a year off, but rather, it is what you do with that year. Work as a full-time research assistant. Work on publishing your thesis. Keep doing research with your mentor and colleagues. Submit, attend, and present at local, regional, or even a national conference.

No matter the path that a student takes, the key is to remember that it is often a long and arduous process to becoming a clinical practitioner or research scientist in clinical psychology. Everyone will pay their dues at some point throughout the process. Some students pay in the beginning by obtaining first class grades in all their undergraduate courses, some students pay in the middle by completing a terminal master’s program to demonstrate their ability to conduct high-quality research, and still others will pay at the end by taking an extra year in their Ph.D. to complete their dissertation following their internship/residency.

In summary, we hope this guide has given applicants, advisors, and faculty a greater understanding of the components that should be considered before applying for clinical psychology programs. We encourage students and advisors to use the research and data regarding applications to make informed decisions about how and when to apply to clinical psychology programs. While clinical psychology programs can certainly be competitive, many people have managed to succeed in these endeavors and an applicant equipped with the knowledge shared in this guide is already one step ahead in the process!


American Psychological Association. (2019). Graduate Study in Psychology, 2019 Edition. American Psychological Association.

Appleby, D. C., & Appleby, K. M. (2006). Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process. Teaching of Psychology,33(1), 19-24. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3301_5

Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s Program Resources.

Choukas-Bradley, S. (2011, October). A Student’s Perspective on Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide Sophie Choukas-Bradley, M.A. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from

CIHR Doctoral Research Award.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program Doctoral Scholarships and SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships.

Prinstein, M. (2017). Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from


General Resources

Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology

A Student’s Perspective on Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide Sophie Choukas-Bradley

Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process

CPA Accreditation Website

GRE Resources

Greenlight Test Prep

Quizlet Basic GRE Words and Quizlet Advanced GRE Words

GRE e-rater (to be used in order to get a sense of GRE score)

Crash Course Psychology (used as Joey’s primary resource for subject GRE studying with great success)


Jill Biography:

Jill M. Robinson, M.A. is currently a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of British Columbia | Okanagan. Her research interests include cognitive models of substance use as well as prevention and intervention of adolescent substance use. Jill currently works with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and substance use disorders.

Parky Biography:

Parky Lau is a Master’s student in the clinical psychology program at Ryerson University. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, Parky obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He currently works in the Sleep and Depression Laboratory under Dr. Colleen Carney examining cognitive factors related to the development and maintenance of insomnia. His professional interests include mentoring undergraduate students, attending research conferences, and playing an active part in shaping organizations within Ryerson University. Parky can be reached by email at [email protected]

Joey Biography:

Joseph Rootman is a Master’s student in the clinical psychology program at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus. He moved to the Okanagan after completing his undergraduate education in Psychology at the University of British Columbia – Vancouver campus. He is currently a researcher in the Therapeutic, Recreational & Problematic Substance Use Lab under the supervision of Dr. Zach Walsh. Joseph’s primary research interest surrounds the use of Cannabis as a substitute for other, more harmful, drugs. Beyond research, Joseph is the Chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy – Okanagan Chapter. Joseph can be reached by email at [email protected]

Lutes Biography:

Dr. Lutes is a Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at the University of British Columbia - Okanagan Campus. Dr. Lutes is a clinical health and registered psychologist whose area of research is in developing innovative cognitive and behavioral treatment interventions focused on lifestyle change and chronic disease management for conditions such as obesity and diabetes and their co-morbid psychological correlates including distress, depression and well-being. She also does research/advocacy/policy change in the area of integrated primary care and training the next generation of psychologists for healthcare delivery in the 21st century. She has secured over $7 million dollars in grant funding, published over 60-peer-reviewed publications, and had over 100 oral presentations to date. She is on the national executive of the Canadian Council for Professional Psychology Programs (CCPPP) and is on the editorial board for the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. She is the director of the healthy weight clinic and the Centre for Obesity and Well-Being Research Excellence (CORE) at the UBC. Dr. Lutes can be reached at [email protected]

Applying to Graduate Programs in Clinical Psychology: A Guide for Prospective Students, Advisors, and Faculty Part I

September 5, 2019

By Parky Lau, Joseph Rootman, Jill Robinson, & Lesley Lutes

Part 1

Clinical Psychology: An Introduction

An image of a brain and a Greek letter Psi superimposed on it
As a practitioner, clinical psychologists often conduct assessments and provide evidence-based therapy to a variety of individuals that exhibit some form of psychopathology. Clinical psychologists are also trained as scientists and can be found working in research or educational settings such as academia and research centers, as well as clinical settings, including hospitals and private practice clinics. It is not uncommon for clinical psychologists to divide their time among clinical practice, academia, and research. As such, a vocation in clinical psychology can be rather versatile, making the degree and associated training programs highly-sought after. Clinical psychologists have undertaken extensive coursework, research, and clinical training in their field, have completed one year of internship/residency prior to completing their graduate degree, and have formally underwent the registration process with the licensure body (e.g., The College of Psychologists of British Columbia) in their province/territory or state (e.g., North Carolina Psychology Board).

Clinical MA/Ph.D. Programs in the USA and Canada

Clinical psychology MA/Ph.D. programs adhere to the scientist-practitioner (Boulder) model, which underscores the importance of the relationship between empirically validated research and delivery of evidence-based treatment to clinical populations. As such, students are trained to be scientific researchers as well as clinicians. Canadian graduate programs in clinical psychology typically offer a combined Masters (MA) and Doctoral (Ph.D.) program, as opposed to just the Ph.D. The MA program lasts approximately 2 years, and the Ph.D. program extends this by another 4-5 years (including a year of predoctoral internship). Although the clinical MA and Ph.D. are usually distinct programs, it is common that those applying to the MA program continue into the Ph.D. Many programs will not accept students who plan to terminate their studies after completing the MA, although most clinical programs will accept students at the Ph.D. level if they have completed an MA in other relevant fields (e.g., counselling psychology). Indeed, students who believe they will not be accepted to a clinical program directly from undergrad (due to low GPA, lack of research or other factors), may benefit from obtaining an MA in one of these other fields and applying to clinical programs at the Ph.D. level (or at the master’s level with sometimes an ability to “fast track” to the Ph.D. after the first year with good performance and a paper/review/comprehensive). All states and most provinces, with the exception of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nova Scotia, require that students hold a Ph.D. in order to gain licensure as a clinical psychologist with the regulatory body of that state or province. On the other hand, US programs typically only include the Ph.D. program, where students obtain an MA on route. For example, in North Carolina, students only enter the Ph.D. program, where they get an MA as a part of their Ph.D. Their timing is usually four years of assistantship funding, and they are usually on an internship in their fifth year.

A cup with round plushies depicting various human emotions such as joy or sadness. The cup has a Greek letter Psi on it and a word Psicologia written on it.
When preparing applications, two crucial aspects students should consider include the number of institutions they wish to apply to and the quality of these institutions. With respect to the first point, acceptance rates are low. Typically, 5-8% of applicants receive an offer of admission. Therefore, it is the norm for prospective students to apply to multiple programs to increase their odds of acceptance. Some experts recommend applying to between 12 and 15 programs to maximize the chance of gaining admission. However, applications can be expensive and time-consuming, so it is generally advised that students avoid applying to programs that they have no intentions to attend or cannot spend the time needed to submit a high quality, tailored application. On the other hand, given the low acceptance rates, applying to multiple programs can be seen as a short-term investment for long-term gain as a professional. Applicants that are considering the number of schools they should apply to can take this as an opportunity to flex their researcher muscles by looking at school statistics, journal articles on acceptance rates and talk to experts in the area. Using these types of information to make informed decisions is a central tenet of clinical psychology, so it makes sense to apply that skill to admission processes as well!

Second, it is strongly recommended that applicants prioritize institutions whose doctoral program are (or in the process of being) accredited by the American or Canadian Psychological Association (APA/CPA). Students going to/graduating from unaccredited programs will experience at best, a more detailed, drawn out, and delayed process of registration/licensure. At worst, there is the slight possibility of being unable to register as a clinical psychologist upon completion of their program if their program does not meet the registration guidelines set forth by the state/province/territory. The APA/CPA sets out strict standards for which clinical programs must obtain to ensure that students are competent to practice independently. Generally, licensure bodies will examine the quality of the applicant’s education, internship, and experience to determine their fitness to register as a clinical psychologist in that territory.

For applicants interested in crossing borders it is worthwhile to know that, since the First Street Accord was signed in 2012, the APA Commission of Accreditation (CoA) recognizes the standards established via CPA accreditation are equivalent to those set by the APA (and vice-versa). As such, crossing borders to train as a clinical psychologist is certainly a viable option. That being said, there are some important differences between Canadian and American institutions. First, while CPA accredited clinical Ph.D. programs typically provide funding through a combination of Teaching Assistantships (TA), Research Assistantships (RA), or remitted tuition to cover tuition and some cost of living, the same is not true of all American institutions. Specifically, tuition at some American institutions far outweighs funding income, so for Canadian students looking at American programs, this is worth considering.Likewise, government funding opportunities can be limited for international students in both countries. For more information, see the book Graduate Study in Psychology, 2019 Edition by the American Psychological Association for specific differences between institutions in their funding package. This book also provides excellent information from application to acceptance among a variety of other useful information regarding applications.

The consequence of these funding differences is that American students may feel pressured to complete their program with haste to avoid going too deeply into debt. This is made more difficult by the fact that the number of face-to-face clinical hours required by internship programs is lower in Canada than the US. Institutions accredited by the APA or CPA have demonstrated the necessary rigor to develop highly trained clinical psychologists. Graduating from an APA/CPA accredited institution confers professional benefits and is necessary for obtaining an internship/residency through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centres (APPIC) as well as facilitating the search for employment after graduation (some prominent employers, such as Veterans Administration, also require graduation from an APA/CPA accredited institution). It is also much less likely that a student exiting a non-accredited program will secure an accredited internship relative to those who exit accredited programs.

Finally, although an in-depth examination of other degrees, such as the Psy.D. or counselling psychology is beyond the scope of this guide, it is worthwhile to mention these alternatives. These programs may be of interest to those whose passion is oriented towards clinicalpractice or for those who wish to work with populations that exhibit less extreme or pervasive mental health concerns (e.g., relationship issues, stress management). For a further look at the Psy.D., counselling psychology, and other related fields of studies, please consult Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology by Dr. Mitchell Prinstein. Similarly, this guide is intended for those who are interested in applying to clinical psychology programs which differs from those who have completed a clinical program and are applying to internship. Applicants applying to internship are directed to resources beyond the scope of this guide (e.g., Match Made on Earth for Canadian Students, the Internships in Psychology APAGS workbook for both Canadian and US programs).

The Application Process

An outline of a head, which contains a brain made up of various gears and an image of a lightbulb superimposed on it.
Applying to MA/Ph.D. graduate programs in clinical psychology is often a difficult and confusing process and can take several months to adequately prepare. Generally, the list of materials applicants will need to assemble for programs include: 1) Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores;2) the Psychology subject test (if required); 3) a list of institutions and associated supervisors of which to apply; 4) three (or more) letters of recommendation (LOR); 5) official transcripts; 6) an updated curriculum vitae (CV); 7) a statement of intent (personal statement); 8) completion of the general application; and 9) paying of the fee to apply to the program.

In addition, although rarely explicitly stated on institution websites, most CPA accredited institutions expect Canadian students to apply for external government funding from one of the Tri-Council agencies (CIHR, SSHRC, or NSERC). With the competitive nature of these admissions, skipping this step may be considered a “kiss of death” as some institutions will be forced to disregard applicants that have not applied for any external funding. For Tri-Council funding applications, the materials applicants will need are: 1) the Canadian Common CV (CCV); 2) two LORs; and 3) a hypothetical research proposal. Often, programs will ask applicants outright if they have applied for external funding, such as Tri-Council funding or the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). While American students are not eligible for Tri-Council funding, applying for international funding opportunities (often listed on institutional websites) instead may benefit American applications to Canadian institutions.

Preparing for the GRE (and the Psychology subject test if required) is a time-consuming aspect of the application process and applicants should allocate at least 2 to 4 months to studying for this exam. The exam should be taken as early as possible to ensure that there is sufficient time to report scores as well as retake the test if necessary. Note that while the General Test can be taken throughout the year, the Psychology Subject test is offered only a few times per year. It can take several weeks to receive official scores, so applicants must plan accordingly. If the application deadline occurs before scores are obtained, applicants may be rejected. By late summer or early fall, applicants will also want to consider which institutions they would like to apply to. Several factors worth consideration include the quality of the program, the match of the research supervisor, richness of the training offered, practicum placements, potential funding opportunities (which may be more limited if you are crossing borders), length of time typically spent in the program, geographical location and feasibility of moving, the culture and atmosphere of the university and, perhaps most importantly, the “fit” between student and mentor. Truthfully, this truly is the most important fact. Based on research data, this the #1 predictor of satisfaction in graduate school. Each institution typically provides information on their university webpage about faculty and their research interests. Applicants should note that it is important to determine if the faculty of interest is accepting new students for the upcoming round of admissions. Faculty may not accept students one year for a variety of reasons (e.g., sabbatical leaves, administration duties, maternity leave, current size of the lab) and applicants must be wary of wasting their time or money applying to a supervisor who is not accepting students. As such, applicants should confirm that their faculty of interest is taking applications for new graduate students by examining their website or sending them a direct email. Although not a necessary component in some programs, faculty members may appreciate an effort to contact them, especially if keen insight and enthusiasm into their work is demonstrated. However, for other programs it is a requirement. For example, at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus), students are required to contact potential mentors to ensure that there is a good potential match as a necessary first step to determining a good fit for the overall program. The initial contact with potential supervisors should include a brief introduction of who the student is, their research interests, and why they are interested in working with the supervisor. It is advisable that the student attach their CV to the email as well. When contacting prospective supervisors, it is important that applicants represent themselves as polite and professional in their correspondence. Accordingly, e-mails must be proofread before being sent and should demonstrate that the sender has inquired into the faculty’s research. However, while you should be open to a meeting, it is not recommended that you ask/require to meet talk with the supervisor before applying. While some supervisors will want to talk with each student before, others have 10-20 students applying to work with them each year and really do not spend a lot of time at this level, on in depth interviewing of candidates. Until the full application is in and reviewed by them and the graduate admissions committee, it is impossible to know if a student will meet the requirements to proceed to an interview.

Applicants will also want to reach out to their current supervisors and/or professors for letters of recommendations. Most programs will require 3 academic references. For some schools, but not all, a professional reference may be submitted in substitution for an academic letter. It is essential that referees are willing to provide a strong positive testament to the applicant’s abilities and can speak to their potential success in a primarily research-based graduate program. Reference letters that offer faint praise or that are critical of the applicant can be damaging to an application (for other so-called ‘Kisses of Death’ see Appleby & Appleby, 2006). Applicants should aim to facilitate the process for referees by ensuring that referees have plenty of notice (4 to 8 weeks in advance of the application deadline) that they will require a letter in the future. Applicants may draft a list of the schools they will apply to and provide a step-by-step guide on how to submit the LOR to each school (electronically and/or by physical mail) for referees’ convenience. Applicants should also provide referees with direction by identifying examples where they have proved their capacity to succeed in a clinical research program. Further, applicants should also send references, an updated CV, a set of transcripts, and background information about the program to which they are applying. The more information the reference has, the easier it is to write a strong letter. And, appreciate that while this is critical and paramount for you, faculty likely have 5, 10, -20 others letters they are writing for students for various programs and scholarships with different deadlines. Therefore, ask them when they would like the gentle reminders for submission (i.e., 2 weeks, 1 week, 3 days before). Also, make sure to tell them the actual deadline, not when you like the materials in. While this may cause you anxiety, a faculty typically has numerous deadlines at once and they are just doing the best they can. Remain calm and professional as you provide those gentle reminders – consider this your first test of handling clinical stress!

Official transcripts, CVs, and the personal statement can be completed and submitted electronically any time before the application deadline – and should be done well ahead of schedule. This will help to mitigate unforeseen circumstances such as the 2018 postal strike in Canada - which delayed regular mail by several weeks. However, gathering feedback from peers and supervisors on the written portions of the application is imperative. Do not hesitate to start this process early. Applicants will want to complete an initial draft of written portions several months prior to the deadline to ensure enough time to make necessary revisions. Applicants should spend ample time editing and revising their personal statement to ensure no typos, spelling or grammar mistakes are present. It is strongly recommended that applicants have at least one other person read the letter of intent. In the following sections, we will provide additional content and stylistic information regarding the personal statement.

As noted earlier, an oft-neglected but necessary part of graduate applications, specifically in Canada, is applying for external funding from the three federal granting agencies (Tri-Council): CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC. Applications are due December 1st for those applying to MA programs and mid-September for those applying to Ph.D. programs. These applications require two academic references as well as a short research proposal. Each funding agency may require different information. Applicants will want to give themselves an appropriate amount of time to become familiar with the literature required to write a strong research proposal. And make sure to adhere to the guidelines – to the t! For example, at one institution, programs will not forward applications for full review if they exceed the page/word limit. This would disadvantage the candidates that had met the word limit which could be cause for a grievance. Consider this another test of your clinical acumen, just like a therapy session. Can you find a way to say what you need to in the most eloquent and parsimonious way within the time confines allowed? Note that your proposed study does not have to be carried out; this is simply an exercise of the ability to clearly communicate a potential research idea in a scientific manner. It is important to understand that this information reflects the current funding status in Canada in January 2019. Information and government funding opportunities may change in the future.

For a more comprehensive and detailed timeline for suggestions as to when these components should be completed, as well as information on interviews after the application period, please refer to Dr. Sophia Choukas-Bradley’s Tips for Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide.


American Psychological Association. (2019). Graduate Study in Psychology, 2019 Edition. American Psychological Association.

Appleby, D. C., & Appleby, K. M. (2006). Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process. Teaching of Psychology,33(1), 19-24. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3301_5

Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s Program Resources.

Choukas-Bradley, S. (2011, October). A Student’s Perspective on Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide Sophie Choukas-Bradley, M.A. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from

CIHR Doctoral Research Award.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program Doctoral Scholarships and SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships.

Prinstein, M. (2017). Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from


General Resources

Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology

A Student’s Perspective on Applying to Graduate School in (Clinical) Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide Sophie Choukas-Bradley

Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process

CPA Accreditation Website

GRE Resources

Greenlight Test Prep

Quizlet Basic GRE Words and Quizlet Advanced GRE Words

GRE e-rater (to be used in order to get a sense of GRE score)

Crash Course Psychology (used as Joey’s primary resource for subject GRE studying with great success)


Jill Biography:

Jill M. Robinson, M.A. is currently a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of British Columbia | Okanagan. Her research interests include cognitive models of substance use as well as prevention and intervention of adolescent substance use. Jill currently works with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and substance use disorders.

Parky Biography:

Parky Lau is a Master’s student in the clinical psychology program at Ryerson University. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, Parky obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He currently works in the Sleep and Depression Laboratory under Dr. Colleen Carney examining cognitive factors related to the development and maintenance of insomnia. His professional interests include mentoring undergraduate students, attending research conferences, and playing an active part in shaping organizations within Ryerson University. Parky can be reached by email at [email protected]

Joey Biography:

Joseph Rootman is a Master’s student in the clinical psychology program at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus. He moved to the Okanagan after completing his undergraduate education in Psychology at the University of British Columbia – Vancouver campus. He is currently a researcher in the Therapeutic, Recreational & Problematic Substance Use Lab under the supervision of Dr. Zach Walsh. Joseph’s primary research interest surrounds the use of Cannabis as a substitute for other, more harmful, drugs. Beyond research, Joseph is the Chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy – Okanagan Chapter. Joseph can be reached by email at [email protected]

Lutes Biography:

Dr. Lutes is a Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at the University of British Columbia - Okanagan Campus. Dr. Lutes is a clinical health and registered psychologist whose area of research is in developing innovative cognitive and behavioral treatment interventions focused on lifestyle change and chronic disease management for conditions such as obesity and diabetes and their co-morbid psychological correlates including distress, depression and well-being. She also does research/advocacy/policy change in the area of integrated primary care and training the next generation of psychologists for healthcare delivery in the 21st century. She has secured over $7 million dollars in grant funding, published over 60-peer-reviewed publications, and had over 100 oral presentations to date. She is on the national executive of the Canadian Council for Professional Psychology Programs (CCPPP) and is on the editorial board for the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. She is the director of the healthy weight clinic and the Centre for Obesity and Well-Being Research Excellence (CORE) at the UBC. Dr. Lutes can be reached at [email protected]

Learning Writing by Rewriting: Providing Multiple Deadlines for a Final Paper

July 10, 2019

By Alan Chu


“I have read through all my students’ final paper, indicated mistakes, and offered suggestions for improvement. Am I wasting my time and energy?”

Does this voice sound familiar? Instructors who use writing as an assessment-- including me-- find that many students do not have good academic writing skills. When we design helpful writing assignments, such as research papers, they often fail to deliver on their promise. Some typical problems of final papers include:

  • An inability to follow important details of the instructions
  • Difficulty expressing ideas clearly in writing
  • Trouble following citation styles.

Another core problem is that many students do not actually learn from writing a final paper. Many students procrastinate until the end of the semester (even if you warn them the very first day of the semester!), and barely have time to organize their thoughts. Additionally, based on research evidence and my experience, helpful feedback is almost impossible due to instructors being busy entering all of the grades and students not reading feedback after the semester is over.

So, what can we do? If we use final paper as a summative assessment of course objectives, we should provide students with multiple assessments throughout the semester to prepare them for writing the final paper. 

An image depicting deadlines: An alarm clock, a notebook and various numbers lying around it

Setting up Multiple Deadlines

Setting up multiple deadlines for various parts of a final paper is one effective way to implement formative assessments that lead to the summative assessment in writing. I teach a Research Methods in Psychology course in which students have to conduct a group research project and submit a final individual research paper (about 10–12 pages). Most of my students have never written a research paper before and thus struggle with writing their first one. Instead of writing a whole paper at once, I help students to write their final research paper in parts and submit corresponding drafts in the order of Introduction, Methods, Results, and the whole paper with Discussions. I clearly lay out specific instructions for students to focus their time and energy for quality writing of each part. If any part does not pass the proficiency standard listed in the rubric, students have to rewrite that part and resubmit it. Based on the detailed constructive feedback given on each draft, students submit their final paper at the end of the semester by rewriting each part and put them together in one piece. In this way, students have sufficient time throughout the semester to learn how to write adequately the first time and rewrite a better product to fulfill course objectives. 

A graphic depicting an assignment containing Title page, Context, Literature Review, Purpose and Hypothesis and being graded on the Novice to Competent to Exemplary scale between 0 and 2

Providing Feedback

Having multiple deadlines may help students understand and execute the final paper with a better quality, but this approach alone may not maximize learning without adequate feedback. One of the key challenges faced by instructors is providing feedback that students want to and actually use. Research indicates that instructor comments are often useless because students frequently do not attend to or understand the feedback. Furthermore, the feedback students appreciate (i.e., general positive comments) is not necessarily the feedback (i.e., constructive criticism) that could best support their learning. Thus, it is “not inevitable that students will read and pay attention to feedback even when that feedback is lovingly crafted and provided promptly” (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004, p. 20).

One way to encourage students to use the feedback is to convince them that doing so can improve their final grades. Similar to how researchers resubmit a manuscript to a journal for publication, I ask students to highlight each of the revisions that they make in their final paper and assure that making all of the suggested changes appropriately can result in a high or even perfect score on their paper. Instead of providing proofreading services that have been shown ineffective, the content of the feedback should surround some big ideas regarding structure and organization (e.g., theories and significance), support of arguments (e.g., literature review), and important technical details (e.g., citation style). In courses that instructors cannot possibly provide detailed feedback for separate parts of a final paper, instructors may give students credits for writing a brief outline with some arguments for support, followed by providing constructive feedback. In order to enhance student likelihood of using feedback, instructors can foster students’ growth mindset, rooted in Carol Dweck’s research, by providing encouraging feedback such as “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” 

An image depicting a Fixed vs Growth Mindset and the challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism and success of others and how those differ between the two mindsets.
Image Credit: The Growth Mindset Andreas Pizsa

Practical Perspectives

What is students’ take on writing a final paper with multiple deadlines and feedback beforehand? In my anonymous course evaluation, over 80% of my students stated that having multiple deadlines and instructor feedback were the most helpful things for completing their final paper. Some students also mentioned having writing samples and meeting with the instructor were important for their writing. However, a small group of students, particularly the less engaged, may not like this approach due to the fact that revisions represent a greater amount of work. Additionally, having multiple drafts and providing helpful feedback to each of them increase instructors’ workload. Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to offer some caveats for using this multiple-deadline approach:

  • Make sure students understand why it is beneficial for them to write the final paper and how having multiple deadlines and drafts can help. For example, I show students some requirements for psychology graduate program applications, which emphasize good writing skills and research experience.
  • Set up deadlines that are not too close, and yet not too far, from one another. My class meets twice a week, and I set deadlines that are one week apart for three different parts of the paper; students are able to receive my feedback (both written and verbal) prior to submitting the next part. I deliberately plan my calendar to ensure both students and myself are typically not very busy, such that the writing and grading can be completed in a timely fashion. The final paper submission are three weeks apart from the previous draft to allow students time to revise and ask questions deemed necessary.
  • Consider the number of students in a course. I only have 25 students in my research methods course, so I can dedicate time and energy to provide helpful feedback to each part of the paper. For instructors who teach larger classes, they shall consider training graduate teaching assistants to provide intended feedback, or offering a framework for undergraduate students to complete peer review and provide feedback for classmates. Research shows that both reviewing classmates’ work and having work reviewed by classmate can benefit and learn from the process.

Enjoy grading your final paper next time!


Dr. Tsz Lun (Alan) Chu’s is an Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. He teaches research methods in psychology and conducts research on motivation for sport and exercise. Alan is also a sport psychology consultant who works with athletes and coaches on mental skills training. To practice what he preaches, Alan is highly involved in sports, specializing in table tennis as a competitive player and an internationally certified coach.


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