Admission into a Psychology doctoral program is very competitive. The top programs accept only a handful of students every year, despite receiving hundreds of applications. The process can be a bit overwhelming no matter the area you want to specialize. Fortunately there are some good general resources with information about the process (see this APA webpage to start). The process can be even more difficult to navigate when you want to specialize in LGBT Psychology and there are fewer resources to help guide you. Over the years I have mentored many undergraduates through this process, as well as mentored my own Clinical Psychology graduate students, and Psychology Interns. From this experience, I want to share some advice for anyone thinking about going down this road. To help expand the perspective (and the quality of the advice) I enlisted my colleague Dr. David Huebner to co-author this post with me. Dr. Huebner is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah, where he serves as a mentor to students in the Clinical Psychology track. He is a well-known expert in LGBT Psychology and creator of the Lead with Love film that offer advice to parents when a child comes out as LGBT. We drafted this list of advice together and then received feedback from our graduate students and other faculty. The advice is targeted at prospective psychology graduate students who want to study LGBT populations, but also likely applies to related disciplines. The advice is probably less relevant if you are not seeking a research-intensive psychology program.
Most psychology graduate programs follow a mentorship model where applicants identify a specific faculty member who they want to train with. If accepted into the program, the student will then train under this mentor during their graduate program, often working on projects based within their mentor’s lab. The mentor will often chair their thesis committee and sign off on course related decisions. For this reason the match between student and mentor is very important and the mentor often has a lot of discretion in deciding if a qualified applicant will be admitted to the program. Here are some things to consider in terms of identifying a mentor:
How do you find a faculty member with an interest in LGBT health? The American Psychological Association did a survey of graduate psychology programs in 2009 to identify faculty doing work in this area. Of course keep in mind that this list is likely incomplete. To find others you may want to search the websites of universities that interest you because of the strengths of their program. You may also want to search NIH reporter for relevant keywords (gay, LGBT, MSM) and the type of department you are looking for (e.g. Psychology, Psychiatry, Human Development). NIH funding is a strong marker of research productivity. You can also look at the website of Division 44 of the American Psychological Association, which focused on LGBT psychology.
The right school and program
Just like it is important to be a good match with your mentor, it is also important to be a good match to the school and department. Different programs have very different perspectives on graduate education and you will want to find a program that is a good match for you. Here are some things to consider:
The Interview and personal statement
Most programs require some opportunity to get to know the applicant beyond their academic credentials. This can come in the form of a personal statement in the application and/or an interview for finalists. We often get questions about if an applicant should “come out” in their application or interview. There is no universal answer to this question, but here are some things to consider:
While our focus here is students interested in research on LGBT Psychology, we also wanted to share a few more general suggestions on the process of allying to graduate school.
If you have other advice or suggestions please share them in the comments section.
Dr. Mustanski is the Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University. You can follow the Sexual Continuum blog by becoming a fan on Facebook. He periodically live tweets from research conferences on sexuality and you can follow him @sexualcontinuum.