Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

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Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

Post by Spatch » Sun Mar 25, 2007 9:20 pm


Originally posted in February just before the 2007 season entered full swing, the debutante's guide to the season is the premier source of reference for the aspiring, the unwary or the plain curious. Although not intentially part of a long running series, for your ease and enjoyment it is presented here as a continuous document.

Part 1.

For many of you it is the first time you will be exposed to the "polite society" of the pre qualified. It is a distinguished, yet formidable endevour that you will embark upon, and it is important to be able to behave in the time honoured manner that the debutantes before you have trodden. I too have partaken in many of the curious rituals and behaviours that formalise the season, and with many, many moons of experience, I, Lady Spatch-Asquith-Kensington hereby provide you with the definitive guide to the season. Be sure to have it to hand so you avoid any social faux pas.

1. The opening of the season

The sina quo non that symbolises the opening of the season is the fevered checking for envelopes and emails that starts in March (although my contemporaries inform me that this has slided earlier to February). Around now frenzied enquires will be bandied around Psyclick asking when are the invitations to interview to be dispatched. At one time these much desired invitations would be tastesfully engraved on Cyrillian Bone 180 gm cards which would be kept on the mantle piece along with wedding invitations and invitations to the palace. Now indications of invitations arrive in the dreaded thin envelope (Je suis desole) or the more substantial A4 Manilla (to be big enough to fit the obligatory map darlings). Remember the debutante is supposed to show her breeding at all times by refraining from snatching the mail out of the hands of the postal carrier.

2. Rumours

It is of paramount importance that the rumour mill gains momentum around this time. From the tradtional refrains of "They only take on assistants" and "You have to go to a redbrick" to the more modern "They rip up your application if you use Ariel 12 point" the presses roll as we hear more and more outlandish theories about just how people are selected or deselected (remember a debutante could never be considered as rejected in any way).

This season I believe the BPS is sponsoring a prize for the most bizzare rumour so please do send them in. Here are a few to get you started:

i) University of X is only interviewing candidates whose surnames begin with vowels,

ii) If you include the words: reflective, badger, audit, mortuary, bovril on your form you get in automatically.

iii) Some courses will select on the basis of performance on a Krypton factor style assault course.

3. Railing against the Arbitrary

It is worth reflecting on the acceptable manner of expressing one's ire against what are commonly percieved as arbitrary rules. It is never reasonable to simply accept that cut offs have to be made at some point just to keep the process managable. In fact the debutante is expected to vent invective at "How unreasonable it is that they expect GBR!" and "its just sheer bloody mindedness that prevents them taking on more trainees?" and "Just what the hell do they mean 'that the standard of applicants was high' wasn't mine bloody high enough?". The truest social doyen will go so far to pen a missive to the Forum or The Psychologist saying how unfair the current system is and how it should be changed. It is imperative that any changes suggested will be weighted to benefit the author.

5. Put on your happy face.

It is customary for one to engage in shrieks of jubilation when a peer recieves an invitation instead of indulging in weapons-grade bitchiness. To show one's true feelings that so and so has recieved 4 interviews, whilst one is 123rd on the interview reserve list of a course they only applied to because it was their 4th choice, is considered poor form. Likewise the time honoured reply for the recipient is to insincerely say "I am sure yours will come through soon". To say anything resembling "Perhaps you didnt get far because your form was mispelt, contained txt spk, and was copied straight from psyclick" is considered the height of bad manners. The true stalwart will wait until the fortunate one is at least out of earshot before mobiling her friend that "She only got interviews because she was shagging her undergraduate tutor who was her academic reference".

Despite both parties knowing pretty much exactly how the other feels, on no account should any true thought or feeling be expressed. Instead the above protocol should take place as ritualised as a Japanese tea ceremony.

I may expound later on certain other points, but I will currently bid you adeiu. Remember ladies, chin up, stiff upper lip and the old motto, Semper Anxius

Chapter 2

Although part one of our guide covered the initial aspects of the season, we now proceed onto the more substantial protocols that every debutante will need pay attention to.


A similar level of consideration that would be required for a royal visit goes into the various ensembles considered for interviews. Many will anguish over the choices but eventually settle for the de-rigeur dark blue/black suit. However, some will take their psychological studies to heart and opt for something a little more outre, hoping perhaps that little paisley and damson number may make them stand out from the Marks and Spencer/ Next multitude. However, this should not be taken too far, as it is common knowledge that anyone turning up in a lime green Kappa tracksuit with wellingtons has never made it past the interview stage, regardless of how memorable they were.

Emotional fortitude

The true student of the human condition will realise that similar to Kubler-Ross's 5 stages of grief (Denial -Anger- Bargaining- Depression- Acceptance), there is a analogous cycle for debutantes.

1. Anticipation (experienced shortly after sending the form off).
2. Paranoia (what is everyone else doing?)
3. Fear (either at invitation or non-acceptance)
4. Panic (either during interviews or in the "What the hell am I going to do now?" phase following non- acceptance)
5. Numbness. (I gather this eventually passes after the doctorate concludes)

Regardless of the stage, debutantes MUST under all circumstances be informed by various peers and well wishers "Oh stop worrying about it, you will be okay" numerous times. Unfortunately, on uttering this phrase very few will stop worrying about it and start believe it will be okay. The only exception to this will be fellow debutantes, who will proceed to partake in an olympic level anxiety tournament. Terms that have not been considered since first year undergrad are suddenly dusted off, and phrases like "...The 19th century vienna circle contemporaries of Freud..." or "...MANOVAS with post hoc bonferroni corrections..." are heard in the corridors.


Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, flatmates and all supporters that are unconnected with the season, will soon get used to the bomb disposal squad level of tension around the house. It is customary to provide a small gift to them as the season concludes. Be warned, a packet of Minstrels may not be considered sufficient.

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Post by Spatch » Sun Mar 25, 2007 9:27 pm

Brief interlude

For the debutante's of yesteryear

It is a well known custom for well established society dames to use one or more of the following phrases when addressing current debutantes/ presentees at court:

"It was SO much harder in my day. When training was a master's course, we had 14 placements to get through in in approximately 4 months (or similar)".

"I remember when we had to hand score them, there was none of this SPSS/WAIS Writer/ Excel nonsense. Its sheer luxury."

"Pah, Agenda for change salaries! You don't know you are born! We had to do with a yearly bursary of 3 shillings and a ribena bottle cap."

"Honestly, the research component is getting easier. They will be giving them out for signing your name soon.".

"You are lucky these younger medics are more psychologically minded. When were were in training they used to mock us, make us carry baskets of coal up steep hills, etc"

Disclaimer: To anyone who is from the previous generation (especially anyone that will be supervising me in the future), please dont take this as disrespectful. I concede it probably was harder back then, less well paid , and it probably was backbreaking. But thats probably why a lot of you are consultants by now, and I am unlikely to get off Band 6 at the rate I am going...

Part 3

The height of the season, the period between the letters of acceptance arriving and the interviews taking place, is the period that is accompanied by the most jubilation and ferverent activity, and is often the most memorable for a myriad of reasons. The postal couriers can now rest easy, as the relentless assualtive enquiries are curtailed and many are mystified at the rapid transition from demanding speculation ("WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE NO MAIL FOR ME!) to sudden indifference ("Hey, I thought the girl at number 10 fancied me, but I now realise that she was waiting for the last result from Herefordshire"). Similarly, some of the uncertainty and inquisitiveness can finally be laid to rest, and the feeling feeling of deja-vu not experienced since A-level results time subsides.

This leads into the period that would be best cinematically described as the Rocky montage, but instead of punching hanging slabs of beef, shadow boxking or running up the stairs outside museums, potential interviewees are memorising statistics textbooks, eating copious amounts of junk food in an attempt to allay anxieties and on the telephone to that friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who once had an interview at Exeter in 1999. Dusty old copies of Microsoft Powerpoint will creak into action as slide presentations will be polished, accompanied by queries to technologically minded friends about how to stylishly cross fade between the Aims and Methods sections. It is customary to offer said acquantances incentives (meals, flowers, ones first-born child), but these should be swiftly forgotten as soon as the interview concludes. Historically, it has been known that some interviewees have gone so overboard on the stylistic aspect of the presentation, they actually forget to include any content on their slides. One can only imagine the bemusement of a research interview panel, who are expecting yet another revamp of an undergrad dissertation but are suddenly treated to what appears to be an electronic art installation set to the music of Jean Michel Jarre.

For the true doyens, the sina-que non of the season is the mock interview. Most of the veterans will report that it is termed "mock" not because it is false in any way, but due to the fact that feedback feels like one is being mocked at. Although useful, mock interviews are also a fantastic way of raising ones anxiety through the roof, whilst simultanously feeling that they have not learned anything since reading "See Spot Run". More than one society dame has likened the experience as being "as painful as a visit to a 16-stone dominatrix with a hangover".

Mock interviewers themselves tend to come in two flavours. The first is the benevolent, friendly but almost-clueless-as-a-PG-Wodehouse-vicar interviewer, who possibly doesnt have much to do with the world of clinical psychology. Instead of asking questions about NICE guidelines or preferred therapeutic models, they can query you on topics as random as psychiatry, what you did as your part time job while at school or "Why you want to work for this company?". Feedback is usually limited to "Oh that was fine" and when asked to be more specific about what was fine, the response is "Oh, all of it. Stop worrying and put Eastenders back on". The second type is affectionately refered to as the "Spawn of Beelzebub", who will start with easy questions such as "With such a sample what effect sizes would you be requiring for a clinical significance" or "Perhaps you can tell us about neurobiological factors in psychosis, you can start with synaptic pruning" before progressing into obscure areas of clinical psychology ("What are your opinions of the impact of the Esalen institute on post 60's psychotheraputic practice" or "Recite from memory the NICE guidelines for PTSD treatment, in the form of a poem"). If the whole exercise is videotaped the distress is intensified as one realises how fat they look in profile, how freakish their voice sounds (nasally congested and from Birmingham apparently), and how crappy their posture is.

Still one shall endure, and memorise their notes until they are a blur, ask their fellows "What are you going to say/ do?" whilst secretly thinking "Is mine better than this?". After this its the cocktails and Pimm's party at the pavillion that is the inteview itself, which we shall hope to cover shortly.

Part 4

The etiquette of the interview waiting room

There is a veritable minefield of protocol to navigate on the grand day itself. True veterans will arrive 2 hours early for a morning interview and wait in the slight drizzle while the cleaning staff arrive to unlock the front doors to the psychology department, whereas mere amateurs may make frantic mobile calls from the motorway pleading for the course administrator not to strike them off the list because they failed to realise the traffic would be so bad.

This is all very well and good, but here we will be talking about the waiting room itself. Although no doubt brimming with anxiety, one must always comport oneself in the manner of gentlefolk. I must stress that is highly impolite to ask any trainees present if the course has contributed to any nascent drug/ alcohol problem, or if that tired look in their eyes is because of a multiple pile up deadline. This is frowned upon by both course staff and trainees. Instead positively reframe your quips and suggest that they must be awfully grateful of the travelling opportunities they get because their placements are at the other end of the country.

It is also considered impolite to fiercely interrogate the applicant sitting next to you. Remember that Article 17 of the Geneva Convention state that you can only be reasonably asked for your name, rank and serial number, not Where you did your undergraduate degree? Did you get a first? Did you do a Masters? Where did you do that? Are you working, or ever have worked as an assistant? If so, specify dates and supervisors? Are they on the panel for this or any other course? How many times have you applied, how many interviews have you got? Although there is possibly a time and place to disclose the above information, the first 300 seconds of meeting someone is probably not it.

The interview waiting rooms are often a tense and anxiety provoking terrain. Some courses are merciful and limit the numbers of interviewees sitting together. Others don't. Some offer biscuits, fruit, water and various forms of sugary based concentrate. Others will even go as far to provide sandwiches, (although these will be eaten by the trainees, as almost everyone else will be too nervous to tuck in). Remember its quite telling if the course only offers you "directions to the vending machine". Sometimes, the waiting room will have an interior decoration only found in former soviet Eastern European police stations.

Also keep an eye out for the achingly-hip undergraduate that bursts in without thinking, makes his way halfway into the room before realising he is definitley in the wrong place. It is the same undergraduate who will be down at the union bar later on saying "I think they was having a funeral or sumfing up there man!"

When someone approaches you and explains that the panel are ready to see you, it is particularly against decorum to do any of the following:

-Denying that you are yourself when asked.
-Writing a will on the back of your interview invitation and handing it to the person sitting next to you.
-Shrieking like a banshee.
-Motioning theatrically to the present company and saying "Its just a formality, see (some of) you later".

The following however, are allowed and quite understandable:

-Deep breaths
-Rising to your knees somewhat shakedly
-Clutching your notes in a rigor mortis style deathgrip
-Requesting your mother.

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Post by Spatch » Sat Jun 02, 2007 10:40 am

The interview

The interviews themselves vary enormously, but your years of good breeding and training in the appropriate manner should see you through. Many interviewees come out with a feeling of anticlimax, complaining that they were not asked anything they prepared for. This is entirely par for the course and has been a common complaint since 1913 when Lady Dorothy Crichton-Earnshaw went into her clinical interview and remarked:

"It was most extraordinary, they did not ask anything about NICE guidelines, CBT or which gentleman's club my father attended."

Needless to say this proud tradition continues and many an interviewee comes out shaking with righteous indignation that they were not able to give their voice on issues they have been revising since the previous May.

The aftermath.

The winding down of the season is a time of panic yet remains oddly comforting due to its age old familiarity.

A clutch of bright young things will recieve some form of communication. These chosen few will have multiple offers and in bygone days will have had their own parade down the Mall. Today they settle for a call or email, but there are talks for Tatler to publish a special supplement featuring them.

Several will have an offer (or two), probably at the course they will have always wanted to go to. They are very much happy with their lot, but some may harbour deep seated resentment towards courses that rejected them (especially if there were interviewed then rejected). In the future this may manifest itself in its extremest cases as "We were quite happy to have you join our team but as you trained at XXX, and our Head of services was turned down by them in 1983, feels you would not be appropriate".

The reserve list is a small novel in itself. [Coming soon from Picador books "Confessions of a Reserve List jockey"]

The final group is those that recieved total rejection. To make things worse psyclick tends to have posts from those that hold offers and are making frantic attempts to contact the rest of their cohort. The ones that have not been as succesful either tend to restrict their jeremiads to one forlorn thread or withdraw in total. These are the equivalants of those ladies that have married into not-so-good families or [horror] into trade. Quite often it is they that will impose their own self-exile rather than any action of their peers. Narratives are often sorrowful yet sometimes plucky. If Thomas Hardy was alive he would have probably written "Bess of the messed up interview at Herts".

This concludes our guide. Regardless of whichever circumstances you find yourself in I trust you keep heart, and compose yourselves in the manner of which you are expected. We happy few have an uphill struggle, but we shall face it with stoicism, good humour and the unceasing ability to complain about paperwork.

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Post by sc » Fri Aug 10, 2007 7:28 pm

and its nearly that time of year again..cant wait!! :wink:

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Post by chixta » Tue Apr 22, 2008 4:29 pm

Spatch, please write some more! perhaps about the conflicting emotions of trainees as they feel simultaneously grateful to the course, yet furious that they have no social life or sleep in the two months prior to deadlines!! :shock: :D

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Post by Spatch » Fri May 02, 2008 8:46 pm

Spatch wrote:The reserve list is a small novel in itself. [Coming soon from Picador books "Confessions of a Reserve List jockey"]

And as if by magic it appeared:

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Post by Dr.Dot » Fri May 02, 2008 9:22 pm

aww. cool. What a nice blog.
Dorothy: Now which way do we go?

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Post by workingmama » Fri May 02, 2008 9:52 pm

Wowwee - what an amazing blog :D

Now I have another site to read daily (as well as Clinpsy) to avoid my actual job, which seems to be mainly offered up to me by the Gods as a way of keeping the wolf from the door whilst I study (OU) :shock:

Thank you Spatch!

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Post by Pesto Sandwich » Sun Jan 10, 2010 7:08 pm

Thanks, Spatch. That may be the best thing I've ever read. THat has made this whole process worthwhile.

I will indeed require more than a packet of minstrels!

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Post by Princess86 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 8:49 pm

I love that a lot of what is on here is actually true- particularly the interviewee's asking one another their who psychology-related history within 5 seconds of meeting them and harassing the poor postman everyday!! :lol:

I also required more than a packet of minstrels when it was over, but had to make do with a large bar of cadburys from my OH :roll: :cry:

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Post by Aspire » Mon Aug 16, 2010 3:20 pm

lol! That was great Spatch! dreaded time of the year is nearly upon us!

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Re: Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

Post by JuliaTongue » Wed Jun 01, 2011 1:29 pm

Brilliant!! Both for humour and stress-busting :D

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Re: Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

Post by Brownie baker 87 » Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:15 pm

I read this and loved it when I was first filling out my form/procrastinating but then tootally forgot it was here! It's now coming to the end of the Season, and looking back over it is hilarious!! So good to have some light relief adn make us see the funny side of our insanity :)

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Re: Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

Post by LittlePrincess » Wed Feb 01, 2012 7:31 pm

Spatch, that was hilarious to read! :lol: very well done! I'll come back to this post in a few years time when I eventually apply for the course! :lol:

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Re: Debutante Guide to the Clinical Application Season

Post by nomnom » Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:30 pm

Brilliant post! I will be coming back to this when I apply in a few years :) Thank you Spatch!

'Forget what hurt you. But remember what it taught you'

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