Advice for Writing of ClinPsy Doctorate Application

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Advice for Writing of ClinPsy Doctorate Application

Post by maven »

On clinpsy we often get asked for doctorate application advice so we have compiled some generic advice here. Hope it helps :)

Choose carefully. The doctorate is a big experience; a difficult and stressful one and one that can be extremely enjoyable. To enjoy it and get through it you need to be on the right course for you; one that fits you and one that you fit. Obviously geography comes into for some, but if you can apply further afield do so (if appropriate for you). Look at the course, type of interview, course ethos (many trainees report this is the most important element; as a good fit between you and the course ethos means you are more likely to enjoy your experience). You could get this information from the clearing house site, alternative handbook, and asking trainees at the courses can be useful. This will help you to choose carefully, but interviews can also be considered the final part of your process of getting a feel about where you feel they will bring out your best, and where you feel like a good fit.

Occupation Section
It seems a simple section (well it is), so keep it simple. Job title and area – don’t write droves, short and clear is the most effective way to communicate your different jobs. Main duties, just write a clear succinct sentence that summarises your duties. Be honest. Don’t try to make out you are a super assistant psychologist. People fall into the trap that because it is difficult to gain an interview/place and because competition is so stiff that you have to squeeze every last thing onto the application form (I'm talking about all sections here) – this will make your form worse. Keep it simple, be yourself. Think about what jobs to have in this section, don’t put down every last job e.g. ‘Two hours a week, aged 13, babysitting’. It won’t make your application better; it’ll make it look like you’re throwing everything on there as you haven’t got enough ‘solid clinical experience’. As a rule of thumb, if it adds up to less than a fortnight of full-time work, definitely don't include it as an entry in your relevant experience list, and think very hard about including anything that is less than a month. You can mention them in other sections if necessary.

An example of a job description could be:
Title: Assistant Psychologist
Area: Adult Psychology
Duties: I carried out a number of initial assessments with clients experiencing depression and/or anxiety. I also worked therapeutically; one-one and group based using a CBT approach. Finally, I assisted with the evaluation of our health and wellbeing groups utilising quantitative and qualitative research methods.
Relevant Experience – Other Experience
I have seen people use this section just to include extra information, just for the sake of it, or because they had content that they couldn't squeeze into the main box. Only use this section if appropriate. You could write about something which isn’t an official job, but is a useful experience e.g. BPS rep, conference organiser, or to give a very brief mention to less substantive or relevant employment. One example given could be:
I have recently been a member of the National IAPT PWP Course Accreditation Team. As part of a team visiting various universities, I check course documentation and interview all involved (e.g. staff and students) and then decide upon accreditation. This experience has highlighted the importance of quality control and the value students and staff place on the training.
Personal Statement – Reflections on occupation/research experience
This is a key section, probably the most important. Those of us who review forms see a lot of people get this wrong. This is where you show how your experience equips you to be a trainee clinical psychologist and show off your reflective capacity. One rookie error is to end up talking about what you want from being a clinical psychologist here - this belongs in the ‘What I hope to gain from training' section. Try not to waste words on filler, and don't try to tick boxes or second guess what short-listers might be looking for. Another common problem is applicants who try so hard to squeeze in every last experience and end up with a form with no depth or reflection that doesn’t flow. Again, less is more. This is not about clinical psychology in general, it is about YOU and YOUR reflections on your journey; it’s a reflective narrative of your journey. Have a nice strong opening sentence/paragraph about who you are and why you are ready to start training. Bring it to life with examples and sometimes link it to how your skills will help on training e.g. ‘...and I feel this will help me when working with a range of client groups on training.’

Layout is important too, make sure you can see where your paragraphs are. Leaving a line in between each is preferable or at least indent paragraphs. Layout is important throughout the rest of the form as well, make sure you are not squashing parts together, make it visually clear to the reader. Also don’t try to list everything you have done. Harping on that ‘I have used CBT, I have done this, my research project was ‘....’ is wasted words – THEY KNOW ALL THIS FROM YOUR OCCUPATION SECTION, this is not a descriptive section, it’s a REFLECTIVE one :)

Dissemination Section
People often panic if they don’t have publications but not many applicants come with peer reviewed journal publications ready to list. It can also include conference presentations, booklets or internal publications, or contributions to larger policy documents (eg through the BPS). It can even include articles you have written for our e-magazine Aspire. This section is not only for publications, but any small projects you carried out and disseminated to an audience e.g. at a team meeting. Keep it brief. We would suggest that you write the title, authors, where it was published/presented and then a short description underneath. As above, don’t get silly and write everything, just fairly chunky stuff. An example might look something like:
Writes, J., & Bloggs, D. (2005). Neurological Assessment of Frontal Lobe Involvement in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Unpublished thesis.

I assisted a clinical psychologist in training, administering several neuropsychological tests and conducting semi-structured interviews with clients. The research findings were disseminated to local GPs and rheumatology clinics to enhance understanding and raise awareness of how lupus affects the brain.

Talks, C., & Bloggs, D. (2007). Joint Project for Personalised Observations. North East Essex PCT, Learning Disability

This service related project got everyone involved on the forensic LD site (e.g. nurses, support workers, psychology staff) to effectively record and observe problem behaviour, producing improved validity and reliability. This was then compiled into teaching material and placed on an e-learning site for staff to utilise.
What would you hope to gain from training?
This is where you get to show you understand your own motivations and learning needs, and express some opinions. There are two interpretations implicit in the question - what you hope the 3 years will involve and teach you, and what you hope gaining the clinical doctorate will allow you to do with the rest of your career. Both of these are questions worth reflecting on. But if you don't know yet, many people go for a mixture of including the appropriate information (e.g. assessment, formulation, intervention, research skills, etc.) and personalising it so it doesn’t sound too robotic. Don’t get too fixated with ‘buzz words’, just go with what you want, but at the same time it needs to be appropriate for what training is generally about; get the right balance.

Other interests
This is where you show you have a life outside of psychology! Tell us what makes you an interesting and unique human being. Please, please, please do not talk about liking volunteering work or reading psychology books and trying to make it sound all 'psychological' as if you’re desperate for your form to be boosted. This is about you OUTSIDE OF PSYCHOLOGY, they want to see a bit of personality, to feel some sense of who you are. If they know you have a life outside of work, they know there’s more chance you will cope with the course, plus someone with a bit of personality tends to have good engagement skills and engagement skills are key in this game. You can mention things that are as esoteric or mundane as you want. We've read forms that talked about culture/languages, sporting interests, enjoying spending time with family and friends, travel, collecting things, even going to the pub! If you love baking, dancing, walking, whatever - discuss this stuff :) And as we have said earlier, don't try to make out something you're not or try to sound all impressive, just be yourself. Selectors like to get a sense of a real person behind the form :)

Any other relevant factors
Again, don’t fill this up inappropriately harping on about how you’re an awesome candidate and how brilliant you are, or with content that belongs in another section but didn't fit in to the character limit. If this section is not relevant for you – leave it blank. If you have had an interesting or atypical route to clinical psychology you might want to mention your prior direction and why you changed professions here. If you feel that a particular grade needs one line of explanation put it here. Again, keep it clear and simple. And no elaborating on things!

Overall Advice

Obviously check for spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors too and make sure your layout is visually effective and clear.

Don’t worry about getting the form in early, it makes no difference apart from the cheaper processing fee. Though don’t leave it too late, as the clearing house site can get overloaded in the last few hours before the deadline.

Once you are happy with it, submit it, and then get on with life. If you later find a typo, don't panic. It is unlikely to make much difference, and once the deadline has passed it is too late to do anything about it. Forget other candidates (rather than focus on all their qualifications and experience), concentrate on yourself! Just because someone else has a PhD and had three AP posts, doesn't mean they will definitely get on or that you won't get on; communicate yourself in a clear, but simple and reflective way, telling your story and why you're ready and hopefully that will improve your chances :)

Keep it fresh, keep it real. And good luck!

And if you don't get interviews, try not to beat yourself up for too long (obviously you'll feel rubbish for a bit). Many people who apply don't get on. Many end up saying "I was glad I didn't get on the course earlier, I was much better equipped with more experience when I got my place". Remember you will be a band 6 clinician and need to earn your money and need a lot of experience to work with complex cases, learn new models and juggle academic work. It normally works out in the end, though I know it's an extremely tough process. Look after yourself.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 03/07/2016
Last modified on 3/7/16
Last edited by maven on Sun Jul 03, 2016 12:58 am, edited 5 times in total.
Reason: Moved to appropriate Wiki section and title adjusted

Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something - Plato
The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool - Shakespeare
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