26 Oct 2016

Making the Most of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Making the Most of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Interested in public service? Mired in student debt? You’re not alone. Luckily, the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program can help even the most indebted early career psychologists successfully manage student loan repayment.

Congress approved the PSLF program in 2007 as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act to encourage more people to take jobs in public service and the nonprofit sector.[1] The program allows student borrowers to have their Federal Direct Loans[2] forgiven after making 120 “qualifying” payments over at least 10 years.

However, forgiveness is not automatic, the details matter, and the system can be confusing to navigate. To qualify for the program, borrowers must ensure they are employed in the right kind of job, have the right kind of loans, and participate in the right kinds of payment plans.

It’s critical, therefore, to understand the details and nuances of the program, so you can decide whether it is the right option for you.

The Right Kind of Job

PSLF is available only to people in certain types of jobs in the public sector. And it is important to note that in most cases eligibility is based on the status of the employer, rather than on the specific job duties of the borrower.

Under the PSLF program, public service employment is defined as full-time paid work for the government, nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, as well as a few additional nonprofit organizations. Government employment includes local, state, federal and tribal governments; government entities; and government agencies. Contractors not directly employed by a government are excluded.

“Full-time” is an annual average of at least 30 hours per week, unless the employer requires a greater number of hours for full-time status. Borrowers may work more than one part-time position and still be in the “right kind” of job if their combined hours total at least 30 hours a week on an annual average.
Borrowers are also allowed to change jobs while they continue to work toward the 120 qualifying payments as long as their job is in the public sector.[3] And borrowers may document their employment by submitting annual Employment Certification Forms.

The Right Kind of Loans

Only Federal Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF. Students borrowing before July 2010 might have borrowed federal student loans from a bank or private lender through the FFEL program (Federal Family Education Loans). Borrowers must first consolidate FFEL loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan before they can make a payment that counts toward PSLF.

Private student loans are not eligible for PSLF and cannot be included in a federal Direct Consolidation Loan.

The Right Kind of Payment Plans

Qualifying monthly payments include payments made under any of the available income-driven repayment plans. Payments made under a standard 10-year repayment schedule also technically qualify toward PSLF. However, because borrowers in a standard 10-year term will not have anything left to forgive after making 120 payments, an income-driven repayment plan is a necessary step toward forgiveness.

Unfortunately, borrowers must choose from an increasingly bewildering array of income-driven plans. There are five:

  • Income-Contingent Repayment
  • Income-Based Repayment
  • Pay As You Earn
  • Income-Based Repayment for New Borrowers
  • Revised Pay As You Earn
Although the plans are similar in many respects, they also differ in significant ways, including how payment amounts are calculated and how spousal income is treated. Learn more about Income-Driven Repayment Plans.

Payments made more than 15 days late do not count toward forgiveness. Also, only one payment per month may be counted toward the 120 required payments, so payments made in advance of the due date may not qualify. Qualifying payments do not need to be consecutive.

After making 120 qualifying payments, borrowers will be required to submit an application for forgiveness and demonstrate that they have met the requirements of the program. The forgiveness application has not yet been released, but it is expected to become available in 2017.

There is lots of red tape, the details are tricky, and getting the documentation right is important, but the PSLF program provides the affordable payments and loan forgiveness that today’s public-service-minded psychologists need. Learn more about Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PDF)

How to ensure you have eligible loans:

  • Visit the National Student Loan Data System at nslds.ed.gov.
  • Check that every loan has the word “Direct” in its name. For example: Direct Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS, or Direct Consolidation.
  • Any loans that do not include the word “Direct” in the name are not yet eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
  • Learn more about the pros and cons of consolidation and visit studentloans.gov to submit an electronic consolidation application.

Heather Jarvis is an attorney and a nationally recognized expert specializing in student loan law. She has provided award-winning student loan education and consultation for universities, associations and professional advisors since 2005. For more information, visit askheatherjarvis.com.


[1] Mitchell, Josh. “5 Things About Public Service Loan Forgiveness.” The Wall Street Journal. November 20, 2015.

[2] Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PDF)

[3] U.S. Department of Education

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26 Oct 2016

Member Profile: Kristin Krueger Introduces Improv to Therapy

Member Profile: Kristin Krueger Introduces Improv to Therapy
APA Member Kristin Krueger, is exploring how improv can be used to improve mental health outcomes as well as improv as a cognitive activity.
APA Member Kristin Krueger is exploring how improv can be used to improve mental health outcomes and as a cognitive activity.

Chicago psychologist Kristin Krueger took her first class in improvisational theater at the famed The Second City Theater and Training Center in Chicago in 2006 for fun, but she soon realized improv's tenets and techniques could be useful in her work as well. Today, you might say Krueger has come full circle.

Not only does she employ improv in her group therapy and conduct research into how the use of improv techniques in therapeutic settings can affect mental health outcomes, but she is also a member of the Therapy Players, a professional improv group made up entirely of therapists.

"Being part of an improv community is therapeutic in itself," she says.

For Krueger, the key to improv, a form of live theater in which actors create scenes without prior preparation, is "to be yourself, and to be comfortable with that." That’s therapy's goal as well, she notes. Krueger is by no means the first psychologist to notice the commonalities between the two. "A lot of people are using improv in therapy, but as far as I know, nobody else is measuring it," she says.

Krueger was already a psychologist, and working as a waitress to help pay the bills in her hometown of Chicago a decade ago, when a co-worker suggested they take improv classes together. Krueger thought improv might help her with public speaking, but she mostly went along "just for fun." She suggested taking classes nearby, in their North Side neighborhood, but her friend said, "No way. It's Second City or nothing," Krueger recalls.

It was a serendipitous choice, because The Second City, founded in 1959, stands in a direct line back to Viola Spolin, who developed the system of games and exercises that are the bones of improv. In the 1920s, Spolin trained to be a settlement house worker with Neva Boyd, a pioneer in recreational therapy who was using games and groups in revolutionary ways in education. Spolin eventually moved her career into the performing arts, and took exercises she had developed herself into classes she taught for prospective actors, first in a crossover program in Chicago for the federal Works Progress Administration's Recreation Project during the Great Depression. Spolin's son, Paul Sills, was one of the founders of The Second City.

Krueger went through a good chunk of the improv training series at The Second City, and later took classes at different centers in San Antonio, Texas, and San Francisco, Calif. When she returned to Chicago in 2012, she retook the basic course at The Second City and went on for advanced training there. Meanwhile, she held a number of professional research and clinical positions, notably at Rush University Medical Center, where she coordinated the adaptation for a Spanish-speaking population of two large NIH-funded, longitudinal studies on aging, and served as a staff neuropsychologist for the Veterans Administration and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System in Chicago.

While at Cook County’s John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital, Krueger introduced some small weekly groups for patients with anxiety and depression that employed exercises she had learned in improv classes. She evaluated the effectiveness of the games on improvements in her patients’ mood and functioning, based on self-reporting. The findings on that work have been submitted for publication.

Krueger now has a private practice in a Chicago suburb with an emphasis on issues of aging. She conducts neuropsychological evaluations in an aging population, leads groups, teaches healthy aging classes, and maintains collaborations at Rush. She finds therapy groups to be a good place to use the interactive games and exercises designed to help improv practitioners become comfortable enough to engage with one another.

One problem with traditional therapy groups can be that some members tend to talk more than others, she says, "but improv exercises are timed and concrete. Everybody can talk equally, and the exercises give people the structure they need to manage their own emotions." Krueger says she thinks improv has a lot in common with that aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy that encourages patients to "celebrate who you are."

Krueger is following two threads of research into the use of improv in therapy. One thread explores how improv can be used to improve mental health outcomes. For this study, patients engage in a series of psychotherapeutic improv sessions. After the sessions, the patients rate their symptoms of depression and anxiety, self-esteem, perfectionism and ability to relate to others socially.

The second thread looks at improv as a cognitive activity. In this area, Krueger is working with Clifton Saper, PhD, at Amita Health, and Jeff Winer, a PhD candidate, to put together a panel of neuropsychologists who will categorize improv games according to the cognitive domains they align with.

She says she believes "improv can make a big contribution to making people feel better about themselves, live more collaboratively and improve their mental health."

Krueger performs as often as she can with The Therapy Players, which she joined shortly after it began in 2013. This is founder Dave Carbonell's second improv group; he founded The Freudian Slippers in graduate school 30 years ago. The Therapy Players are all full-time therapists, and about half their routines are based in some way on their work, says Carbonell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders. Members practice for two hours every Sunday morning and typically perform more than a dozen dates a year, at mental health conferences and other meetings, and at clubs like The Den Theater and Stage 773 in Chicago, where, Carbonell says, "We get really good crowds, they come back and, boy, do they have a good time."

Kristin Krueger, center, is a member of the Therapy Players, a professional improv group made up entirely of therapists. (Photo: Ellen Carbonell)
Kristin Krueger, center, is a member of the Therapy Players, a professional improv group made up entirely of therapists. (Photo: Ellen Carbonell)

Of Krueger, Carbonell says, "She's coming at improv from both ends. She's generating research in an area where there's hardly any. She's going to make a big mark—and, she's funny as all get out."

When she was growing up, psychology was "the only thing I wanted to do," Krueger says, but she took several years off between college at the University of Wisconsin and the graduate work that culminated in a PhD degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2004.

"I wanted to have a lot of life experience before I tried to help people. Otherwise, I thought, anything I had to say wouldn't have much weight," she says. That life experience included getting a master's degree in linguistics, extensive travel, and numerous diverse jobs. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and German.

Early on, Krueger was attracted to the role of the therapist as portrayed in popular culture. Her mother's cousin, Dan Kiley, in 1983 wrote the best-selling, popular-psychology book The Peter Pan Syndrome, based on his own research with boys and men who resisted accepting adult responsibilities. Krueger met Kiley as a girl and was impressed. She also was intrigued by the television miniseries Sybil, about a woman with dissociative identity disorder, in which the actress Joanne Woodward portrayed the real-life clinician Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. And she was a big fan of educator, author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia, long a popular lecturer on public television.

"He was so present in my childhood," she recalls. "He embodied unconditional positive regard in so many ways."

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25 Oct 2016

Emerging Career Paths in Psychology

Emerging Career Paths in Psychology

As the discipline of psychology – and how it’s taught – continues to evolve, psychology students/post-docs, early career psychologists, researchers and clinical practitioners are finding that their training and education can open doors to rewarding careers that they’d never before considered.

Whether you’re happy with your current path and just want to learn about how to expand your impact, looking for a shift in focus or function, or something in between, watch our webinar on emerging careers.

Emerging Career Paths for Graduate Students

In this 30-minute webinar, learn more about the types of careers that are possible, including government, non-profits, and industry. Also, how to position yourself for such career opportunities. And practical tips for self-assessment, job search, professional presentation.

Emerging Career Paths for Early Career Psychologists

In this 30-minute webinar, learn more about assessing and marketing the skills you already have, practical tips for conducting an opportunity search and hear stories of psychologists who’ve taken on emerging careers.

Emerging Career Paths for Research Psychologists

In this 30-minute webinar, learn about thinking beyond as “academic” vs. “non-academic.” Opportunities to support psychological science and conduct research. Plus practical tips, like skills assessment, coaching, and networking.

Emerging Career Paths for Clinical Practitioners

In this 30-minute webinar, learn about creating opportunities in emerging practice areas, maximizing your full scope of practice and training. Plus, practical tips and resources for exploring innovative paths.

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24 Oct 2016

PsycIQ Division Profile: Division 2, Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP)

PsycIQ Division Profile: Division 2, Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP)

APA's Division 2, Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), advances understanding of the discipline by promoting excellence in the teaching and learning of psychology.
Through its dedicated and robust web site, www.teachpsych.org, STP provides teaching resources and support to help educators at all levels — high school, undergraduate, and graduate — grow in their careers and deliver the best and most rewarding instructional experience to the next generation of psychologists.

Resources of note:

Visit Division 2 to learn more about what they do to serve psychology educators!

Interested in Education? Read our collection of articles on Education curated specially for APA members and affiliates.

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24 Oct 2016

Teaching Confirmation Bias Using The Beatles

Teaching Confirmation Bias Using The Beatles

Help your students understand and avoid cognitive errors.

By John A. Minahan, PhD

Confirmation bias is the original sin of cognition. In seeking proof for only what we’ve already decided is true, we open ourselves to unlimited errors of thought. Maybe I’m amazed at my horoscope's accuracy. That seems innocuous enough. But maybe I’m also disgusted, yet not surprised, by the behavior of a particular ethnic or religious group, or convinced that mounting casualty rates prove the imminence of victory in a war my nation is waging. Confirmation bias is a serious subject. That doesn't mean, however, that you can’t have fun teaching about it. In fact, a bit of fun may be just what your students need to loosen its hold.

A (good-natured) dirty trick. Confirmation bias usually gets a big assist from "not me" thinking. Begin this lesson, then, without appearing to. Casually mention how you went to the store the other day and got stuck in the slow line. Grumble about the other line always moving faster, then stand back and watch. Most if not all students will have a story about the same thing happening to them. Nod sympathetically and move on; you’ll come back to this later.

“Paul is dead.” Today's students love The Beatles, whose music now has all the fuzzy warmth of things associated with (gulp) grandparents. Vinyl records will make this lesson even more retro and cool. Play "Strawberry Fields Forever," in which John Lennon remembers the park where he played as a child. At the very end, we hear a distorted and barely audible voice. Play this brief segment several times and ask the class what the voice is saying. Answers will likely range from "I'm very bored" to "cranberry sauce" to a declaration that it’s just gibberish. Wrong. The voice is saying, "I buried Paul."

Some students will hear it; some won't. The key thing is that millions of people did, and for good reason: Paul McCartney, who had given the world such brilliant and beloved songs as "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby," died in a car crash in 1966. The surviving Beatles tried to keep it a secret, and even put an imposter in his place. But by 1969 the truth began to leak out, largely because The Beatles themselves, out of guilt-driven loyalty to their fans, had been planting clues.

If a few class members already know this legend, they can help you reassure the rest not only that Paul is still very much with us but also that The Beatles never dropped any hints about his death. What then gave this rumor such widespread acceptance? Once this question is on the table, so is an examination of confirmation bias.

The "proof." There’s a wealth of sources you can draw on (a representative list follows this article). Begin with the cover of the Abbey Road album. In this iconic image, we see the four of The Beatles crossing a London Street. Invite the class to view it as a funeral procession. In the front is John, whose white suit marks him as God. Ringo follows, wearing a preacher’s old-fashioned frock coat. After him comes Paul — or the Paul lookalike, wearing the kind of conservative suit you'd see on a corpse dressed for burial. He's out of step with the others (aha) and shoeless (the dead don't need shoes) and holding a cigarette (often called a “coffin nail”) in his right hand (Paul was left-handed). George is last, appropriately, because his work shirt and jeans indicate he’s the gravedigger.

Nearby, a Volkswagen has a license plate that reads LMW 28IF, which means "Linda McCartney Weeps" (Linda was Paul’s wife) and that Paul would be 28 if he were still alive. The police car on the other side of the road symbolizes the law enforcement officials at the scene of the fatal accident. How do we know Paul died in a car crash? Look at the car parked ahead of the Volkswagen and imagine a line connecting its two right tires; when extended, that line goes through Paul’s head.

By now, you should be hearing comments ranging from "Aren’t you just finding what you want to find?" (which is good) to "Yeah, I sort of see it" (which is better). Offer more proof: On the album’s back cover, some tiles on a concrete wall spell out "Beatles." A cluster of smudges appears to the left. Connect these “dots” and you get the number 3: Only three Beatles are still living. The tile containing the "s" in Beatles has a crack in it, meaning the band is no longer united — and hasn’t been for years. Remember the "I buried Paul" line? Now that we know what to look for, we can find clues aplenty, as many fans did when they pored over album covers, parsed song lyrics and played Beatles songs faster or slower or even (and most notoriously) backwards.

Fact and reason. Hopefully, your students will point out that it's possible to hear just about anything when the words are distorted enough, just as it’s possible to find proof if you've already decided what's true. Try passing out the words to any Beatles song. For example, "Love Me Do" expresses a wish for "somebody new" and "someone like you" — clearly a reference to the band’s need for a lookalike replacement. Except for this problematic fact: The song was composed years before Paul’s “death.”

More facts: the rumor began as a prank article in a college newspaper. The Abbey Road cover came about because The Beatles, having increasing trouble working together, decided on a simple shot of them crossing the street near their recording studio. Paul was barefoot because it was a hot day. The LMW 28IF license would encode no message about Linda McCartney weeping because Paul and Linda hadn't even met in 1966, the year he supposedly died. Plus he was 27 in 1969, and the "I" in "28IF" is a one.

How about some reasonable criteria for an imposter? Looking like Paul would be the easy part. He would also have to sing like Paul, and walk and talk and smile in that adorable way like Paul and compose instantly hummable tunes like Paul. Oh, and play bass. Left-handed. Which returns us to the key question: Why did so many people put so much faith in something so unfounded?

Follow-Up Activities

  1. Research The Beatles and their times. Maybe it was easier for their millions of long-time fans to believe in tragedy and conspiracy than in the truth: As Paul himself told Life magazine, he was "not dead, but the Beatle thing is over." And the band did in fact plant "secret" messages in their album art and music, albeit at random and in a whimsical mood just to see if anyone would notice; hence the distorted phrase at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (which actually is “cranberry sauce”). Also, given that this rumor of death and cover-up was most virulent in America, and given that Vietnam was happening and Watergate was looming, perhaps the credulity becomes less incredible.
  2. Invent a rumor about a celebrity and then find the "proof." To counter the morbid tone of the Paul-is-dead legend, and to make this rumor feel all the more attractive, focus on something we might wish for instead of something we dread.
  3. Connect these discussions to more pressing or far-reaching scenarios. For example, a student believes that the C+ she just got on her algebra quiz proves she can’t do math. Having already decided she's a failure, would she not draw the same conclusion from an A-? Imagine then the healing effect of freeing herself from confirmation bias. This discussion may also lead to some complex and controversial issues involving race, religion, politics, ideology and morals. If handled with intelligence and sensitivity, such a discussion will help students not only generate testable hypotheses but also experience the compassion and empathy that critical thinking can elicit.
  4. Watch the live feed from the "Abbey Road Crossing Cam," which makes for strangely compelling viewing. The camera faces a different direction, but it's the same crosswalk. Generally, no more than a few minutes will elapse before someone stops in the middle of the street to be photographed recreating the famous scene, often to the clear annoyance of London drivers.
  5. Ensure no one leaves this lesson feeling judgmental ("Not me") by reminding students of their "other line always moves faster" discussion at the start of class. Why do we think that? Could it be we look for proof only during those few times when our line is moving slower and don’t look for proof during the many more times our line is not moving slower? The nonnormative is perceived as normative because the normative is not perceived at all. That is, the very rarity of the event makes it feel as if it happens continually — yet one more way in which confirmation bias creates its own reality. What if we could change that? We all engage in confirmation bias, which means we can all do something about it. "You say you want a revolution?” The Beatles asked. "You better free your mind."

Interested in Education? Read our collection of articles on Education curated specially for APA members and affiliates.

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24 Oct 2016

Think Like a Scientist: Harnessing Current Events to Teach Psychological Science

Think Like a Scientist: Harnessing Current Events to Teach Psychological Science

Try these critical thinking activities to foster scientific literacy.

Every day the news media trumpet psychology-related findings with the potential to affect our lives directly and indirectly. And we do mean every day.

  • "Testing Neurons With Ultrasound" (Gorman, 2015).
  • "Study Does Not Link Breast-Feeding With Child’s IQ" (Bakalar, 2015).
  • "Effectiveness of Talk Therapy is Overstated, a Study Says" (Carey, 2015).

These headlines are just a sample from the website of one newspaper, The New York Times, on one day. In fact, the talk therapy article listed here even elicited a letter from the American Psychological Association pointing out that this article “was minimizing the clear benefits of psychotherapy that have been found over many years of research” (Anton, 2015), leading to an online dialog about psychology research. The media and other Internet sources, with their abundance of psychology-related material, provide a perfect proving ground for teaching scientific literacy.

A major goal of our courses — especially introductory psychology — is to teach students to be strong critical thinkers about psychology-related claims. This approach fits with current emphasis on teaching skills, and not just content, in the psychology classroom (see APA, 2013). In our opinion, the most important of these skills is scientific literacy.

To do this, we look to the growing body of research on how to teach scientific literacy. Most importantly, active learning, broadly defined, has been demonstrated to lead to better outcomes than straight lecture (Freeman, Eddy, McDonough, Smith, Okoroafor, Jordt, & Wenderoth, 2014). More specifically, Lovett and Greenhouse applied cognitive psychology research to the teaching of statistical and research methods concepts and developed several principles of effective teaching (2000). They found that students do not readily generalize new learning to other contexts. They also found that students tend to learn best when they can integrate new information into what they already know.

To help students build on what they know, we repeatedly dissect media examples so students apply psychological science to a variety of contexts. We start each class meeting by asking students to find psychology-related stories online — in major newspapers, on sports blogs, in political statements or even fashion e-zines. (For students without a connected device, we allow sharing. Alternatively, students can find an article before class.) There are only two rules: The article must be from the last 24 hours to demonstrate that psychology-related stories emerge every day, and it can’t be from a psychology-specific source like Psychology Today; it’s too easy when every story is related to psychology.

Without exception, students readily locate multiple examples — even in news sources that might seem far afield. Some are based on actual scientific research, like those in the headlines we opened with, whereas others are somewhat suspect, like the supposed relation of lipstick color to personality (Schultz, 2015) or tennis star Serena Williams’s superstitious belief in not washing her socks while on a winning streak (Brodie, 2014).

As instructors, we save the best of both scientific and not-so-scientific examples in our e-folders for the relevant introductory psychology chapter. Once a week, we engage in a longer-form exercise in which we introduce one example that offers opportunities for active learning. Over a 20- or 30-minute period, we use a four-part framework in which students:

  1. Identify the claim the researchers or journalists are making.
  2. Evaluate the evidence that is cited to support the claim.
  3. Consider alternative explanations for the finding.
  4. Consider the source of the research or claim.

Here’s a recent “ripped from the headlines” example. (For each step, we’ll include instructor preparation information.) A The New York Times blog post published on the same day as the articles listed above asked “Does Mindfulness Make for a Better Athlete?” (Reynolds, 2015). The reporter concluded that the study's findings “could mean that closely attending to our bodies might help us to be better, calmer athletic performers.”

Identify the Claim

In class, students read the article and identify the claim — in this case, that mindfulness improves athletic performance. At this step, we include a related interactive component. In fact, we choose articles that lend themselves to an activity. In this case, we might have students discuss in pairs their own anxieties about performance, whether in an athletic, artistic or academic endeavor. We would introduce some mindfulness techniques and have students practice them in the context of their own example. We might follow with a larger class discussion about how mindfulness might help performance.

As part of identifying the claim, we also ask students to talk about how the researchers have operationally defined the concepts they are studying. We encourage the students to think about different ways that the same concepts could be defined and measured, and how those differences might affect research findings.

Instructor preparation: Choose the article; develop a related activity that encourages active learning.

Evaluate the Evidence

Now we dig into the actual evidence, first by examining the source, in this case the blog post. The blog post tells us this research was published in a journal and conducted by scientists at a university, all good signs. It also tells us that the study was conducted on just seven elite BMX riders, all from the USA Cycle Team, who had their brains scanned while learning to identify signals of potential problems, underwent seven weeks of mindfulness training and then had their brains scanned again. Following the training, their response to the indicator of trouble ahead was improved, and they showed less “physiological panic.”

We then guide a discussion of the pros and cons of the study as presented in the news source. The pros include that university scientists were involved, and the study was peer reviewed. The cons include that there were just seven participants, with no random assignment and no control group. This is a within-groups design, and counterbalancing is not possible.

We then turn to the peer-reviewed journal article (Haase et al., 2015). In this example, we would inform the students that the researchers described this study as a pilot, acknowledging the small sample size. The published report also includes helpful graphs and brain scan images, some of which we would project so students could see the specifics of the data. We would reiterate the pros and cons that we gleaned from the article.

Instructor preparation: Locate and read the original source; identify specific information that will help students understand and evaluate the evidence.

Consider Alternative Explanations

For this step, we guide students to identify alternative explanations for the findings. We might do this as a larger group discussion or have students discuss in small groups first. For this example, we would discuss the lack of a control group and the possibility of confounds. But we would also discuss the alterative explanation that perhaps mindfulness led to different brain patterns — improved response with less “physiological panic” — without leading to improved athletic performance. After all, the researchers did not actually measure athletic performance.

We would ask students to identify where the blogger was careful to point this out. Specifically, she noted that “the experiment did not look at actual, subsequent athletic performance” (Reynolds, 2015). We would then point out that this is even more carefully discussed in the journal. The researchers explicitly point out that mindfulness training could have led to the results they reported “without actually affecting performance itself” (Haase et al., 2015, p. 10).

Instructor preparation: Develop a list of alternative explanations; locate and read any additional articles that relate to these alternative explanations.

Consider the Source

Finally, we compare and contrast the source we started with — the blog post in this case — with the peer-reviewed journal article. We talk about what to look for in a news story or other source that indicates that it’s based on research, including names and institutions of researchers and a mention of a published study. In cases in which there is no peer-reviewed journal article, like some websites that make wild claims to sell you something, we discuss the flaws of sources that don’t point to science.

Instructor preparation: Develop a brief overview (we use PowerPoint) of why peer-reviewed journal articles are almost always a better source than a newspaper, blog or website, and of what students should look for when evaluating these. This can be reused when this activity is repeated with a new source. We also recommend evaluating sources using the CRAP test (currency, reliability, authority and purpose/point of view) that can be found at many university websites.

This format for a recurring activity was developed based on research on the scholarship of teaching and learning and allows for active learning and repetition across contexts. In our experience, early in the semester, students have difficulty finding examples of psychological science in the news, unless a headline makes it explicitly clear that a given finding is from the field of psychology. By the end of the semester, they start to see psychological science everywhere — from sports stories to breaking international news.

Similarly, early in the semester, students have difficulty working through the four-part framework. But, just as many of them become skilled at noticing when psychological science is at play, many of them also become skilled at thinking critically about research. They learn to ask the right questions and to seek out appropriate answers for these questions — the mark of a budding psychological scientist.

By Susan A. Nolan, PhD, and Sandra E. Hockenbury, MA


Interested in Education? Read our collection of articles on Education curated specially for APA members and affiliates.

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24 Oct 2016

Being a Mentee — and a Mentor

Being a Mentee — and a Mentor

Many graduate students are both mentees and mentors. Here's how to navigate the two-way street.

By Rebecca Voelker
Print version: page 32

With just a year of graduate school under his belt, Todd Avellar was helping undergraduates get a head start on plotting their own course toward a doctoral degree. He explained the difference between PhD and PsyD degrees, eased doubts about applying to graduate school, and calmed fears about dealing with faculty.

In other words, Avellar was a mentor. He signed up in 2011 for a one-year stint with the McNair Scholars Program at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), which helps undergrads explore pursuing a doctoral degree in any field they choose. Just a few years earlier, Avellar had been a mentee in the McNair program. "I had a wonderful experience," says the fourth-year doctoral student in counseling psychology at UCSB. "Mentoring is near and dear to my heart."

Avellar is just one of many graduate psychology students who find themselves in mentoring roles, says APAGS Associate Executive Director Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD. Whether it's as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students or showing the ropes to first-year graduate students, many psychology graduate students find the experience rewarding.

Mentors say they gain the satisfaction of knowing they've helped junior students navigate critical experiences — learning the ins and outs of department politics, developing strategies to get an internship, and having a safe place to discuss uncertainties or just to vent. "You feel happy to be able to support them," says Joshua Kellison, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Arizona State University who mentors undergraduate students in his research lab.

Of course, mentoring has its minefields, too, El-Ghoroury notes. Being overly critical can jeopardize relationships but offering generic advice won't help mentees achieve their goals. Here's how to offer support without stepping on toes:

Know your mentee's style

Avellar has more in common with his graduate advisor, Tania Israel, PhD, than their shared interests in counseling psychology. Both are extroverts who appreciate the big-picture issues in mental health. But when his big ideas go beyond the scope of what he realistically can accomplish, Avellar says Israel redirects him to think in concrete terms about research methods and approaches. Conversely, he adds, Israel is adept at encouraging students with a more narrow focus to think in broader terms.

Working with her has taught Avellar a key lesson as he helps guide undergraduate and other graduate students along their academic path. "She really crafts her mentorship toward the individual student," he says. "That's a really important component of mentoring — making sure it works for your mentee."

Expand your notion of what it means to mentor

Mentorship is multifaceted. Kellison has guided undergraduate students in his lab as well as peers at the graduate level. As a teaching assistant, "I've done anything from being a third reader for a master's thesis to helping students craft their letters to apply for grad school," he says.

Kellison kept office hours for undergraduate students and dedicated one lab meeting a month to discuss student concerns, such as the kind of work they could do with a master's degree versus a doctoral degree.

Among his fellow grad students, Kellison has suggested which faculty to consider choosing for their committees and which grants to apply for. "I've applied for every grant I was even remotely qualified for, so they've come to me to ask about that," he says.

Sometimes mentoring can take a non-traditional twist — in the digital age it can be a two-way street, says El-Ghoroury. Faculty who haven't quite jumped on the social media bandwagon might turn the tables and ask a graduate student for advice. "I call it bi-directional mentoring," he notes. "It's an interesting opportunity."

As a mentor in the McNair program, Avellar has helped undergraduate students prepare for the Graduate Record Examinations and craft unique research projects so they can publish the results in the McNair program's research journal. He also helps students with more practical matters, such as writing emails with more substance than the skimpy text messages they're used to writing.

But his guidance isn't strictly academic. Avellar also shows them comfortable places to study and where to find good food that won't break the bank. He helps new graduate students find community venues where they can pursue personal interests — maybe tennis courts or a yoga studio. "It's really important in graduate school to keep that balance," he says.

Keep it in perspective

Matthew FitzGerald, a fifth-year clinical psychology graduate student at Loyola University Maryland, encouraged a fellow graduate student to attend the same site where he had done his clinical practicum. He even suggested a specific supervisor to work with. She took his advice — but didn't have a great experience, he says.

"That really helped shape my sense of mentoring," he says. Mentoring, he now realizes, is about taking perspective, FitzGerald added, so it's important to think about how a piece of advice will affect another person whose perceptions of what's appealing may be completely different than your own.

Listen intently

When an undergraduate student wanted to leave Kellison's lab, it seemed he should retract the student's recommendation letter since it was based on work the student had mapped out — but not completed — for the next semester. But it became a "delicate situation" when Kellison learned through his department chair that the response is considered coercion. "I didn't realize that once it's out there, it's out there," he says. "You can't retract it."

In hindsight, Kellison says he should have listened to the student instead of trying to talk him into staying in the lab. "This was not the work he wanted to do, but I hadn't really heard him."

Own up to your mistakes

FitzGerald often sees first-year graduate students already anxious about the internship match or planning their professional lives for the next 10 years. "That takes away from the richness of the training experience," he says.

To quell that anxiety, FitzGerald advises, "Tell them what you did wrong as well as what you did right." It's often a stress buster for early graduate students to see a fourth- or fifth-year student who has navigated the sometimes choppy waters of academia and lived to tell the tale.

"Sharing your mistakes can help them see their path," he says.


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24 Oct 2016

The Lifelong Benefits of Mentoring

The Lifelong Benefits of Mentoring

Developing these professional relationships can be life-changing. Here's how to find one and why they are so important.

Faced with the many challenges of graduate school, students may find that the important goal of connecting with mentors gets lost in the shuffle of classwork and research. But developing those professional relationships is worth the time.

"Research shows that mentees generally perform better in their programs and after they get out of school" than students without mentors, according to W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of several books about mentoring. "Students tend to get tied into the mentor's network of colleagues, and that creates more open doors."

Graduate students with mentors are also likely to be more satisfied with their programs, be more involved in professional organizations, and have a stronger sense of professional identity, Johnson says.

Of course, finding a mentor or mentors isn't always easy. Many graduate programs pair students with an advisor, but advisors typically focus on administrative matters or short-term assignments, not overarching questions about a student's career goals and how to achieve them.

"It is optimal if mentors stand by your side and help you figure out what you want to do with your life," says APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, an Emory University psychology professor and chief psychologist of Atlanta's Grady Health System. "Getting through grad school and an internship and postdoctoral work is a complex process, and the more support and encouragement we can get along the way, the better off we will be."

About 70 percent of psychology PhD students and 50 percent of PsyD students say they had a mentoring relationship with their advisors, Johnson says about his research. "Very often, mentoring is left to the luck of the draw or chance," he says. "Program leaders assume that graduate students will just gravitate to a faculty member who may become a strong mentor for them, but that isn't always the case."

Learning from peers and professors

It's best for students to find more than one mentor, Johnson advises. "Make a constellation of mentors," he says. "Don't put all of your expectations on one person to meet your needs developmentally. Faculty are incredibly busy and are often overwhelmed with the number of students they are assigned."

Creating that constellation of mentors — faculty members, peer students and outside professionals — takes a multi-pronged approach and a willingness by students to be assertive, says Johnson, who also teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. If an advisor doesn't become a mentor, students can reach out to other faculty members by scheduling meetings, volunteering to work in a research lab, or assisting with grant writing. "Joining faculty in the work they are already doing helps make these relationships collaborative and collegial more quickly," he says.

Todd Avellar, a fifth-year psychology doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found a mentor early. While he was still an undergraduate at Santa Barbara, psychology professor Tania Israel, PhD, met with him and discussed his career goals and helped convince him to enroll in graduate school, where she still serves as his mentor. Avellar has traveled to conferences where Israel has introduced him to some of her colleagues. "She really showed me the ropes," he says.

Avellar also has been on the other side of the mentoring relationship by serving as a peer mentor to new graduate students. His program assigns more senior students to help first-year students navigate the unfamiliar waters of graduate school. Peer mentors can offer a behind-the-scenes look at a graduate program and answer questions that students might not feel comfortable asking a faculty member, Avellar says. He often takes new students on campus tours, shows them cheap places to eat, and fills them in on internal politics in his department.

"A peer mentor is just a few steps ahead of you, so they have a good idea of where the potholes and land mines are," he says.

As a former APAGS committee member, Avellar pushed for the association to develop a position statement on the need for high-quality mentorship opportunities at graduate schools. The statement, which was approved by the APAGS committee in July, calls on doctoral training programs to ensure faculty mentoring opportunities for every student.

"Certain areas are traditionally not discussed in the classroom, such as close guidance on networking, navigating the post-graduation working world, acquiring publishing and business-of-practice skills, and other areas necessary for the successful passage of a graduate student to early-career psychologist," the position paper states. "These areas befit the mentoring relationship."

The position statement also encourages the use of programs such as "speed mentoring" events, mentoring groups and paired mentor matches. In speed mentoring, students move among tables and speak briefly with professionals with various expertise to get career advice and potentially develop a more lasting connection. "We need to recognize that mentoring isn't one size fits all," Avellar says. "It really needs to be adapted to each student."

Gina Raciti wasn't sure about her future when she was studying for a master's degree in counseling at Johns Hopkins University. While taking a course taught by Johnson, she started talking with him after class, and he suggested that she pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. He also helped her focus on research and writing skills to make her a more competitive applicant to doctoral programs.

"I think it was a good confidence boost that he believed I could do it," says Raciti, now a fourth-year doctoral student at George Washington University. "He's the one I've kept in contact with the most, and he's also been an emotional support."

It's really important to have someone supporting you in grad school, Raciti adds. "As grad students, we often doubt ourselves, and there's that imposter syndrome where you feel like you don't belong but you're still here. It helps to have someone who believes in you."

Seeking outside help

Both APAGS and APA offer mentorship opportunities that can extend beyond the university to professionals already working in the field. For example, during her time as a graduate student at the University of Memphis, Ayse Ciftci, PhD, found mentors outside the university through her volunteer work with APA Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology). APA divisions and regional conferences can offer networking opportunities that may lead to mentorships, Ciftci says.

Ciftci now mentors students as an associate professor and training director of the counseling psychology program at Purdue University. She says the benefits of the mentoring relationship go both ways: She is still learning from her mentees, who offer fresh perspectives and curiosity. "It's important to remember it's not a one-way relationship," she says. "Students should have an active role."

APA and APAGS offer some mentorship programs specifically for students who may be underrepresented on campus or have difficulty finding mentors who understand their needs:

  • APA's Office on Disability Issues in Psychology pairs disabled graduate students with mentors with similar disabilities. Both mentors and mentees can apply online at the APA website.
  • APAGS's Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity offers a free yearlong mentoring program (September through August) that matches LGBT students with LGBT professionals. Applications are due by Aug. 15 each year and can be completed online through the APA website.
  • APA Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race) offers a mentorship program for graduate students from ethnic or racial minorities or for students interested in psychology issues relating to those groups. Applications are accepted in June at the Div. 45 conference and in December through an online application. More than 40 students have been matched with long-term mentors through the program.

Dos and don'ts

Whether a mentorship involves a faculty member or a professional, there are some important issues to consider to avoid potential pitfalls. The APA Centering on Mentoring Task Force created a free guide with advice for mentors and mentees, including issues that can create problems, such as sexual relationships, bullying by mentors who expect unpaid work from mentees, or overdependence by mentees on a mentor's advice.

Other advice for mentors and mentees includes:

  • Be sure to establish appropriate boundaries and expectations at the beginning of the relationship. Mentees shouldn't expect mentors to serve as their therapists, says Eddy Ameen, PhD, assistant director of APAGS. The relationship also should evolve as the mentee advances in his or her education. "You're moving more from being a student in their eyes to being more of a colleague," he says.
  • Since faculty members are often very busy, mentees should take the initiative to schedule meetings to seek advice, Johnson says. "Many of these relationships wither on the vine if there isn't good exchange and contact early in the relationship," he says. "You don't want to be annoying and obnoxious, but you certainly want to bring yourself to that faculty member's attention."
  • Mentors should provide honest feedback without being overly critical, and they shouldn't steer a mentee's career decisions, Kaslow says. "You want to guide people," she says. "You want to give them information and let them make their own choices. You want to encourage them to capitalize on their strengths."
  • Mentees also should be able to reject a mentor's advice without facing retaliation if the advice doesn't mesh with the mentee's own career goals, Johnson says. "Many faculty unconsciously try to shape their mentees in their own image," he says. "For example, they may try to push them into their area of research."
  • The imbalance in power between the mentor and mentee also can lead to problems, such as questions about authorship of studies that involve work by the mentee, Ciftci says.

If a mentoring relationship becomes unhelpful or toxic, then mentees need to consider terminating the relationship or consulting with other students or faculty members, Johnson says.

While problems can occur, most mentoring relationships offer many benefits for both mentors and mentees. "I really love mentoring," Kaslow says. "It's a wonderful way to give back to the community and help new people grow and learn and advance our profession. I also learn so much from my mentees."

Mentorships may continue long after students graduate and advance in their careers, Ciftci says. "A lot of learning happens outside of the classroom, and mentoring is a critical part of it," she says. "I believe mentoring is probably the key factor for success in graduate school."

By Brendan L. Smith


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24 Oct 2016

Mentorships for Life

Mentorships for Life

Your mentor-mentee relationship is an important predictor of your future success. Learn how to keep those relationships strong.

By Dr. Alice G. Walton
Print version: page 26

Finding the right mentor in graduate school is one of the most important — and often trickiest — parts of your grad school experience. There are lots of ways to define "mentor," but typically he or she is more than an academic advisor. Mentors offer moral support, serve as sounding boards and help you prepare for life after grad school, both professionally and personally.

The mentor-mentee relationship shouldn't be thought of as optional, says Laura Gail Lunsford, PhD, a psychology professor who studies mentoring at the University of Arizona. A poor match — or not having a mentor at all — not only can lead to an unpleasant grad school experience, it can also undermine your career prospects, she says. "Our research has found that after financial support, having a good relationship with one's mentor was the best predictor of future success, [such as] the number of publications and presentations down the road."

And, after financial support, the mentor-mentee relationship is also the best predictor of whether you graduate from a doctoral program at all, according to the Council for Graduate Studies.

What does it take to find a good mentor and cultivate that relationship? We asked mentoring researchers, faculty and grad students for their insights.

Start early

Mentors and mentees should pair up late in undergrad or early in grad school, says Lunsford. Developing relationships as an undergraduate can help lay the groundwork for graduate school and set you up for future success, according to her study, published in Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning. Specifically, early mentoring led to more satisfied grad students who made more presentations and faster progress.

"When you develop these connections as an undergraduate, you'll already have a community that's excited to greet you when you show up at the graduate level," says York University psychology grad student Jeremy Trevelyan Burman.

That said, don't panic if you don't have a mentor by the end of your first year of graduate school. "Start talking to successful third- and fourth-year graduate students and find out who their mentors are," says Lunsford. "Ask to be introduced to them and you will ultimately find a good match."

Grab the reins

Don't hang back and wait to be chosen by a faculty member, says W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor who studies mentoring at the U.S. Naval Academy. "Drop by for discussions and stay after class to chat," he suggests.

Research shows that we tend to like people we see often, so hang around the department, take potential advisors' colloquia and visit them during their office hours, Johnson adds. Becoming knowledgeable about potential mentors' work and showing them that you're interested is the best way to recruit a mentor, he says.

Collect 'em all

It's tempting to envision that perfect mentor who will mold you into a great researcher, professor or clinician. But this is a romanticized notion, says Johnson. In reality, mentors come in many forms, and each can provide a different type of support. Some may assist you better in the professional realm, helping you gain grants, apply for jobs and accomplish other career-related tasks. Other mentors can serve more "psychosocial functions," such as helping you balance your professional and personal lives and offering moral support.

Both types are important, and when it comes to picking mentors, his research has found the more you have, the better. "Patch together a network of people to gain experience from," Johnson says. "The happiest, most successful people have a constellation of mentors." This group can include more advanced grad students, faculty members from other departments or even family members, he says.

Don't force the relationship

You may want your academic advisor to be your mentor also, but things don't always work out that way — and that's OK. "Your research advisor can just be your research advisor," says Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, a researcher who studies the mentor-mentee relationship at Loyola University Maryland. This is where the constellation of mentors comes in: If your advisor is brilliant at pointing out methodological flaws in your work but can't offer you career advice or moral support, find another person in your department or even outside it who can. This way, you can still reap the benefits that your advisor offers without missing out on the guidance a mentor can provide.

Be an eager beaver

Once you've found your grad school mentors, dive into the experience to get everything out of it you can. "When I offer advice, I want students to rise to the occasion," Johnson says. So show your mentors how you put their coaching into practice. If they suggest you use an alternative technique in the lab, tell them how it worked out. Or if your mentors shared a clinical skill, let them know how it worked with your own clients. Taking your mentor's advice and sharing your successes communicate that you really want to be there and are benefiting from the relationship, Johnson says. Mentors want to know that they're helping you, and they'll feel good that you're getting what you came to grad school for.

Learn to accept criticism

Students who are reluctant to take advice or constructive criticism tend not to do as well as students who are more receptive to their mentors' advice. After all, your mentors aren't just there to cheer you on. They are trying to help you prepare for a career and, therefore, must be honest about your weaknesses. "Accept praise and criticism with openness and nondefensiveness," says Johnson. "Mentees who can tolerate and learn from correction are more likely to be mentored." If you find yourself deeply hurt or offended by your mentor's markup of your dissertation proposal, take a step back and remind yourself of the goal. Critiques are meant to evaluate and improve your work — not you as a person, Johnson says.

Scratch your mentor's back

Figuratively, that is. Mentors work hard on your behalf, says Johnson, and it's important to give something back to the relationship. "When possible, offer your mentor assistance with projects that might simultaneously afford you experience and supervision," he says. Offer to set up that new piece of lab equipment, or draft a section of a grant proposal. This way, you'll gain some good experience while also lightening your mentor's workload.

Say thanks

Make sure your mentors know that you value the relationship and the direction they are providing. "This doesn't mean you have to give your mentor a Starbucks gift card or bring breakfast every morning," says Barnett, "but make sure you're gracious and respectful of your mentor's time and efforts." Show up to appointments on time, be honest about your progress and challenges, and make sure to thank your mentors for their help and guidance every now and again.

Know it's worth the effort

Learning how to develop and nurture mentor-mentee relationships isn't easy, but it will pay off long after you've earned your degree, says Leigh Ann Carter, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Loyola. "My relationship with my mentor is something that will continue beyond graduate school," she says. "Mentoring will serve as a bridge linking my graduate training to the early stages of my professional career and beyond." Whether you continue to a career in academe, private practice, government or private industry, you'll need to tap the advice of people who have gone before you. So get out there and begin laying the groundwork for mentorships that will last a lifetime.


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18 Oct 2016

APA Resource Roundup: Student Debt

APA Resource Roundup: Student Debt

APA provides a variety of online resources for members struggling with student debt. Below are suggested starting points for graduate students and early career psychologists looking for guidance and help.

For Graduate Students

  • Budgeting

Determine which graduate program is right for you by exploring our Resources for Students. This page is a jumping-off point to helpful tips on applying to graduate school, finding a program that best fits your needs, and paying for it.

Consult the APAGS Toolkit for Affording and Repaying Graduate School. This toolkit provides a wealth of resources, including factsheets, infographics, articles, and other helpful links. It focuses on four key areas: education costs and affordability; aid, grants and funding opportunities; loan repayment and forgiveness; and financial fitness.

Review the Debt We Carry factsheet to learn more about how to budget for graduate school and what to expect financially on graduation.

  • Scholarships

Explore APAGS’ Scholarships, Grants and Awards page to see all of the funding resources APA has to offer. Each year, APAGS offers a variety of grants and scholarships to help fund student research and education.

  • Loan Repayment

Take a peek at APAGS’ Sampling of Loan Repayment and Forgiveness Programs. This list highlights repayment and forgiveness programs you might otherwise overlook.

  • Financial Wellness

Check out APAGS’ gradPSYCH Blog, which offers a range of interesting content for members struggling to manage their financial situation and looking to make the most of their graduate education.

For Early Career Psychologists

  • Funding

Browse the APA’s Funding and Grants for Early Career Psychologists page, which has resources that could help support your education or future research.

  • Financial Wellness

Download the members-only Financial Planning document and gain valuable insight on everything from repaying student loans to planning for retirement.

For Everyone

  • Financial Wellness

Learn how to manage economic stress and stay resilient in tough economic times, talk to your children about the economy, and have a budget-friendly summer. The APA’s Money page offers additional tips for managing your money and stress.

Read the Monitor on Psychology, APA’s monthly magazine.  Articles such as “The Big Payoff”, “Got Debt?”, and “The Debt Trap” place the student debt landscape in perspective and offer pointers on paying off student loans.

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