30 Jan 2017

How Did You Get That Job? A Q&A with Health Policy Consultant Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey

Want to use your psychological background and training to inform and guide lawmaking? If so, you should consider a job in policy consulting.

APA member Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey, PhD, leveraged her skills into a chief consultant job for the California State Legislature. Find out how you too can use your own psychological expertise to land a similar job.

Speaker:

Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey is the Chief Policy Consultant to the California State Assembly Committee on Business and Professions. She and her staff analyze legislation that impacts hundreds of thousands of licensed professionals throughout California and makes policy recommendations to legislators. Prior to her promotion to Chief Consultant, she worked as a principal consultant to the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development and as a health policy consultant to the office of Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. 

 

Host:

Dr. Garth A. Fowler is an Associate Executive Director for Education, and the Director of the Office for Graduate and Postgraduate Education and Training at APA. He leads the Directorate’s efforts to develop resources, guidelines, and policies that promote and enhance disciplinary education and training in psychology at the graduate and postdoctoral level.

This webinar series is based on, and borrows its name, How Did You Get That Job?, from the popular column in APA’s monthly member-magazine, The Monitor on Psychology.  You can read Dr. Clark Harvey's interview from the January 2017 issue here. The magazine is a benefit of membership with APA.

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30 Jan 2017

Game: Blockman Maze

Blockman needs your help to escape the maze where he is trapped. Guide him through the maze, picking up hammers, keys, and maps along the way to make it possible for you to get out of the maze. Blockman only has 70 seconds to get out of the maze, but you can pick up clocks to add to your escape time along the way.

Instructions:

- Press the enter key to begin your journey through the maze.
- Use arrow keys to direct Blockman.
- Walking over clocks will add to your escape time.
- Walking over a map book will show you the entire maze from above; press enter key to return to main screen.
- Walking over a hammer allows you to use it to break walls; press enter key to use each hammer once.
- Walking over a key allows you to open locked red doors; if you have a key and touch a locked door, it will open.
- Find the maze’s locked escape door in less than 70 seconds and you win!

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25 Jan 2017

Some Strategies for Paying Down Your Loans at a Moderate Pace

Some Strategies for Paying Down Your Loans at a Moderate Pace

If I've learned anything in my time writing about personal finance and student loans over the past few years, it's that every financial situation is different. Some people want to pay down their debt as quickly as possible, while some need to maintain as much cash flow as possible (which is very common for psychology professionals hoping to start their own firm).

The vast majority of new graduates fall somewhere in the middle. They want to get rid of their loans faster than the minimum payment allows, but at the same time maintain a reasonable quality of life.

You don't have to be extreme with your approach to student loans. People like me that have paid off large amounts of loan debt quickly had to go through some seriously uncomfortable times to get there. The most important thing is that your approach is the right one for you!

Here are some strategies you can use to pay down your loans at a moderate pace:

Be active during the grace period

"Grace." It sounds so nice, right? Unfortunately, the grace period on student loans can be one of the biggest pitfalls for new grads. Depending on the type of loans that you hold, you may not be required to make loan payments for as long as 6 months.

While that sounds great, it can hurt you in the long run. It's extremely common for interest to accrue during the grace period. That means a bigger loan balance than you graduated with. This was one of the mistakes I personally made before I started to pay off my $40,000 of student loans.

Do whatever you can to put money toward your loans during the grace period, even if it's an interest-only payment. This will help keep your loans much more manageable.

Build an emergency fund

If you're planning on tackling your student loan debt faster than normal, you'll want to have a strong emergency fund in place. While the common recommendation is three to six months of salary, even as little as $1,000 can be a cushion in the event of an emergency.

The main goal is that you want to avoid accruing higher interest debt (aka credit card debt) on top of your student loans. Any extra debt will severely damage your ability to make any real progress on your student loan balance.

Fully understand your loans

I talk to hundreds of readers a year, and this is almost always an issue for student loan holders. When I ask what type of loans they have, the most common answer is “I'm not sure.” There are massive differences between each type of federal and private loan program.

Even if you'd rather not look at your student loans (which is totally understandable), you need to. This will allow you to consider loan forgiveness programs or loan refinancing with the best information at your disposal.

Be sure to ask your loan servicer about the way extra payments are applied to the principal of the loan as well. Not every loan servicer handles this the same way, and it can lead to some confusion later on.

Research student loan rates

This is why having a full understanding of your student loans is so important! With interest rates as low as they are currently, there may be an opportunity to refinance into a lower interest rate while keeping the monthly payment reasonable.

There are plenty of student loan rate comparison tools available that are free to use. You will have to provide some basic information about your loans and financial situation, but generally these tools only use soft credit pulls, which won't hurt your credit score in any way.

Most of the lowest rates will likely come from variable interest loans. While those low rates may seem attractive compared with the fixed rate alternative, the interest rate could go much higher later on and make your monthly payment larger. The safest bet is to stay with a fixed interest rate, which will protect you from future rate increases.

Put your loan payment at the top of the list

Most people put their housing costs at the top of their budget. One of my favorite strategies for paying down debt is actually to make your loan payment the priority. When I was making larger-than-required monthly payments on my student loans, it was the first thing that happened after I got paid!

Once the money is gone, you can't spend it on eating out or the movies. This approach essentially forces you to take down your student loans at a faster pace.

Live well within your means

I remember when I received my first teaching paycheck after college. I had never seen $1,700 before. Unfortunately, too many recent grads fall into the habit of spending all of their bi-weekly or monthly paycheck. This makes it extremely difficult to add extra amounts to your student loan payments.

Remember that your career (and life) will be long. You don't need the nicest car or the biggest place to live right out of college in the beginning.

If you adopt that approach, you will see many of your friends with nicer things than you for the first 1–5 years after graduation. The biggest thing to remember is that those purchases are financed and will hold them back later down the road.

Opt for used cars and less house than you can afford, and you'll be able to knock out your student loans faster.

Above all, be patient

All good things come to those who wait. Careers take time to build, a business isn't successful overnight, and student loans won't disappear as fast as you want them to. Be consistent with any extra funds allocated toward your student loans, and recognize that debt freedom is a long-term goal instead of a short-term one.

In my next post, I'll take a look at a conservative approach to paying down debt. In the meantime, if you are ready for a more aggressive approach, check out my earlier post here.

-- Bobby Hoyt is a former high school teacher who paid off $40,000 of student loan debt in a year and a half. He now runs the personal finance site MillennialMoneyMan.com full-time, and has been seen on CNBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Reuters, Marketwatch, and many other major publications.

The opinions and advice expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those held by the American Psychology Association (APA).

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25 Jan 2017

Growing and Sustaining a Private Practice: Opportunities Are Where You Find Them and Where You Make Them

There are forces that impinge on the ability to develop a successful independent practice. These include lack of training in the business of practice, cognitive distortions on the part of clinicians regarding how a practice “has to be” and a lack of recognition of possible practice opportunities that utilize the doctoral-level clinician’s entire skill set. This presentation focuses on the process of creativity, and how entrepreneurial thinking can shape a thriving private practice. Numerous examples are presented on how mental health professionals may consider expanding their current practice patterns beyond providing traditional psychotherapy services in their offices.

Learning Objective 1
Discuss three concepts from entrepreneurship that relate to the expansion of a clinical practice.

Learning Objective 2
List three potential practice areas based on data-based research.

Learning Objective 3
Identify one Standard from the APA Ethics Code that relates to the developing new practice areas.

Presenter: Steven Walfish, PhD (deceased)

Dr. Walfish was a private practice psychologist in Atlanta and a partner at The Practice Institute and Clinical Professor at Emory University School of Medicine. He was the editor of Earning a Living Outside of Managed Care: Fifty Ways to Expand Your Practice, co-editor of Translating Psychological Research into Practice, co-author of Financial Success in Mental Health Practice: Practical Strategies and Ethical Practice and Billing and Collecting for Your Mental Health Practice: Effective Strategies and Ethical Practice and co-author of The Ethics of Private Practice: A Practical Guide for Mental Health Clinicians. In 2012, he served as President of APA Division 42. In 2016, he was awarded a Presidential Citation for his excellence in synthesizing practice and scholarship in all of his professional endeavors and his dedication mentoring countless others in relation to his forward looking view of what psychology is and psychologists can become. Learn more

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25 Jan 2017

The New Age of Aging: Contemporary Advances in Geroscience

Revolutionary advances in aging research have underscored the imminent promise of substantial increases in the human healthspan, the period of time that we remain healthy.  This webinar brings leading researchers into a discussion of the findings and implications associated with substantial increases in the length of healthy human life.  Through concerted interdisciplinary effort, international research is advancing the frontiers of science in efforts to treat aging as a disease, delaying or preventing the onset of a wide range of debilitating diseases.

Learning Objective 1
Identify three technological, pharmaceutical or other advances associated with substantial increases in the Healthspan

Learning Objective 2
Articulate the implications associated with longer healthy human lifespan

Learning Objective 3
Discuss the implications associated with treating aging as a disease

Presenters: Nir Barzilai, M.D. and Steven N. Austad, Ph.D

Dr. Mir Barzilai is the Director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Human Aging Research and of the National Institutes of Health’s Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging.  He also serves on numerous editorial boards and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Beeson Fellow for Aging Research, the Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar in Aging Award, the Paul F. Glenn Foundation Award, the NIA Nathan Shock Award, and the Irving S. Wright Award of Distinction in Aging Research.

Dr. Steven Austad is a distinguished professor and department chair in the Department of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  From 1986 to 1993 Dr. Austad served as assistant and then associate professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolution Biology at Harvard University, before going to the University of Idaho and becoming full professor. His teaching and research interests include the Biology of Aging, Evolution, Ecology of Infectious Diseases, and Scientific Communication. He is the author of more than 150 scientific articles. His book, “Why we Age: What Science is Discovering about the Body’s Journey Through Life,” has been translated into 8 languages.

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04 Jan 2017

How to Aggressively Pay Off Student Loan Debt After College

How to Aggressively Pay Off Student Loan Debt After College

We've all heard the numbers lately. College costs are skyrocketing to the tune of $1.3 trillion dollars. Young professionals are more indebted than ever with an average student loan balance of over $30,000. Entry-level salaries don't allow recent graduates to live the lifestyle they imagined for themselves after college.

But for psychology professionals, the reality of their student loans can seem even more daunting.

An average debt balance that often reaches well into six digits, combined with salaries that aren't always comparable to other related professions, is leaving a lot of new psychology graduates concerned about their future. If you are someone that is looking for solutions to handling your debt, you need to understand this:

Paying off debt quickly is possible, but it takes the right mindset

As a person with an audience of nearly 100,000 readers per month, I've seen almost every financial situation possible when it comes to student loans. What I've learned in my time writing about personal finance is that every situation is different, but more importantly, every person's tolerance for paying off debt is different.

For me, I wanted to get rid of my $40,000 of student loans as quickly as I could. I understood that holding student loan debt gave me fewer career options and less flexibility in my life. I paid off that debt on a teacher's salary in less than two years.

I truly believe that psychology professionals can get past their debt early on like I did, but it takes the ability to ignore the culture we're all surrounded with on a daily basis.

Here are a few suggestions for aggressively paying down your debt:

Keep your living expenses as low as possible

Live with your parents. Rent a room with friends. If you own a home, rent out your rooms to help cover the costs of a mortgage. Living costs are one of the largest expenses you'll face after college, and often times newly graduated professionals are in too much of a rush to live in the nicest place they can afford!

My wife and I rented a room from her parents after college, which is easily one of the main reasons I was able to pay off my debt faster than most people. At the time, it honestly seemed miserable and embarrassing. However, looking back I've realized that it was easily one of the best financial (and life) decisions I ever made. I absolutely wouldn't hesitate to go back and do it again.

Don't worry—uncomfortable living situations are just temporary. Understanding that reality is a powerful tool when it comes to getting rid of student loan debt quickly.

Completely avoid new cars

One of the biggest financial traps for any new professional is financing a new car. Period. Low payments and attractive warranties are designed to make borrowers feel like they are making a great decision with their money, when in reality it's one of the worst for paying off debt.

You have to keep in mind that car companies spend massive amounts of advertising dollars every year to convince consumers to attach emotions to cars. Avoiding a car payment by driving an older vehicle (I drive a 2004 GMC Yukon that I purchased for $6,000) or even opting for a slightly used vehicle instead of a brand new one allows you to apply more of your hard-earned money towards student loans.

Make the biggest loan payments possible

Rather than trying to seek out income-based payments or keep your monthly payment low, you need to max out the amount that you can pay towards student loan debt. One of the easiest strategies that I recommend to readers is making their payment the first thing that they do with their paycheck.

When you put your student loan payment as the top line item in your budget, it forces you to live on less. Making the decision to avoid going out with friends or buying things you may not need is much easier when the money has already been applied to your loan balance.

Consider refinancing your loans (but keeping the payment high)

With interest rates as low as they have been in years, it may be a good option to consider refinancing multiple student loans into one easy, organized payment. There are plenty of great student loan rate comparison tools available online right now, and many of the private lenders are offering creative options like unemployment protection and networking events to compete with federal loan benefits.

Remember—the goal to aggressively paying down debt is not to keep the payment low. Even if you refinance into a better interest rate, continue making the largest payments you can.

Let your peers pass you up

Out of everything mentioned in this article, the most powerful advice I can give is to be OK with your friends and peers having nicer things or a higher quality of life in the beginning of your career. The vast majority of the new cars, fancy vacations, and nice houses they buy will be financed at a level that they can't really afford.

Personally, living well below my means for even a few years has set me on track to fly past my peers in the coming years. Life is long, and once you realize that and start strategizing for the long term instead of the short term, you'll have a much clearer path towards being financially successful.

It's important to remember that the less student loan debt you have, the more flexibility you'll have throughout your career. Rather than only being able to take a salaried position, the option of creating your own business or changing professional specializations as desired becomes much easier and less risky later down the road with less debt.

In my next post, I take a look at a more moderate approach to paying down debt.

-- Bobby Hoyt is a former high school teacher who paid off $40,000 of student loan debt in a year and a half. He now runs the personal finance site MillennialMoneyMan.com full-time, and has been seen on CNBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Reuters, Marketwatch, and many other major publications.

The opinions and advice expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those held by the American Psychology Association (APA).

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03 Jan 2017

Suzanne MacDonald Helps Threatened Species Survive

Suzanne MacDonald Helps Threatened Species Survive
APA Fellow Suzanne MacDonald is an animal behaviorist in Toronto, Canada. She studies memory and cognition in primates and other animals in the wild.

At the edge of the northern Ontario wilderness, three orphaned polar bears roam the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, a five-acre tract of woods, rock and natural lake.

Although they are not free to roam beyond the perimeter of the conservation and public education center, the bears are faring better than many of their counterparts in the wild who face starvation as prime seal hunting grounds melt into the warming sea.

Soon, the bears will enjoy even greater freedom. With the use of “smart technology” under development and some new, learned behavior, the bears will be able to control their levels of light, temperature, amount of mist they get in the summer—and maybe even their playmates—with the thrust of a snout in a laser beam.

The brains behind this innovation is APA Fellow Suzanne MacDonald, PhD, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, Ontario, who has recruited 11 undergraduate engineering students to help develop the unique technology.

It’s just the latest project for the animal behaviorist, who has studied a wide range of animals around the globe in an effort to help threatened species survive.

“Large carnivores particularly have a hard time in captivity because they typically range over many, many kilometers in a day,” says MacDonald. “Replicating their environment in captivity is impossible, so what I think will help is to give them control over what they do.”

Psychologists, she says, have a special role to play in creating and monitoring habitats—be they wild or human-built—where threatened species can survive with a minimum of disruption to their natural behaviors.

 “We can’t just go, oh no this is terrible,” she says. “We have to actually do something about it. We have to go in and take our expertise … and help in the real world.”

For MacDonald that imperative has included a mix of behavioral research and conservationism. She has studied elephants, lions, gorillas, rhinos, marmots, orangutans and hyenas in countries including Kenya, Costa Rica and South Africa. But it may be her volunteer work with animals in captivity that has brought her the greatest satisfaction.

MacDonald has been the on-call behaviorist at the Toronto Zoo for 26 years, where she acquired a deep fondness for and understanding of orangutans. The primates love to be silly, she says, recalling her first shared joke with another species. She hid an object in her hand, then did a big reveal, which sent the orangutan howling.

“They go, ‘Aaaaaah!’ Just like kids do,” she says, throwing out her hands and grinning widely. “To do that for the first time, you go, this is the greatest thing in the world. I’m having an awesome time with this other mind.”

Orangutans also love to look at photos on a computer screen, a technology that is increasingly in use at zoos around the world. “They love it,” says MacDonald. “You can get them to scroll through photos and you can tell which photo they like by how long they spend looking at it.”

Number one with orangutans? “They love the babies,” she says.

MacDonald came by her love of animals honestly. Raised in northern Alberta, she grew up with cats, dogs, horses, ducks, rabbits and a constant backdrop of wildlife. “I’m Canadian and animals are kind of in our blood,” she says, adding conspiratorially, “I actually prefer the company of other species. That’s pretty bad!”

After undergraduate studies in zoology and genetics, she earned her PhD in animal learning and behavior from the University of Alberta and began studying the unique quirks of how animals think.

It was during a postdoc visit to a now-defunct zoo in Vancouver that MacDonald first began approaching cognitive research as one way to promote psychological well-being in captive animals.

“The zoo was terrible,” she recalls. “The primates had nothing to do so they used to abuse each other.” Including, apparently, biting each other’s fingers off. “I was so upset by that,” she says. “You can’t just give them food in a lump in the corner and a place to live and expect that primates are going to be happy. They’re like us. You’ve got to give them things to do.”

MacDonald upbraided the zoo owner and made a laundry list of recommendations, including housing them in normal social groups and giving them tasks to do, including searching for food. He incorporated them all, and MacDonald used that work as the basis for some of her earliest primate research studies.

Modern zoos have come a long way since then, and MacDonald says zoo staff has been among “the best people I’ve ever worked with.” Still, she says, each species reacts differently to captivity and requires a depth of cognitive understanding that psychologists are uniquely trained to provide.

“Now that zoos are probably the last refuge for many, many species, we’d better figure out how to keep them at least sane and breeding and as happy as possible,” MacDonald says, adding: “And it can be done, it really can.”

A spatial theme runs through much of MacDonald’s research. She has studied the spatial abilities of a variety of primates—from migrating elephants to raccoons to human babies.

Her ongoing research on roaming raccoons in the city of Toronto has earned her renown in the public press, including a documentary on her research called “Raccoon Nation” on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Nature of Things.

“There are so many more raccoons in people’s backyards than they thought,” she says. “In one backyard I have counted over 50 raccoons in one night.”

She is conducting a new study this spring comparing urban vs. rural raccoons to get data on her hypothesis that Toronto is developing so-called “uber-raccoons,” city slickers who have developed more wiles than their country cousins.

“The differences I’ve already found between the adults in the city and country were quite substantial. So I want to find out if those are innate or not,” she says.

Not all of MacDonald’s research has gone as planned. There was the time in Kenya a couple of years ago when she was testing vanilla as an attractant for elephants. It was hoped that vanilla could be used to entice the pachyderms to migrate away from crops, roads and other human encroachments that might engender danger to either.

Trouble was, she had inadvertently dosed herself and suddenly found a bull elephant barreling toward her. “You go, ‘Oh my, I have misread the situation and now I’m going to die,’” she says, laughing. “I did at one point recite my will into the video camera but luckily the elephant stopped just in front of me and I was fine.”

Watching a woodpecker land on a tall tree in her backyard, MacDonald becomes more serious.

“The wild isn’t wild anymore,” she muses. “The places in Kenya where you go, ‘Wow this is extraordinary,’ is only so because it’s fenced. Places in the wild are becoming like a zoo. And that’s really going to be the way it is.”

This blurring between captivity and the wild, she says, is an irreparable consequence of environmental degradation caused by humans. “I don’t know what to say anymore,” she says. “It seems like you’re trying to drain the ocean with a thimble. Still, you gotta do something.”

She thinks psychologists must play a much larger role: “We learn how to work in a lab, and work with control and variables. And we manipulate them. Well, the wild is becoming like that … we are used to dealing with those settings but we just have to do it in a much larger sense. We can extrapolate and put it into real life.”

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