17 Nov 2016

Give Your Practice a Financial Check-up

Give Your Practice a Financial Check-up

A basic analysis of financial data helps you track the performance of your practice and implement strategies for a sound financial future. This article describes key ratios and indicators to help you begin the process.

Some practitioners are more familiar with financial terminology than others. You may find it helpful to consult a glossary of relevant terms as you read this article. And though the subject of finances is tedious for many health professionals, it's crucial be informed and to monitor the financial pulse of your practice.

Begin by gathering your financial statements including balance sheets and income statements for the past three years. Once you have compiled this information:

  • Calculate the financial ratios listed below for each year. (You may want to use a different time interval, such as monthly or quarterly, if that works better for you based on your bookkeeping system and available financial statements.)
  • Look for changes and trends, both positive and negative. Have the values gotten better or worse? Sometimes trends are easier to identify visually, so it may be helpful to plot these data points on a graph.
  • Try to determine the cause of each change. Were the changes planned or expected, or do they come as a surprise?
  • Pinpoint indicators that look problematic and think about how can you address these problem areas and make improvements. You may wish to consult with your financial advisors(s) in this regard.

Key Financial Ratios

Financial ratio analysis uses data from financial statements to help you measure your practice's financial performance. There are many different ratios you can calculate, depending upon your need and the nature of your practice. The main categories and a few examples of each are listed below.

You may generate the following ratios on your own, or ask your accountant to calculate them for you. For those who use financial software such as Quicken or Microsoft Money to help manage their bookkeeping, such software can easily calculate some or all of the following indicators.

Profitability Ratios

Total margin (also known as profit margin): Measures your ability to control expenses and tells you how much money you actually keep for each dollar that comes in. For example, a Total Margin of 0.17 indicates that for every dollar of revenue earned, you kept 17 cents. You can improve your Total Margin by increasing rates, reducing costs, or increasing your non-operating revenue. The higher your Total Margin, the better.

Total Margin = Net Income / Total Revenue

Return on total assets (ROA; also known as return on assets): Measures how productively you are using your assets to generate revenue by telling you how many cents of profit you generate with each dollar of your assets. A higher ROA means your practice is more productive.

ROA = Net Income / Total Assets

Liquidity Ratios

Current ratio. Measures your ability to pay back your short-term debts by telling you how many dollars you have in current assets for each dollar of current liabilities. A higher current ratio is better (i.e., 2.0 or higher).

Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities

Days cash on hand. Measures your ability to make your payments when they are due by telling you the average number of days worth of expenses can you cover at any given point in time. You want to strike a balance by having enough cash to pay your bills each month and meet any unexpected expenses, but not having so much that you are not utilizing your assets effectively. For example, your may want to invest extra cash in a vehicle that will generate additional income rather than just sitting in your checking account.

Days Cash on Hand = (Cash + Marketable Securities) / [(Expenses - Depreciation - Provision for Uncollectables) / 365]

Debt Management Ratios

Debt ratio. Measures the percentage of your practice's total financing that comes from debt. Creditors prefer a lower debt ratio and will be more likely to give you a loan or a better rate, since it means less risk for them.

Debt Ratio = Total Liabilities / Total Assets

Debt to equity ratio. Measures how much you have on credit for each dollar of equity you have. Creditors also look for a lower debt to equity ratio, since lending you money is less of a financial risk for them if you have more of your own money invested in your practice.

Debt to Equity Ratio = Total Debt / Total Equity

Asset Management Ratios

Total asset turnover. Measures how efficiently you are using your assets by telling you the amount of revenue you generate for every dollar of assets. A higher total asset turnover ratio is generally better, although it is important to strike a balance. Having too many assets reduces your profits, but too few may result in not having enough resources to offer needed services or pursue new sources of revenue.

Total Asset Turnover = Operating Revenue / Total Assets

Days in accounts receivable (also known as average collection period): Measures how effective you are in managing your receivables by telling you the average number of days it takes you to collect a payment. Since you want to collect receivables as quickly as possible a smaller value is better.

Days in Accounts Receivable = Net Accounts Receivable / (Net Client Service Revenue / 365)

Common Size and Percent Change Analyses

Common size analysis: Shows you each item on your income statement as a percentage of your total revenues and each item on your balance sheet as a percentage of your total assets. To calculate, divide each income statement item by total revenues and each balance sheet item by total assets.

Percent change analysis: Helps you see what items on your balance sheet and income statement are growing or shrinking and identify potential financial problems that may not be obvious to the naked eye. Calculate percent change year to year for each balance sheet and income statement item.

Percent Change = (Year 2 Value - Year 1 Value) / Year 1 Value

As mentioned above, begin your analysis by reviewing three years worth of historical data. Once you've taken this look back, start tracking these indicators on an ongoing basis and continue to monitor the financial health of your practice.

By Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff

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17 Nov 2016

Taking Control of Your Finances

Taking Control of Your Finances

Become your own money manager and make every cent count as you start your career.

By Melissa Dittmann
gradPSYCH Staff

You just graduated, you owe thousands of dollars in student loans, and you may pull in only $40,000 to $50,000 a year in your first job as a psychologist. Are you doomed for bankruptcy?

Not if you manage your money-even the little you do have-wisely, says financial adviser Flora L. Williams, PhD, professor emerita of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University. When first starting out, you might not be earning the big bucks quite yet (see Starting salaries for psychologists), but as you gain work experience, the investment you made in your education will pay off, Williams says.

But in the meantime, make every penny count, say financial advisers. They recommend students and new professionals make lifestyle sacrifices, seek additional income—such as with part-time jobs or graduate assistantships—create a budget and hatch a savings and investment plan early on.

Taking such action now is key because delaying may wind up costing you more later, says Williams, author of "Financial Success for College Students: Climbing the Steps from Financial Dependence to Independence," available for free at www.colfinancialsuccess.com.

"There is hope," Williams assures in-debt graduates. "But you can't have it all when you graduate, and what is ideal—such as a nice new car and apartment—is not usually what is adequate."

Here are steps you can take to better control your finances.

Budget

First off, beware of a common financial mistake: underestimating your expenses and overestimating your future income.

To avoid that, Joshua Hrabosky, a clinical psychology doctoral student in the Virginia Consortium Program, uses a computer spreadsheet to keep track of his finances. He records the amounts he pays for essential items—like rent, tuition and groceries—and other expenses, like entertainment and miscellaneous costs. At the end of each month, he calculates his expenses and budgets for the next month.

"By keeping this budget, I have been continuously aware of my limits within each month and have been able to keep my expenses at an acceptable level that prevent me from going too much further into debt than I already am," Hrabosky says.

Pay off debts

Minimize the credit card debt you accumulate while in school and pay it off as soon as possible, Williams advises. Credit cards' high interest rates—sometimes up to 20%—can make small purchases snowball into unmanageable debt. However, student loans offer more repayment options and lower interest rates.

Moreover, the more debt you accumulate, the bigger impact it can have on your transition from student to professional. Landlords, employers and insurance and mortgage companies can view your credit record and become alarmed if your finances are a mess, Williams says.

Rakefet Richmond, PsyD, a 2003 graduate from Indiana State University, monitors her credit card charges to avoid paying back debt at high interest rates. "If I cannot pay the full amount on my credit card one month, I will cut it up," Richmond says.

To help pay off his debts, Luis Felipe Morales, a graduate student at Pepperdine University, pays about $115 per month to fend off accruing interest and chip away at the principal of his $18,000 student loan debt from his undergraduate program, even though his loans are deferred while he is in school. He also carries $12,000, so far, for his first two semesters in graduate school and pays the interest on his graduate loans.

Save

As soon as you start working, put 5–10% of your salary in a savings account or credit union, financial advisers suggest. Have it automatically deducted from your paycheck, adds Williams, so that instead of looking for leftover money from your paycheck each month you have a set amount devoted to savings.

"At first, you might be putting it in and then taking it out, but it still helps start a discipline to save," Williams notes. Having a spare jar to throw extra coins in is another simple way to start saving, she suggests.

Financial advisers recommend putting away the equivalent of three to six months of your average monthly expenses to be prepared for any unexpected expenses—like pricey car repairs or a health emergency.

Invest

Once new professionals have created an emergency fund, Williams then advises them to invest. Such investments as real estate, retirement plans and stocks can offer big returns in the long term, but starting early with investments is key to getting higher returns, she adds.

Also, by laying a stable financial footing now, you can set a path to retire early. For instance, a new professional who saves $2,000 per year for just six years in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) can earn up to $1.2 million in their IRA by age 65, she says.

Williams also recommends taking advantage of employers' tax-deferred money investment options—such as bonds or retirement investment plans, like a 401K.

However, investments can carry risk: There is a chance of losing money, such as if stock prices fall. To counter some of that risk, Williams recommends diversity in investments, such as by holding:

  • Liquid assets, like checking or savings accounts
  • Nonliquid assets, such as real estate, that appreciate over time
  • Assets with marketability—such as stocks and bonds—that can earn high returns but can carry more risk than other investments

Buy smart and sacrifice

Financial advisers say new professionals who carry heavy debts should be prepared to make some lifestyle sacrifices at the beginning—such as by opting for affordable housing and skimping on some luxuries—so they live within their means and gain control over their finances.

Sean Casey, PhD, a 2002 graduate of the University of Utah, says he has learned to watch his expenses. He recommends cutting costs by buying basic living items, like dishes and cookware, at local thrift stores and learning basic maintenance and repair skills, such as changing the oil in your car.

"It might not seem like a lot, but it adds up," he says.

To buy smart with larger purchases, such as a car or computer, Williams suggests using the "rule of three"—compare three products at three different places with three types of financing.

Some sacrifices that can also save money:

  • Share an apartment to reduce rent costs
  • Live close to work and take public transportation to forgo a car payment
  • Monitor your food expenses. Eating out and buying groceries are one of the largest expenses for new professionals—averaging about $400 to $500 a month, Williams notes. That makes unnecessary food expenses a prime area in which to cut costs.

Supplement income

If you still feel as though your current income isn't enough to cover your expenses, consider a temporary second job to pay off student loans and then use your main job to pay for living expenses. A job as a waiter, store clerk or consultant may be worth the extra work and extra time to help gain greater control over your finances, Williams says.

While debts and limited finances may seem discouraging now, Williams says students should take comfort from the graduate degree they earned.

"You have a degree, and that is wealth; it is human capital," she says. "It may not feel like financial wealth now as you are paying back the debts, but once you do [pay back the debts], you will have a new financial freedom."


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17 Nov 2016

Running Start… to a Great Career: Running a Business

Running Start… to a Great Career: Running a Business

This is a column geared toward early career psychologists working in practice settings. "Running start ... to a great career" features topics typically not covered in graduate school and includes tips and advice from psychologists.

Your graduate program prepared you well to be a clinician. Did it prepare you just as well to be a businessperson?

Probably not, says J. Kip Matthews, PhD, of AK Counseling and Consulting Inc. in Watkinsville, Georgia. “My program had no training whatsoever on private practice matters,” says Matthews, who started a two-person practice in 2003.

Fortunately, says Matthews, you can compensate for that lack of training and launch a thriving business. Start by asking these questions:

  • Am I prepared? Entrepreneurial training is helpful, says Matthews, who took classes at a local small business development center. Easing into practice gradually is also key. Matthews and his partner worked at a university counseling center before launching their practice — an invaluable way to gain experience and save the money they needed. “As our case load built up, we cut ties with our employer,” he says. Also keep in mind that things may take longer than anticipated. “Many people think they can start a practice immediately after grad school or postdoc,” Matthews says. “But many insurance companies want you to have been licensed for a couple of years before you can join their panels.”
  • J. Kip Matthews, PhD


  • What’s my niche? Matthews recommends that you become known for providing one or two specialties rather than being a jack-of-all-trades. You’ll be more successful if other practitioners think of you as the go-to psychologist for eating disorders, for example. That said, it’s important to be open to a variety of clients and concerns. When you’re just starting out, you may not have the option of being too selective about the clients you serve, says Matthews.

  • What’s my plan? If you need a loan to start your business, the lender will require a plan. But you need it, too. “It gives you clarity and focus,” says Matthews. The plan should describe your business and your services, assess community needs, analyze your local market and set financial and other goals. Matthews also creates a strategic plan with specific action steps each year.

  • Where should my practice be located? Choose a space close to potential clients’ homes or workplaces as well as public transportation. And given the push toward integrating psychological and physical health care, finding an office located near other health services is smart, says Matthews.

  • Who’s on my team? You want to spend your time helping patients, not doing taxes or figuring out data encryption. “Crowdsource” your team by asking friends and colleagues for recommendations about accountants, lawyers, computer whizzes and the like, suggests Lindsey Buckman, PsyD, who launched Buckman Psychological Consultants PLLC in Phoenix in 2010. If you need administrative help, consider taking on an intern who can answer calls and handle paperwork in exchange for mentoring, adds Matthews.
  • Lindsey Buckman, PsyD


  • How should I market myself? Get your name out by giving talks at community events, becoming a source for reporters, running ads, using social media and reaching out to key referral sources. Because Buckman specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) clients and clients with chronic illnesses, she uses letters and follow-up calls to LGBTQ community leaders, LGBTQ resource centers, university counseling centers and physicians. But, she says, invest most heavily in your website, using search engine optimization techniques and keywords aimed at your target populations. Says Buckman, “A good website is the best marketing tool.”

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17 Nov 2016

Are You Really Ready for Private Practice?

Are You Really Ready for Private Practice?

As a new psychologist, starting your own business is no easy feat. Here's advice to smooth the way.

By Tori DeAngelis
Print version: page 40

So you want to be a private practitioner? You're not alone. More than half of psychologists who deliver health services are primarily independent practitioners, according to the latest data from APA's Center for Workforce Studies.

But starting a practice fresh out of grad school isn't always feasible. Besides entering a difficult economy and lacking community connections, chances are you haven't yet acquired crucial financial and marketing acumen, says Steven Walfish, PhD, an Atlanta-based practitioner and president-elect of APA's Div. 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice).

"Grad school teaches you how to be a good clinician, but no one teaches you how to run the business side of a practice," says Walfish, author with Jeff Barnett, PsyD, of the 2009 APA book "Financial Success in Mental Health Practice: Essential Tools and Strategies for Practitioners."

To prepare for the private practice path, experts advise you to:

Gain experience first

When you first leave grad school, think about working for an established group rather than trying to set up your own shop right away. By joining a group practice or taking a job in a community agency or medical setting, you can gain experience, connect with colleagues and have a guaranteed paycheck with benefits. It can also give you an inside look at how to run a business, says Dave Verhaagen, PhD, a managing partner at Southeast Psych, a large group practice in Charlotte, N.C.

"Like a lot of people out of grad school, I had no training at all in business," Verhaagen says. He opted to work for a few community agencies and then a group practice before launching his own. The experience gave him a good sense of the realities of the work world and "ideas about how I'd run my own business differently from what I saw out there," he says.

Develop a niche

While at the beginning of your practice you will probably need to take any and all clients, specialty niches tend to provide the best income and make the best use of your time and energy, psychologists say.

Think about populations you most enjoy and are best at treating, as well as what the market needs, experts advise. In Denver, private practitioner Susan Heitler, PhD, discovered a lucrative niche in marriage counseling when she noticed there were many people who wanted help creating better marriages — not just those in the throes of divorce. But there weren't many practitioners who could do that well. "You need to find something that's unique and in demand and that people are willing to pay for," Walfish says. "It will help you stand out from other practitioners."

Watch market trends

Be aware of social, geographic, economic and political trends that may square with your interests, says Walfish. If you live in a city but your specialty is children and families, consider practicing in the suburbs. If you notice one market trend evaporating (the need for psychological testing to assess personality structure, for example) and another one gaining steam (say, psychological testing for adult attention deficit disorder) determine how to get on the new track in a way that suits your abilities.

Walfish speaks from personal experience: When he began practicing in the 1980s, he conducted psychological evaluations for people in residential substance abuse treatment programs. Then, managed care came along and eliminated payment for those assessments, so he began specializing in short-term therapy. Today, Walfish sees patients considering weight-loss surgery, a high-demand area that fits his skill set well. He fully anticipates changing again if the market calls for it.

"The people who have long-term success are those who can adapt to these changes," Walfish says. "Without adapting, I think practitioners can get angry, depressed, burned out and fall into learned helplessness."

Create a strong plan

That includes developing a mission or value statement for your practice, a list of whom you'd want to work with if you decide to create a group practice and a business plan. To develop your plan, tap experts in accounting, taxes and mental health law, and talk with practitioners who are already out there, Walfish says. "Don't just go on the experience of one person who is terribly successful or one person who is all gloom and doom," he says. "The more private practitioners you can talk to in the beginning, the more accurate your knowledge base will be."

Develop new talents

To run a successful practice, you need to learn business skills, as well as skills related to new content areas you'd like to practice in. Heitler did extensive reading to get up to speed in her area and ended up writing two well-known books incorporating what she learned, "From Conflict to Resolution: Skills and Strategies for Individual, Couple and Family Therapy" (1993) and "The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage" (1997).

Sell yourself

It's not enough to be a good practitioner: You must market yourself, too, says Vancouver, B.C.-based practitioner Randy J. Paterson, PhD, author of the 2011 book "Private Practice Made Simple." That means giving free talks in venues such as schools and community centers. Also consider meeting with people who could refer clients to you, such as physicians, allied health professionals, educators and leaders in faith communities. Finally, be sure to use technology to your advantage — for example, building a strong website that defines your practice and draws clients to it.

In general, "you need to get over the idea that your clinical competence alone will sell your practice," says Paterson. "Ultimately it will, but not at the start."

Be bold

As you develop your practice plan, envision the kind of practice you'd really like to have and how to implement it, Verhaagen says. "We realized early on that we wanted the tone to feel fun and positive, not heavy," says Verhaagen, who specializes in treating young adult males. That's why when clients walk into his practice they encounter a bookstore with free coffee and Wi-Fi. In the treatment area, he's hung movie posters on the walls and placed mannequins of superheroes including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman — a playful way of conveying themes of strength, resiliency and a positive focus.

"Also, be sure to vet potential hires to make sure they're a good fit with your values and culture," he says. Encouraging your team to spend time socializing so that they forge good personal bonds can likewise foster a healthy practice, says Verhaagen.

Respect your worth

Some graduate psychology students may feel that dealing with money is morally wrong or even beneath them. But to be successful, you have to know and appreciate your value in dollar terms, say practitioners. Learn to be comfortable charging a fee that reflects your worth and your area's market, Paterson advises. Remember that your hourly rate encompasses business costs including your phone system, computer, test materials, assistants and time you spend outside therapy working on a client's case. Be sure to compare your rates with those charged by other professions, he adds. "People [often] pay more to take their cat to the vet than they do to see a therapist," he says.

Charging a healthy rate for your services can actually promote good therapy, Verhaagen adds. It prompts practitioners to do their best work and provides clients the incentive to work hard, he says. "We can help a lot of people and do really good work and still think very much like a business," he says.

Diversify

Your skills can be used in a variety of interesting ways besides seeing clients. For example, in addition to providing therapy, psychologist Tish Taylor, PhD, conducts workshops for teachers and educators on dealing with children who have emotional and behavioral problems. Genie Skypek, PhD, writes software that helps social service agencies track patients. Walfish and colleagues Pauline Wallin, PhD, and Lauren Dehrman, PhD, are using their consulting skills to develop an online business called The Practice Institute, which will help psychologists gain the tools to build successful private practices. Others author self-help books, create educational CDs and DVDs, conduct forensic evaluations and run corporate retreats. Aim for a practice that is varied, balanced and in sync with your interests, Walfish says.

"We have a tremendous skill set that gives us an advantage over other mental health professions," he says. "Extending that skill set helps to create opportunities."


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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

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.


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

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03 Oct 2016

Emerging Career Paths for Psychology Graduate Students

This 30-minute webinar discusses ways in which psychology students like you have broadened their career options by taking the path less traveled.

Learn more about:
• Types of careers that are possible, including government, non-profits, and industry
• How to position yourself for such career opportunities
• Practical tips for self-assessment, job search, professional presentation

…and more!

Presenter Bio:

Nabil El-Ghoroury is currently the Associate Executive Director of the APA of Graduate Students (APAGS). In this role, El-Ghoroury represents over 27,000 graduate and undergraduate student affiliates of APA. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton and his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Moderator Bio:

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. He has served as a consultant for universities and research institutions on program development and assessment, creating learning outcome for graduate and postdoctoral training, creation of career and professional development resources, submitting federal training grants, and teaching responsible conduct of research.

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03 Aug 2016

The Life-Changing Power of Mentors

The Life-Changing Power of Mentors

Midcareer psychologists talk about the mentors who shaped their careers.

Selecting a mentor can be one of life's most important decisions. "Mentors are crucial whenever people are faced with new phases of their career or life that require the development of new knowledge, skills or attitudes," says mentoring expert Drew Appleby, PhD, professor emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "Mentors help people determine who they want to become, how they must change in order to become these people, and how they can take advantage of their college or work experiences to bring about these changes."

Mentoring takes many different forms, ranging from the formal arrangement between a student and adviser in graduate school to informal relationships people develop throughout their careers. Midcareer mentoring is often informal and starts somewhat spontaneously, Appleby says. "You may meet someone, have a conversation and suddenly realize you'd like to be like this person," he says. "If this person shows a genuine interest in you, that is an ideal way for mentoring to begin."

Psychology practitioner Jean Carter, PhD, of Washington, D.C., says a variety of mentors helped her navigate such important transitions as selecting a graduate school and moving from a shared space to her own office.

"Informal mentoring can be a single meeting, episodic or ongoing," Carter says. "It can be as simple as one time when you talked to someone who gave you an insight that influenced your career. If you are open to those mentoring moments, they are more likely to happen."

The Monitor interviewed five midcareer psychologists for insights on how they found their mentors, how their mentors helped them succeed and how they are paying it forward by mentoring others.

Kavita Murthy, PhD: counseling psychologist in Austin, Texas

How did you meet your mentor?

 

Kavita Murthy, PhD (credit: Eric Coleman)
Kavita Murthy, PhD

I met my mentor Larry Bugen about 13 years ago when my colleague and I were interested in starting a private practice. We were looking for office space when Larry, a well-known couples psychologist, was downsizing his practice. Friends connected us. As I shared office space with Larry, we got to know one another and started to realize how much we thought alike. He was 20 years older than me, so there was that affection of a fatherly figure and I looked up to him, but it never felt like a superior-inferior relationship. It was more like we were equals.

 

How did your mentor help you succeed?

Larry had a lot of confidence in me and believed in me when I wasn't able to believe in myself. One year, for example, I gave a talk at the Texas Psychological Association's annual meeting about couples therapy and trauma, and he sat in on my two-hour workshop. After it was over, he told me it was a good workshop, but I had deferred too much to other people's work during the talk. He encouraged me to believe in my own ideas and theories and spend more time on that.

He also wasn't afraid to share with me the mistakes that he made from time to time. When I was hesitant to take on a couple due to the potential legal issues involved, he would share what he would have done differently when he took on a case that was similar. When I felt too biased toward one person in a couple, he would tell stories of when it happened to him. He also taught me that it's OK to make mistakes, and that I could get through any mistake if I worked to repair it.

How are you paying it forward by mentoring others?

I have taught various counseling classes and practicum courses at the St. Edward's University master's of counseling program in Austin, which gives me an opportunity to supervise people who are working in the field. I always choose to teach in an experiential way and I'm not afraid to show my own vulnerabilities and mistakes. Larry taught me to be real, and that's how I want to be with mentees. During the live demonstrations, I try to give positive and encouraging feedback rather than simply pointing out what they've done wrong.

Now I'm entering a phase of life in which people are starting to seek me out to be their mentor, and that is a new thing for me. Mentoring others inspires confidence and wisdom in my skills as a therapist. I cannot believe I've been on this journey for 20 years. It's time to give back and I am eager to do so.

Jane Halonen, PhD: professor of psychology, University of West Florida

How did you find a mentor?

Jane Halonen, PhD (credit: Silver Image/Michael Spooneybarger)
Jane Halonen, PhD

I met my mentor in the library. When I got my first teaching job, I had zero background and didn't really know what I was doing. Out of desperation, I went to the library and found a book by Bill McKeachie called "McKeachie's Teaching Tips," and every problem I ran into he addressed in that book. I started having personal contact with him when I joined a grant for a book that was looking at critical thinking in psychology. When it was time to do the acknowledgements, I approached him and he said, "Of course." I ended up interviewing him for a later book project, and we bonded in a way that made me feel like the person who was the most knowledgeable about teaching was in my court. He was not only exquisitely smart about teaching, but also a very humble and gentle human being.

How did your mentor help you succeed?

Bill has an incredible capacity to help people get excited about learning, and that is something I adopted. He also reinforced the importance of making things better in the classroom and this helped me find a niche of scholarship that was satisfying to me. Before this, research seemed like more of an obligation, but he showed me that collecting data about how students learn is really interesting.

Bill also taught me that even as the professor, I didn't have to be the smartest person in the room. If I didn't know the answer to a question, I could just say, "I don't know." I found that advice so liberating. I use such moments to elicit student opinions and point out the opportunity to think critically.

How are you paying it forward by mentoring others?

When I see people who are excited about teaching, I try to show them helpful resources, such as the APA Div. 2 Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. For new faculty in my department, I take them to lunch and let them know I'm happy to answer any questions.

Career development is also becoming a higher priority in undergraduate education. So, I teach my students how to be good critical thinkers, but I also recognize that I am getting them ready for the workforce. I take seriously the fact that the majority of my students are not going to graduate school, and I incorporate activities to prepare them for things like job interviews.

Marietta Collins, PhD: associate professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta

How did you find a mentor?

Marietta Collins, PhD (credit: Michael Schwarz)
Marietta Collins, PhD

I was in my third year of graduate school when I applied for a research assistantship with Nadine Kaslow, who worked in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. We shared an interest in providing mental health services for underserved populations, which had not been an emphasis in my clinical psychology program. I hadn't been able to find a mentor, and she was someone I could connect with. She was a very open and available person. She was also interested in helping me figure out where I wanted to go professionally and how to get there.

How did she help you succeed?

Nadine believed in me and encouraged me in a way that nobody else ever had. I was an African-American in a predominantly Caucasian field, and she believed there was a place for me not only as an African-American, but also as a researcher focused on underserved populations. She was one of the first non-African-Americans I felt I could talk openly with about race issues.

Nadine also created opportunities for me professionally. When she was writing an NIH grant about pediatric sickle cell disease, she invited me to be part of the process. Once she received funding, I helped with the study. This experience helped me when I went on to write grants of my own.

When I had my first child, she was also available to talk about the importance of being a mother and how to balance my career as a psychologist with being a parent. She helped me set goals and believe I could successfully navigate both of these roles.

How are you paying it forward by mentoring others?

When I was part of Nadine's research lab as a graduate student, I helped to bring other African-American students to the lab. I had the opportunity to supervise and mentor these students, interns and fellows. Once I was a faculty member, I formed the African-American Training Research Lab, which is a support group for African-American women in psychology. We have co-authored a couple of articles, including one about the importance of mentoring for African-American trainees in psychology. I also hold an annual potluck at my home for incoming minority trainees to give them an opportunity to network with one another and other minority faculty members.

Sue Frantz, PhD: psychology professor, Highline College in Washington

How did you find a mentor?

Sue Frantz, PhD (credit: Brian Smale)
Sue Frantz, PhD

I wasn't actively looking for a mentor when I met someone who turned out to be a mentor for me. I was working at Highline College when I was serving as the director of Project Syllabus for APA's Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology). I had heard of Ruth Ault because she was the director of the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. I met her for the first time in Florida in 2005 because we were both readers for the AP psychology test. Throughout the week, we had time to socialize and she encouraged me to go to APA's Annual Convention. I thought the convention seemed overwhelming, but she suggested that I focus on division activities.

How did your mentor help you succeed?

When I attended my first convention, Ruth invited me to sit next to her at the division's annual meeting and introduced me to people. She helped me understand what Div. 2 was about, how APA works and who the people were in the organization. This background helped me move into leadership positions, such as a member and later a chair for the Committee for Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges. I also served on APA's Membership Board. Currently I'm vice president for resources for the division and a college representative for APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools. When I was thinking about creating ToPIX (Teaching of Psychology Idea Exchange), a wiki of teaching resources, she provided valuable advice on how to move that idea forward.

How are you paying it forward by mentoring others?

I used to go to conferences with the goal of learning something new for myself. That's still a goal, but not the primary one. Now I want to meet people who are new to the profession to find out what they want to do. I have conversations about the starter opportunities in APA, like being a reviewer for different resources. In January, APA's Early Career Psychology Committee had a social, and I had wonderful conversations with several people. Five years ago, I also started a blog (SueFrantz.com) about technology you can use that is specifically geared for instructors. I started it because I think there are a lot of instructors doing things the hard way, and I wanted to share ideas with them.

Sue Frantz, PhD: psychology professor, Highline College in Washington

How did you find a mentor?

William Buskist, PhD (credit: Tracy McDaniel)
William Buskist, PhD

I was a graduate student at Brigham Young University in a new experimental psychology program when I found my mentor. Initially, I was involved in research on errorless learning, but I discovered I wasn't all that interested in it and switched major professors. I was intrigued by the work of a new professor in the department, Hal Miller, who was fresh from Harvard where he had worked with the matching law. He was interested in applying the matching law to human behavior and I switched to his lab. The more work I did in the area, the more fascinated I became with this line of research. I also enjoyed being around Hal — I liked his work ethic, the way he treated people and his interest in helping his students succeed in whatever they attempted to learn.

How did your mentor help you succeed?

Hal represented the kind of professional I wanted to become. He showed me it is important to take an interest in the individual, and modeled that by being extremely generous with his time. I fell in love with what I was doing as a graduate student, and I would wait for him to show up at his office nearly every morning because I was so eager to share what I was learning or my ideas for a new study. Even though I was probably a pest at the time, he took it in stride and always supported me.

He also encouraged me to take the next steps in my career. For example, we had replicated some research on birds with humans, and he suggested that I send my data to the author of the research we replicated. I eventually met the researcher and we stayed in touch, and that connection led me to my position here at Auburn University.

How are you paying it forward by mentoring others?

About eight years after I started at Auburn, the department chair asked me to help him revamp our introductory psychology course. At the time, the department was using only graduate students to teach the course. These first-time instructors had received no training for teaching and were unsupervised while they taught. He asked if I'd be interested in developing a training program for new graduate instructors. I created two graduate-level courses on teaching and a teaching fellows program. More than 100 graduate students have gone through the program and of those, seven have won national teaching awards.

Overall, I try to involve graduate students in every aspect of my work, and always publish graduate student co-authors. I get so much satisfaction from watching these students succeed, whether it's giving their first lecture, publishing research or landing their first job.

  • Reach out to a professor.
  • Attend APA's Annual Convention and approach someone with like interests.
  • Assist a researcher involved in a study that interests you.
  • Serve on an APA committee, board or project and network with people in the group.
  • Reach out to a practicing psychologist who has expertise in your specialty.
  • Explore APA resources that offer mentoring at www.apa.org/gradpsych/2005/01/mentor-find.aspx.
  • Think about what you need in a mentor and start looking for these qualities in people you meet.
  • Get involved in smaller state or local psychological associations.
  • Approach someone during a field placement while in graduate school.
  • Attend social gatherings offered by psychology departments or APA divisions that give you an opportunity to network.

By Heather Stringer


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

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28 Jul 2016

PsycIQ Quick Links: APA Funding Sources

PsycIQ Quick Links: APA Funding Sources

APA has a number of resources to help you find scholarships, funding, and awards for your work—and we've assembled them all in one place!

APA Scholarship, Grants and Awards Search Tool

  • Description: APA and its affiliate organizations provide a wide range of grants, scholarships and awards with the aim of advancing the science and practice of psychology as a means of understanding behavior and promoting health, education, and human welfare.
  • Why It's Great: Wide range of search criteria, including topics, sponsors, funding type, recipient classification, and deadline range.

American Psychological Foundation Funding

  • Description: The American Psychological Foundation is seeking to seed innovation through supporting projects and programs that use psychology to solve social problems. APF grants align with our mission of enhancing psychology to elevate the human condition and advance human potential. We offer grants for early career funding and seed grants for research and for targeted programs.
  • Why It's Great: Segmented presentation of awards by type and career phase, plus more robust search available.

APA Science Directorate Awards, Honors & Research Funding

  • Description: Each year, the Science Directorate honors researchers, students and departments in psychology through various awards and honors programs. The awards are intended for researchers from all subdisciplines of psychological science and contribute to our overall mission: to communicate, facilitate, promote and represent psychological science and scientists.
  • Why It's Great: APA awards segmented specifically for scientists and researchers, plus monthly updates sharing the latest federal research funding opportunities.

APA Public Interest Directorate Scholarships, Grants and Awards

  • Description: APA's Public Interest Directorate offers funding in many forms, from monetary awards to grants – for a wide variety of use, such as opportunities for early career research proposals, training, and conference attendance.
  • Why It's Great: Funding opportunities are listed by type, with links to more detailed descriptions of each opportunity available and a list of previous awardees.

APAGS Scholarships, Grants and Awards

  • Description: APAGS offers its members travel and training grants, research scholarships and recognition awards.
  • Why It's Great: Easy to find opportunities just for students, both within APA and from other esteemed organizations.

There are also several external sources you can use for scholarships, expenses, funding, and awards for your research. Learn more >>

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