Would you describe your program as more research-focused or more clinically-focused?
Steph K: "Our program is very clinical-research focused. Most of the research we do is clinically focused, so everyone gets ample opportunity to develop clinical skills within the context of a research project. It's a huge advantage to our lab because we not only get a high level of research training, but we also get cutting edge clinical training that's closely supervised before we're ever even at external practicum sites."
Steph M: "The lab focuses on clinical research, particularly on the development and testing of health behavior change interventions. That means the lab provides an amazing opportunity to participate as an interventionist in treatment studies the minute you enter the program, while at the same time developing research questions related to treatment and outcome. Hands-on clinical experiences often can inform research ideas, and the lab provides the perfect environment for that. The lab also strongly supports and encourages each student to develop his or her own line of research, so there is a large emphasis on that as well."
Stef G: "One of the big advantages to our lab is the focus on clinical research. This means that, with our strong emphasis on research, comes a large amount of high-quality clinical experiences in order to carry out our larger grant-funded projects. In addition to conducting assessments and delivering treatment, you will also likely gain experience in treatment/program development, which is an extremely valuable training opportunity. Finally, many students conduct their own treatment studies for theses and dissertations."
Helen: "The PhD program as a whole has a balance between research and clinical focus, with flexibility within the program with students’ emphasis on research. In fact, many students are in labs that have more of a research focus that aligns with a clinical science model. For example, many students pursue careers that are heavily research-focused, such as in academic research and at the industry level. In our lab, there are many opportunities to contribute to clinical research (e.g., treatment development and trial research), but also to work on translational research (e.g., research on physiology, neurobiology, etc.)."
What are your roles as graduate students in the PhD program?
Steph K: "As a graduate student the role advances as you advance as a student. In my first year I've had a large role in data management which has advanced as my data analytic skills progress. I've also had a large role in delivery of interventions for the research program as well as some of the grant writing process. Looking forward, the expectation for how much I contribute to these things will change in line with how much I'm able to contribute new ideas. One of the really nice things is how much students are able to be part of the smaller pilot studies the lab runs; because there are so many things going on we can to some degree choose our involvement so that it's most in line with our interests."
Steph M: "I have participated in many of the lab's projects in various capacities. During my first year, I was a co-leader for the Mind Your Health weight loss groups and a mindfulness intervention to reduce salty snack intake, helped develop the treatment manual for Mind Your Health, participated in the development of TakeControl, a smartphone app for binge eating, assisted in the writeup of NIH grant submissions, analyzed data for submissions to national conferences and developed my master's thesis project. There are so many great, diverse projects going on in the lab that there is a wealth of opportunity to take on different roles on projects that interest you. In a short amount of time, I have been involved in all aspects of clinical research."
Stef G: "Within our lab especially, graduate students are very much treated as junior colleagues. Though my role within the lab has changed as I advanced through the program, each step of the way you are encouraged to use your critical thinking skills and clinical intuition to contribute to lab discussions and meetings. Each student is encouraged to participate in many lab projects, while also clarifying and pursuing his or her own research interests. During the beginning of the program, you will likely fill many different roles (e.g., data management, clinician, assessor, paper writing, grant writing) on varying projects. However, towards the end of your graduate career, you will likely have a much more focused set of tasks the pertain more directly to your research line."
Helen: "There are many opportunities to be involved in projects at multiple stages of the research process. In my first year in the lab, I had different roles on various projects. For the pre-study stage, I assisted with the writing of an NIMH R01 grant proposal, assisted with literature reviews and created study materials (e.g., writing treatment interventions). During the active study phase, I completed research diagnostic interviews, was a study interventionist for multiple treatment studies, assisted with research subject study visits and provided mentorship to and supervised a team of undergraduate RAs. For the post-study phase, I contributed to empirical research papers for secondary data analyses. Our lab is collaborative and very active in research, so there are also often opportunities to work on empirical review papers and book chapters."
What clinical opportunities are there? What is the clinical training like?
Steph K: "The first clinical opportunities we get are within the context of research programs, including things like co-leading groups and receiving supervision. In terms of external practicum sites there's a wide variety of opportunities. More advanced students in the lab are a great resource because between them they have been to most of the practicum sites and can help you figure out what experiences are going to be most in line with your interests."
Steph M: "Aside from the many practicum opportunities provided to all students in the program, all students coming into the lab get clinical experience through the research studies. Most students become co-leaders for the weight loss groups in their first year, which is a unique opportunity that many first year students don't get. Often, there are also other studies running that provide clinical opportunities for students, such as an upcoming study testing a group treatment for binge eating disorder. In these groups, you lead your own sections of the group, and learn from experienced group leaders, who are either clinical psychologists or advanced graduate students. All of the treatment studies meet weekly for group supervision and your tapes are listened to by supervisors, so you really get good feedback on how to improve as a clinician very early on in the program."
Christine: "One of the largest benefits of our lab is that we get a ton of clinical experience early on through research studies. Within a month of starting the program I was co-leading a weight loss group and over the course of my first year I co-led two more groups. Drexel also has a great on-site training clinic that serves the community (the Psychological Services Center) where second year students complete their practicum before applying to off-site placements for the next two years. Our supervisors are clearly invested in our training and work to ensure that our clinical experiences are consistent with our long-term goals. All of the on-site training we receive has made me feel prepared to apply to external placements."
Helen: "There are so many opportunities for clinical hours, both within our lab and across the program! Many of our students actually end up having more clinical hours than the average student applying to internships has. Our lab has an advantage too because a lot of our research is related to treatment, so students will start getting clinical hours from treatment research studies in their first year, before seeing patients through the Drexel Psychological Services Center in their second year. The Drexel Psychological Services Center has state-of-the art facilities and serves patients of all ages from the community; this is different from many other PhD programs, which either don’t have an in-house clinic or the in-house clinic mainly serves undergraduate students."
What are the funding opportunities? How does this affect your quality of life?
Steph K: "The basic stipend is relatively small. It takes some budgeting, but it is liveable (many first year students also get an additional fellowship that adds an additional few thousand dollars). Depending on your mentor and what's going on with your schedule, you can potentially also have another job that can supplement and there are also sometimes opportunities to pick up additional responsibilities that can be paid."
Steph M: "There are many opportunities to receive extra fellowships on top of your stipend, which definitely helps quality of life as a graduate student. Additionally, the faculty in the lab and department encourage and strongly support the graduate students to apply for external funding, which both can help quality of life and the quality of your research."
Christine: "I was nervous about living on a graduate student stipend but it has been more manageable than I expected. Philadelphia is very affordable (especially compared to other cities in the Northeast) and there are so many free activities (yoga, concerts, movie screenings, museum admission, etc.) and student discounts that it is still possible to do a lot on a small budget. There are also many additional funding opportunities including fellowships, grants and teaching, and some students choose to take out a small amount of student loans to supplement their stipend."
Helen: "Funding in the program is dispersed over a 9 month period (October to June). Many students will seek out opportunities for extra funding in the summer, such as for working on an extra research project or students who have their master’s degree can teach courses. The stipend is liveable, but some students will take out small loans if they don’t receive additional funding."
How has the lab prepared you for an academic career?
Lauren: "As I am beginning my academic career as an Assistant Professor at Rush University Medical Center, I could not be more thankful for the training and mentorship I received at the lab. The lab is extremely productive, which provided me with unique opportunities to be integrally involved in all phases of the clinical research process. I received exemplary mentorship from Professor Forman, allowing me to develop an independent line of research beginning in my first year of graduate school (developing and examining novel interventions including a web-based, self-directed behavioral program). I gained extensive experience in manuscript writing (including the write-up of an NIH-funded clinical trial) and ended up with three first author publications from my thesis and dissertation projects. I also received training and experience in grant writing, assisted in writing NIH grants and applied for NIH and other grants and awards to fund independent research projects. As a result, I was awarded two dissertation awards and an NIH F31. My training at the lab made me a competitive applicant during my job search, which enabled me to secure my dream job."
What is it like living in Philadelphia?
Steph K: "Philadelphia is great - there are a huge number of really high quality restaurants and fun things in the city. It's also very walkable, so a lot of students don't have cars."
Steph M: "I loved living in the San Francisco Bay Area and wasn't sure how much I'd like Philadelphia. However, I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I felt at home here. Philadelphia is really an ideal place to be as a graduate student. There are so many museums, restaurants, professional sports teams, bars, music venues, theatre venues - pretty much anything that you could want in a city. At the same time, everything is very accessible by foot or public transportation, so you never have to travel far to get where you want to go (which is perfect for a busy graduate student)."
Britt: "Philadelphia is a very affordable city to live in, which makes it possible to live on the stipend. There is also a huge number number of university and graduate students in the Philly area, so there are many places with reasonable prices and student discounts. Plus, Philly is full of BYOB restaurants, which is fun and makes dining out less pricey!"
Christine: "I moved to Philly from NYC and wasn’t sure what it would be like to live in a somewhat smaller city. So far it’s been great! It has many of the advantages of a larger city, including amazing restaurants and so much to do, but it is considerably cheaper and less overwhelming. Exploring all of the different neighborhoods, working in the numerous coffee shops throughout the city, and taking advantage of the plethora of free activities has been a great way to find some balance in grad school!"
What is the lab culture like?
Britt: "Our lab is very productive and people in the lab enjoy spending time with each other. Because the lab is relatively large, there are many different opportunities to get involved in various projects and fellow grad students are often happy to help out with each other’s projects. Outside of lab, lab members also regularly spend time together at a range of events including lab dinners, trivia (or “quizzo” in Philadelphia lingo) nights, bowling, Phillies games, etc."
Stef G: "I would say that we genuinely like each other and enjoy working together. We work very hard, but we also have fun while doing it. The environment on the whole is very collegial and everyone pitches in where it is needed most. We’re all excited about research and usually happy to be involved with each other’s projects - which means that our projects can be more ambitious than the average graduate student thesis and/or dissertation (and get done more efficiently)! We are competitive, but not with one another and enjoy celebrating each other’s accomplishments."
What made you choose to attend Drexel and join this particular research lab?
Christine: "Heading into graduate school interviews, I felt torn between several programs, all of which looked great on paper. After spending time on each campus though, Drexel clearly stood out as my favorite. I was impressed by how welcoming the entire department was. It was also evident that people in this lab respected and enjoyed spending time with each other. The lab seemed collaborative and supportive, and that feeling has proven true since arriving on campus. Graduate programs are demanding, so working with friendly people who want to see you succeed is incredibly important. It also helps that we have a big lab filled with accomplished people (students and faculty alike)—there is so much room to learn from everyone else! In addition to the people and the culture, I chose Drexel because of the balance between research and clinical focus—we get amazing training in both and there is flexibility to pursue what is important to you!"
Steph M: "There are many ways in which Drexel, on paper, was not the most intuitive fit for my academic interests. However, immediately upon leaving the interview, I knew that Drexel would top my list. First of all, the available mentorship in our lab is stellar - I knew I’d have to opportunity to have three really incredible mentors who would be invested in my career. Secondly, it was incredibly clear how happy the graduate students were, both in and outside of this lab. They clearly supported, not competed with each other and that has proven to be more than true in my experience here - I can’t express enough how important that is for getting through a PhD program. Lastly, the department itself was highly collegial and welcoming - everyone is down to earth and approachable. I couldn't be happier with my decision!"
Steph K: "I actually had the luxury of being a research coordinator in this lab prior to attending graduate school, so I knew it well from the inside. When interviewing at other programs, I had Drexel and our lab as a comparison point. The things I love about our lab, and the things I didn’t want to give up, were the collaborative nature of the people and the vibrancy of the research program. Many of my research training experiences, including papers and presentations, have been with other students or mentors other than my primary mentor. The richness of experience that I get from a large lab, where everyone is excited to work on new projects and talk about new ideas, was unmatched by other programs. I can’t imagine having had a better, more supported, experience in graduate school."