Would you describe your program as more research-focused or more clinically-focused?
Our program is very clinical-reseach 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.
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.
What are your roles as graduate students in the PhD program?
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 that 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.
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 the 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.
What clinical opportunities are there? What is the clinical training like?
The first clinical opportunities we get are within the context of research programs, so 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.
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.
What are the funding opportunities? How does this affect your quality of life?
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 in the, 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.
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.
What is it like living in Philadelphia?
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.
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).