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Heilbrun Research Lab

Frequently Asked Questions

Many of your questions can be answered by reviewing the material on this website. If you have unanswered questions after you have reviewed both, please feel free to contact Professor Heilbrun or his lab members (e-mail is best).

Questions for Kirk Heilbrun, PhD

What can you tell me about the Clinical Psychology PhD Program?

Drexel University offers the PhD degree in clinical psychology with the primary goal of training clinical psychologists in the scientist-practitioner model. This model places roughly equal emphasis on clinical research and the application of scientific principles, with an emphasis on the integration of psychological science and practice. Students receive an appropriate, broad education in preparation for entry-level practice in professional psychology. This education includes training in intervention and assessment, as well as an introduction to the science and practice of clinical psychology. The program is fully accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Clinical Concentrations

In addition to general clinical training (with an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral approaches to assessment and intervention), the Drexel program offers students the option to elect one of five major areas of study within the clinical psychology curriculum:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Clinical Child Psychology

Major area of study training is not, by itself, sufficient to allow an individual to specialize in one of these areas. However, it should be regarded as specialty preparation training, allowing the student to continue later training that will eventually facilitate professional specialization.

The Clinical Psychology Program admits only full-time students. It is designed to be completed in 5 years, although students who enter with a Master’s degree may be able to complete all requirements in 4 years. Students work under the mentorship of one or two faculty members who serve as the incoming student’s advisors. For students who are admitted to work under two faculty members, one faculty member is established as the student’s major advisor, and the other as the student’s minor advisor. Consistent with our scientist-practitioner philosophy of training, our departmental and key adjunct faculty are involved in scholarly and professional activities in order to serve as appropriate mentors to our graduate students.

What can you tell me about the JD/PhD Program?

The Kline School of Law and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences collaborate in running a joint and integrated JD/PhD Program in Law and Psychology. The program melds two already ongoing successful endeavors, the JD degree in the School of Law and the PhD in clinical psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Students in the program complete all 85 credits required for graduation from the law school and all 91 credits required to complete the doctorate. The program provides those students who wish to pursue professional degrees in both law and psychology with a more efficient plan of study. The program is designed to be completed in seven years, which includes:

  • Required psychology practica
  • One-year internship in an American Psychological Association accredited pre-doctoral mental health/forensic setting
  • Master's thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • 20 hours per week of cooperative training
  • 50 hours of pro bono service in law

The School of Law is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and the clinical psychology program is fully accredited by the American Psychological Association. Within the broad framework of the program’s philosophy, the JD/PhD Program in Law & Psychology has three specific goals:

  • Develop scientist-practitioners who will produce legally sophisticated social science research to aid the legal system to make better empirically-based decisions;
  • Produce lawyer-psychologists who will participate in the development of more empirically and theoretically sophisticated mental health policy by legislatures, administrative tribunals, and the courts; and
  • Educate highly trained clinicians who can contribute to the advancement of forensic psychology in such areas as criminal law, domestic relations, and civil commitment.

Key Elements:

  • The required existing core program in law and psychology at both schools;
  • Interdisciplinary courses; e.g., Law and Mental Health, Social Science Applications to the Law, Seminar in Advanced Problems in Mental Health Law, and Research in Law & Psychology;
  • Supervised psycho-legal research experience on teams of students’ faculty mentors;
  • Legal clinics and psychology practica and internships that combine knowledge from both fields in a practical setting;
  • Electives in both fields, e.g., bioethics, education law, health law, health psychology, employment discrimination, neuropsychology;
  • Cooperative experience and pro bono service in legal settings; and
  • Employment for at least one summer in a legal setting, e.g., public interest law firm, governmental agency, private law firm, nonprofit association.

What can you tell me about the MS program?

The Master of Science degree in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences can be a good choice for students interested in pursuing an advanced education in scientific psychology and research methods. The program provides an opportunity for students to take their first step into graduate education, and to begin a path toward further educational and career opportunities. These opportunities include further graduate-level training leading to a PhD, a career in research, or other educational and administrative opportunities. The curriculum is focused on training in a range of research experience in neurocognitive and behavioral sciences. In addition to required coursework, students are required to complete a minimum of 8 hours per week with a research mentor in laboratory activities. These activities culminate with the successful completion of an empirical thesis. This is not a clinical psychology program, so it does not prepare students to practice psychology at the master’s level. However, many students have used it as preparation for successful application into doctoral-level clinical psychology training programs.

What is the supervision model used in graduate training at Drexel?

Students enter graduate training at Drexel to work with a specific faculty mentor. In some instances, there will be a primary and secondary mentor. Mentors serve as research advisors, thesis and dissertation committee chairs, and supervise the research lab in which his/her mentees work.

What is the balance between research and clinical training in the graduate programs?

The MS program does not offer clinical training, so the primary emphasis is on research and didactic learning. Two doctoral programs—clinical PhD and JD/PhD—do provide clinical training. The overall emphasis in these programs is on both research and clinical training, with the goal of training individuals who will become applied researchers, empirically-informed practitioners, or both.

Are you taking any new graduate students for academic year 2017-2018?

I will be possibly accepting one student in the JD-PhD program, but not a student for either the MS or PhD program.

Can I schedule a personal visit or a formal interview?

Personal visits are not scheduled during the early part of the application process. Applicants who become finalists in the process are invited to campus for interviews in February.

What are your current research projects?

Current projects include books on forensic evaluation of juveniles and on forensic assessment ethics. In addition, ongoing projects include the application of tablets to self-perceptions of risk and needs in a community correctional population, a review of the impact of professional standards upon practice in law and in psychology, the impact of problem-solving courts on justice-involved veterans, and the development of a risk-reduction intervention for individuals returning from incarceration to the community.

What is your philosophy about student involvement in and credit for research?

Students are closely involved in most of the research and scholarship I do. Those involved in the larger lab include doctoral students in clinical psychology (forensic concentration), JD-PhD students, MS students, and advanced undergraduates. We share a number of collaborative projects with David DeMatteo, JD, PhD, and his lab members. Students move from participating in fairly basic roles during their first year in the lab to planning and carrying out more independent projects as part of an MS thesis and doctoral dissertation. However, all participation roles result in credit for professional presentations and publications.

What has your research over the last five years involved?

Additional projects conducted over the last five years have focused on principles of forensic mental health assessment, a controlled comparison involving at-risk youth participating in an academic-sport mentoring program, and the impact of specialized forensic training on mental health professionals in the public sector. (See electronic reprints of selected articles during this period.)

Can you describe a strong applicant for the PhD program?

A strong applicant for the clinical PhD program should have

  • a good undergraduate record (strong grades, typically as a psychology major),
  • good GRE scores (successful applicants typically score in the 160+ range (verbal), 152+ range (quantitative), and 4.5+ in analytic writing),
  • prior research experience,
  • a mature focus and clear, realistic goals for a career as a researcher, research-oriented clinician, and teacher/trainer in the specialty of forensic psychology, and
  • a good fit between our mutual research and applied interests.

Can you describe a strong applicant for the JD/PhD program?

A strong applicant for the JD/PhD program would be similar to the PhD applicant just described. In addition, however, that individual should have

  • a clear interest in law and legal policy as informed by behavioral science,
  • a mature rationale for choosing a joint degree program (going beyond "I like both," "I'd like to keep my options open," or "a law degree will make me more credible as a practicing forensic psychologist"),
  • strong LSAT scores (161+), and
  • an appreciation for the challenges presented by lengthy training in two distinct fields.

Can you describe a strong applicant for the MS program?

A strong applicant for the MS program should have

  • an interest in research and gaining relevant research experience,
  • possibly an interest in applying for doctoral training in psychology (not necessarily at Drexel, however),
  • a good undergraduate record, and
  • GRE scores in the 150+ range.

However, such applicants are not expected to have yet obtained much research experience, and may be looking for a training experience that allows them to develop a better-informed appreciation of the field and of doctoral training in this area.

How does the admissions process work?

Applications are completed and submitted online. Completed applications are reviewed by faculty in December and January (for doctoral programs) and February and March (for the MS program). If you have any difficulty with completing and submitting an application, you should contact the director of the program to which you are applying.

Will contacting you help my application, or demonstrate my interest in the program?

Messages containing statements of interest, description of activities, or attaching work samples do not provide any advantage to applicants. Instead, you should focus on putting together a thoughtful, well-written application. In this application, you may include samples of your work if you would like.

Questions for Current Students

What are your roles as graduate students in the graduate programs?

As graduate students, we have a number of potential roles and responsibilities. In addition to attending classes, there are a number of activities that take place in each research lab. As part of the lab, a graduate student may be working on general lab research, assisting other students with their theses or dissertations, or working on presentations or publications.

During the first year of the PhD program (or second year of the JD/PhD program), graduate students also serve as teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. Beginning in the second year of the PhD program (or third year of the JD/PhD program), students hold practicum positions, during which they will have clinical or assessment responsibilities assigned by the respective practicum sites. For graduate students who are interested, there are a number of other potential roles, including serving as graduate teaching assistants (i.e., after having already done so for a year as required by the program) or graduate assistants to the program.

What is your workload like as graduate students?

The workload is comparable to a full-time job--sometimes more, rarely less (i.e., there is usually something you could/should be working on during any lulls). Each day proves different than the next with respect to the activities that we are involved in, however, which helps keep long days from becoming monotonous. At any given time, we might be, among other things:

  • taking classes;
  • doing lab research and attending lab meetings;
  • working on articles or book chapters with Professor Heilbrun;
  • working as teaching assistants;
  • working at practicum sites;
  • teaching classes;
  • working for the department;
  • working on our theses or dissertations;
  • attending academic conferences or professional-society meetings; or
  • working outside the department in a variety of roles (interning for a judge, working on the Drexel Law Review, reviewing articles for journals or submissions for conferences, etc.).

The trick seems to be just accepting that there are always multiple things going on, and planning and managing your time accordingly. That said, everyone is still able to find plenty of time to relax and enjoy themselves--we all seem to have been able to strike a good balance between our school and social lives.

What clinical opportunities are there? What is the clinical training like?

Drexel's practicum opportunities are one of the program's greatest strengths. Students are required to complete practica during their second and third years of the program, and have the option to complete a practicum during their fourth year as well (for a total of at least 1600 hours over two to three years). There are close to 50 practicum sites that have a relationship with our program, so students have the opportunity to complete practica in a variety of settings in the Philadelphia metropolitan and greater Philadelphia areas.

The diverse selection of sites allows students to focus their clinical training on desired activities (e.g., individual or group psychotherapy, neuropsychological assessment, forensic assessment) and with a variety of populations. All forensic-track students complete a practicum at the Forensic Assessment Clinic where they are supervised by Professor Heilbrun. Students can also get involved in multiple research projects that involve clinical work.

Lab members' recent practicum training experiences include:

  • Forensic Assessment Clinic
  • Reentry Project
  • Drexel Psychological Services Center - Main campus
  • Student Counseling Center, Drexel University - Center City campus
  • Student Counseling Center, Drexel University - Main campus
  • Community Education Centers - Albert "Bo" Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center
  • Practice of Thomas Swirsky-Sacchetti
  • Division of Addiction Treatment and Research/Center City Clinic for Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Delaware Psychiatric Center
  • University of Pennsylvania Neuropsychiatry Section, Brain Behavior Lab
  • Division of Child Mental Health Services
  • The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Immunology Family Care Center
  • Philadelphia VA Medical Center

What are the funding opportunities? How does this affect your quality of life?

All students in this program receive complete tuition remission, as well as an annual stipend (see the doctoral program website for the amount of the current annual stipend). However, there are a number of other ways that students may receive additional funding. For instance, many students in the program receive a Dean's or Provost's Fellowship, which provide an additional stipend for the first two years. Additionally, graduate students who serve as teaching assistants after their first year (serving as a TA is required for the first year of the PhD program, and for the second year of the JD/PhD program) may be eligible to earn additional money. Moreover, those students who hold a graduate assistantship receive additional funding.

Serving as a teaching or graduate assistant does take up additional hours each week. However, the workload is typically manageable without having much of a negative effect on quality of life. For additional information, you may want to review the information about Program Costs and Funding.

What is it like living in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia has a lot to do and see. There are an abundance of historical sites (e.g., the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall), museums (e.g., the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute), parks (e.g., Fairmount Park and Rittenhouse Square), and restaurants (believe it or not, there are other restaurants besides Pat's and Geno's). Philadelphia also hosts a number of colleges and universities (e.g., the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University)--students frequently attend presentations and events at neighboring schools. Nearby colleges and universities may also serve as sites for collaboration and practicum opportunities.

While Philadelphia is surprisingly drivable for a big city (many students have cars), the city also has a good public transportation system (SEPTA). Buses, trains, subways, and trolleys can likely get you wherever you need to go in the city or the surrounding areas. Students tend to live both within the city (including Center City, University City, and South Philly), and in the surrounding suburbs (e.g., Manayunk, Chestnut Hill, and the Main Line).

Notwithstanding the assortment of things to do in the city and its surrounding areas (look up Manayunk, King of Prussia, and the Main Line), one of the best things about Philadelphia is its location relative to other major cities. Among others, Philadelphia is approximately an hour from Atlantic City, two hours from New York City and Baltimore, two and a half hours from Washington D.C., and six hours from Boston. Each city is easily accessible via train, bus (checkout "BoltBus," "MegaBus," or Chinatown buses for cheap fares), or car.