First things first, take a deep breath. As you’re probably expecting, the process of securing your clinical psychology residency is not a walk in the park. But it’s also not a slog through the swamp of misery. I’d say it’s more like the average day in Canada: moments of sunshine, and moments of cloud-cover…moments of brutal winds, and moments of relative calm. The old “emotional roller coaster” idea works, too. The thing about emotional roller coasters is that they’re not a journey of ONLY unpleasantness, they’re a journey of unpleasantness AND pleasantness
How do I know? I just went through the long and drawn out APPIC Match! And I survived! I’m one week out from matching to a very good training program. Because it might be relevant to how strongly you consider the ino below, I will tell you that I am adult-focused and specializing in health psychology
You’ll get here, too! And to help you along the way, here are some of my reflections on the whole process. But before you start reading my words of wisdom, I want you to really focus on one thing that I wish someone had said to me before it all started
There is no right or wrong way to go through this process. YOU DO YOU.
Let this by your mantra
- SELECTING PROGRAMS
The biggest thing I learned about this phase is that it’s important to carefully weigh your desire to “get out and go anywhere” against your desire to have a residency program that you really want. This decision has repercussions for the rest of the process! Are you very much a generalist? Would you be happy with a wide array of training opportunities? Are you looking to specialize in a particular area, so only certain programs will appropriately set you up for the future you want? I fell into the latter category: I knew I would only be happy if I had a program that allowed me to specialize in health psychology. I also decided that I wasn’t going to apply to a program that felt like a mediocre fit (e.g., not the training model I wanted, heavy emphasis on research). Together, this meant that I put out fewer applications than some other applicants (FYI: 8 applications). When my applications went in, I felt confident because I had a refined list! In hindsight, I don’t think I really appreciated what it could mean moving forward. What it meant for me: I received fewer interviews (4 in total) relative to those who put out more applications, and I found this quite discouraging because I only applied to sites that I really thought were going to be a good fit. Also, only having four interviews put A LOT of pressure on doing those interviews well…anxiety!!!
Would I do it differently if I had a do-over? I’m not sure because everything worked out for me in the end. There were perks to only having 4 interviews: travel was less exhausting, I was away from home for a shorter period of time, it cost less money, and I was able to space out interviews more. But that pressure was a big con. So I think if I were to do it again, I’d probably apply to a few more.
- WRITING APPLICATIONS:
This part of the process really wasn’t that bad in my opinion – kinda like the many scholarships you’ve probably applied for in the past ;
Standard advice applies:
Preparing your CV takes a looooong time!
- Try to find examples of applications from former applicants, but take a stab at writing your essays before you look at theirs.
- Definitely get a few people to read over your essays!
- See if you can find an internship buddy to share info and resources with during this part.
- Write one really good cover letter that you have a few people proof read, and then tweak it.
- INTERVIEW NOTIFICATION DAY:
Prepare yourself from an emotional roller coaster. Notifications of interviews trickle in all day long. I didn’t hear from some sites until close to 5pm. And the notifications can come in any combination: bad news front-loaded and good news back-loaded, a nice balance, or good news front-loaded and bad news at the end of the day (that was more the case for me).
Do what you gotta do to get through it. Some people wanted to sit by their email and constantly hit refresh, others decided to try and distract themselves, and some, like me, fell somewhere in the middle. I definitely went to the gym this day, and was glad that I did!!! And then I took the night off and ordered take-out and watched Netflix with my hubby in PJs. Exactly what I needed. You do you.
- INTERVIEW PREP:
This part was tough for me. I found it hard to work on my research because I was so preoccupied by the big task of interviews on the horizon! But I know many other people who were able to put it out of their mind for most of December. Again, it’s figuring out what works for you and being okay with it. I did written prep in December, and then put it away over the holidays and saved oral prep for January. In December, I met a few times with my internship buddies to brainstorm answers and discuss cases, etc. Having buddies was soooooo important to me at this stage! In January, I did mock interviews with my husband where he had my written prep document and just asked me random questions from there. I think my process worked well for me. One thing I learned was that small chunks of prep was better for me than cramming. In the days leading up to my first interview, I definitely found it hard to know what to do – I felt like I had plateaued in terms of prep, and so I felt like I was twiddling my thumbs because I was not in a mindsight to be able to work on my dissertation…
You’ve probably heard it before, but I felt interviews were a mix of stress/anxiety, excitement, and exhaustion. It was tough being on the road, but also exciting to get out of the hotel room and see the sights, dream of life in a new city, and meet new people. I really loved some of my interviews and had fun doing them. I definitely got to a point where I just couldn’t prep anymore, as I think many applicants do! And I also got to a point where I desperately wanted to be home, as I think everyone does…
One point I’d like to make about interviews that I wish I had known: In my experience, the interviews are all very different. Some sites take a very standardized interview approach, whereas others are more laid-back. Some sites, the standardized approach is comfortable, and others it feels stiff and impersonal. So for some interviews I felt really relaxed, and for some I felt more stressed and anxious. I suppose it kinda depends on what style suits you! Just prepare for the experience that you may have interviews where you feel like you didn’t win them over, or you feel like they didn’t want to get to know you and that this might actually reflect a standardized interviewing process rather than a bad interview. The result was that I found it tough to decide on my rankings when the interviews were so different because it made some attractive sites less attractive (even though they were still great on paper).
- MATCH DAY:
The nerves about match day began a few days before for me. I did not sleep well the night before match. The major pro about match day is that it’s much shorter than interview notification day: You find out in the morning, but the waiting is super stressful! I took the morning off and went bouldering because it was both physical exertion and mental distraction. But again, you do you.
- EMOTIONS AND COPING:
This was by far the hardest part of the APPIC match process for me. I can’t say that everyone struggles with this aspect, but I’d hazard a guess to say that the vast majority do. And I think this is an important thing to talk about in training programs, and among your peers and your family and friends. Remember: APPIC is about a 6-month long journey, with multiple points of stress, but also multiple points of excitement and opportunity.
It was a challenge for me to go through the rollercoaster of emotions. This was my grad school experience that most taught me about the importance of self-care and coping. I had become very sure of myself through 5 years of grad school, and I found myself back in a place of insecurity and anxiety, which was confusing and hard. I had a friend and fellow applicant put it to me this way: APPIC is taking a bunch of brilliant, super-keeners who are at the end of a PhD, when they’re tired, stressed, and uncertain about the future, and putting them through a looooong, evaluative process. I found this really helped to contextualize the range of emotions I was feeling!
The other thing I want you to know about this piece is as follows: Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you how you should be feeling, or what you should be doing to get through it. Feel whatever you need to feel – I guarantee you it’s one of many very normal reactions to this stressful time! It’s okay to be super excited and not feel too much anxiety! It’s also okay to be discouraged by bad news – you don’t need to “keep your chin up.” Just try to find some ways to cope with it that allow you to keep going. For me, that was friends and family, exercise, and music and art.
Give some thought to how you are going to spend the Christmas holidays! What will be best for you? I spent 3 weeks away from home, which was nice in many ways, but it also meant that I was already tired of travelling before I even started the interview circuit. If I did it again, I personally would have spent more time in my own space to help me mellow as I prepared for interviews.
- AFTER MATCH:
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m still feeling nervous even though the match is over! It’s only one week out, so that might have something to do with it, but keep in mind that there’s a lot of change on the horizon once you match to a program! But that also comes with opportunity to start dreaming and getting excited about a new year ahead of you.