Seasoned psychologists share the time-tested lessons
that put them on the path to career success.
BY AMY NOVOTNEY
As president of APA’s Div. 46 (Media) and a private practitioner in Camp Hill, Pa., Pauline Wallin, PhD, has no regrets — and says no one else should, either.
That’s a lesson she learned as an undergraduate when
she was accepted by three highly rated psychology graduate
programs. When she asked her adviser for guidance, he said
with a smile, “Face it, Pauline: Whatever you decide you’ll be
sorry … but not for long.”
That phrase has stuck with her throughout her career. “At
major decision points, I’ve reminded myself that some options
must be left behind, but that the regret won’t last,” Wallin says.
“This has helped me focus on the specific options I did choose,
and to be open to new opportunities along the way.”
In search of other pearls of wisdom, the Monitor asked several
seasoned psychologists to share the career lessons they’ve learned.
Find a research problem that keeps
you up at night, says Elizabeth
Kensinger, PhD, a cognitive
psychologist at Boston College. “It has to be
something that you can’t get out of your head,
and that you feel you can’t wait to solve,”
she says. Her own research on the effects of
emotion on memory “has kept me motivated
through many late nights and a number of failed experiments.”
Make an impact, says Washington, D.C.,
independent practitioner Jean Carter, PhD. Rather
than sitting back and waiting for other people
to ask you to participate, figure out what you need to do to
enrich your professional life and then ask faculty, supervisors,
advisers and professional colleagues for
guidance on ways to get there. You won’t
always get what you want, Carter says, but
you’ll be surprised by the positive response
you’ll get. Second, step up your own efforts,
she says. “While others can open doors for
you, it is up to you to make the best use of
those opportunities,” she says.
Learn from your elders, says
Harvard University psychologist
Jerome Kagan, PhD. With research
grants more scarce and competition fiercer
than when he was a new psychologist, he says
early career psychologists need to find an
experienced guide. “Find an older mentor who
is respected and doing excellent research in an
area that is of interest to the younger person and attach to
Keep your options open, says
Charlottesville, Va., independent
practitioner Tom DeMaio, PhD.
DeMaio says he will never forget this advice,
which he got from an experienced colleague
more than 30 years ago as he was preparing to
open his clinical practice: “Take anything that
comes through the door,” his friend told him.
People’s problems have a common thread, he was told, and
specializing too early doesn’t allow a practitioner to build up a
broad base of experience.