Thursday, March 24, 2011

Research Funding: Resources for the Long and Winding Road

by Alfiee M. Breland-Noble, PhD; Duke University Medical Center

I learned about the process of grant writing for research during my 2nd year in my first tenure track position. Prior to this introduction, I was very unfamiliar with grant writing and had a very different area of research interest from what I pursue currently. Mine was definitely a long and winding road to federal funding, but once I began, I developed what one of my mentors calls RPD or Research Personality Disorder J.

My path was once filled with doubts about my ability to succeed in what I perceived to be a very closed and special circle. Over time and with a lot of encouragement from my family, peers and mentors, I discovered that I had many great ideas to channel into a research career. These days, many people know my story and the very different path I took to my current federally funded career. I want to share some of my experiences with you to provide you with some of the wisdom that was provided for me when I embarked on my journey. I think that one of the most powerful lessons I learned was the lesson of self-confidence. One of my mentors, Dr. Jessica Henderson Daniel at Children’s Hospital Boston (Harvard), told me once that I belonged in a research career. I have never forgotten that and I pass that wisdom along to anyone reading this with a dream of pursuing full time research. I have spoken often about what I call my “3 S’s”, self-assurance, support and stamina and I recently published my thoughts in this regard in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. I encourage you to read that article as it contains not only my insights, but those of some of my great colleagues who are also active in APA Division 12.

Sanders, K.A., Breland-Noble, A.M.; King, C. & Cubic, B. (2011). Pathways to success for psychologists in academic health centers: From early career to emeritus. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 17:315–325.

The path to a research career truly varies by individual, but one thing that I believe to be universal to this type of career is a calling to be diligent, focused and perseverant. In my opinion, this type of career is definitely requires the stamina and focus of the tortoise (of the famed fable) instead of the quickness of the hare. Through my experiences, I discovered that I am genuinely excited by the research endeavor, from generating an idea, to creating a research plan, to implementing the plan and reviewing the results. I hope that any of you with a desire to pursue research will do so wholeheartedly. There are many people in our communities, families, and profession who want to see you succeed, including me! I believe that it is imperative for us to continue to develop a cadre of clinical and laboratory investigators who will help address the problems faced by diverse peoples. Your insights as persons invested in diversity are immeasurable and I, along with many others, am counting on you to bring your energy and drive to the research enterprise. I have a saying that I share with young investigators and early career psychologists to remind them to get focused and stay that way. The saying is “BE THE TREE” and it refers to remaining grounded in yourself and your beliefs as you progress in your career. So I say to you all, “BE THE TREE!” and I send you my best wishes for a clear focus, hard-work and increasing success.

I have a PowerPoint presentation available that I used recently when presenting to a group of aspiring federal investigators related to creating a grant budget. You can get a copy from Dr. Acevedo-Polakovich, who is one of these I hope that you find it helpful. While this presentation is very specific and focused on just one aspect of obtaining federal funding, there are a number of resources you can access for “self-training” on the process of becoming a federally funded investigator. I am providing links to some of these resources as well. Best Wishes!

Dr. Alfiee M. Breland-Noble

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Duke University Medical Center


Sanders, K.A., Breland-Noble, A.M.; King, C. & Cubic, B. (2011). Pathways to success for psychologists in academic health centers: From early career to emeritus. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 17:315–325.

NIH Regional Seminar University of Pennsylvania in 2010:

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding:”

The NIH Grants Policy Statement (10/1/2010):

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Taking Care of Yourself in Graduate School

by Beth Boyd, PhD, Professor; University of South Dakota

Congratulations – you are accepted into graduate school! Whew! It is such hard work to get into a graduate program that it is sometimes hard to remember to take care of yourself once you get there. There are so many things to be involved in, so many things you have to do and learn. And you want to give your absolute best to everything you do. It is easy to become so engaged in all of this that you forget to take the time to nurture your whole self –the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. It is important to find a way to balance all these aspects of your life and maintain that balance throughout your graduate school years. You will spend many hours, reading, going to class, doing research, and seeing clients; however, to be truly successful you also have to make sure to keep your life in balance. This may actually be one of the hardest things you have to learn and, as someone who learned much of this the hard way, I offer a few suggestions that were helpful to me. I hope they can be useful to you.

First, keep in mind why it is you are in graduate school. What drew you to psychology? What does it mean to you to become a psychologist? What do you really see yourself doing in the future? It is important to be really specific about answering these questions because you will need the motivation that comes from that specific vision often during your graduate school career. If your answer is something non-specific like, “I want to help people”, it may help you to work on a more specific answer. Which people? Adults? Children? People with specific characteristics, issues, experiences? Try to really picture what you will be doing as a psychologist, who you will be working with, and the setting you will work in. When things get tough and you wonder if you made the right choice in pursuing a Ph.D., when you wonder if you should commit five years of your life, when you wonder if it should be these five years, when you wonder if you can really do this – what will sustain you is remembering the reasons you thought becoming a psychologist was important. It is not a bad idea to write these reasons down, represent them with a picture, videotape yourself talking about them, or engage in any other things that will help you remember exactly why becoming a psychologist was important to you.

Second, make sure that you are always doing something that you really love. If what you love is clinical work, make sure you have something you are doing in that area in the midst of a semester heavy on research or theory. Even if your courses are arranged in such a way that you have a semester lacking in clinical focus, you can watch videos of psychotherapy, shadow a colleague’s case, or read just ten pages a day on clinical techniques. If research is your passion and you feel that all your time is being taken by practica and clinical work, make sure you give yourself the time to read the latest study in your favorite journal, attend a colloquia, or just talk to a colleague about their research. The point is that going a whole semester with no attention to the things that really make you happy can make you forget why you are doing this. Sometimes you get so buried that you cannot even remember the things that make you happy. That is the time to get out your writing, your picture, your videotape or whatever you did to document why this was all important for you to do at this time in your life. You will always be busy, and if you are doing what you love, that busy-ness should bring you joy. If it is all just about what has to be done, if there is no joy, you need to find a way to reconnect. You might feel that you are so busy that you cannot fit another single thing in your day or your week. But if you think about the time that it takes when you do not want to get out of bed, when you watch a TV show you do not even really care about just so you can avoid doing what you are “supposed” to be doing, or the “just one more” video game you engage in before you get to work on your thesis – you will probably be able to find the time. If you are not sure what it is that you really love, think back to why you started this. In that, you will likely find the seed of what you love to do.

Finally, one of the most important things I have learned is how important it is to have something in my life that allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment. When I was in graduate school, I was starting a placement at an emergency youth shelter for children and adolescents who had been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. My supervisor invited us over to his house for a BBQ. When we were all there, he said he wanted to show us something important and took us to his garage. Inside, was an amazing array of handmade furniture, in every phase of being cut out, built, finished, and polished. He told us that in our work, we very often do not get to see the outcomes. If people are doing well, they do not come in to see us. Often, working with children, they get sent off to placements, return home, or run away and we never know what happened to them. If we are going to survive in this profession, we have to give ourselves something that we can stand back and say, “I did that. It is finished.” For my supervisor, it was building his furniture. I have never forgotten this lesson and it has come back to me in many ways over the years since. If you find yourself feeling strangely gratified by sweeping the floor -- watching the pile of dirt come together, getting it all into the pan, and then throwing it away -- you probably have a need for a sense of accomplishment in your life. Theses and dissertations, preliminary exams, and internship applications are wonderful sources of accomplishment but they are few and far between. We need something more concrete, frequent, and often visible. Our work does not often present us with a pile in an “In basket” that will all get transferred by the end of the day to an “Out basket”. We need to find something that can give us as much pleasure as taking an empty box, filling it with objects, taping it up, writing the contents on the side and piling it in an ever growing stack. Even though it is annoying to realize that everything you need is in one of those boxes, it is an amazing sense of accomplishment to see the stack of boxes piling up. What can you give yourself that gives you that sense of accomplishment. And when you tell yourself you do not have the time for it, remember that you cannot afford not to. You have to nourish your spirit as much as your mind.

Remember that it is all about balance. Graduate school will build your mind and your skills. Don’t forget about your joy, your passion, your friends and loved ones, your spiritual life. These are the parts of your life that will get you through the long run of graduate study, will guide you in your work, and allow you to give the best of what you have to the work you choose to do.

About the Author:
Beth Boyd Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Dakota. At the time she wrote this guest entry, she served as chair of the Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities (Section VI) of the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of APA) and as past-chair of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues (Division 45 of APA).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Overcoming 3 Common Dissertation Pitfalls

by Tamara L. Brown, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Psychology; University of Kentucky; & Owner of Dissertation Coaching Services (

Most students find writing the dissertation to be the most daunting aspect of graduate school. When it comes to the dissertation, they feel overwhelmed and ill equipped, they doubt their abilities, and many give up before finishing. So challenging is the dissertation, that some have estimated that as many as 50% of graduate students are ABD (“all but dissertation”), which means students leave graduate school having met all requirements except the dissertation. But it does not have to be this way!

Based on my many years of experience or working with doctoral students, I have discovered that there are some very common pitfalls and misconceptions about the dissertation that cut across nearly all graduate students and block their dissertation progress. The good news is that these problems are all fixable! Due to space limitations, in the rest of this blog, I briefly highlight 3 problems students frequently encounter and provide tips on overcoming them. For more detailed information on these and other common problems and tips, or for individualized assistance, contact me (

Problem 1: “I’m too busy to write.” Graduate students are notoriously busy! In addition to working on their dissertations, students in the PhD clinical psychology program where I teach also have to juggle taking classes, studying, teaching classes, seeing clients, conducting other research, writing journal articles, preparing conference presentations, and their personal interests and responsibilities. It’s a tall order; who has time to write! Actually there is more time than you might think. Graduate students (like everyone else) waste a lot of time that could be spent writing. Some time wasters are obvious such as time spent on facebook or checking email. But some time wasters are not as obvious. Examples given by graduate students I talked to are time spent organizing articles, organizing one’s workspace, and preparing to write. Getting organized is important, but spending too much time on it leaves very little, if any, time for actual writing. A solution is to first create a daily grid and keep track of how you spend your time so that you become aware of what your time wasters are and how much time you waste. Next, get rid of the obvious time wasters such as email and facebook by making their use contingent upon meeting your writing goals. Get rid of the subtle time wasters by scheduling organization time into your calendar as separate from your scheduled writing time. This ensures you devote adequate time to organizing, but when it’s time to write, organizing ends. If you lapse into your favorite time wasters when you are supposed to be writing, stop yourself! Remember that you have other places in your schedule for those activities so carefully guard your writing time and only do writing during writing time.

Problem 2: Many graduate students mistakenly believe that they cannot begin writing until they are able to have an extended period (say 2 hours) of uninterrupted time to devote to writing. Since they rarely have such large blocks of time in their schedules, the result is that weeks (and months) go by and students never begin writing, believing that they did not have enough time. Research shows that those who write in shorter spurts of time are more productive than those who write in binges and they tend to find writing more enjoyable. The solution is to change your thinking and start writing in 30-minute blocks of time. Why 30 minutes? Because most people can find 30-minute blocks in their schedules. Decide in advance which specific section of your project you will work on so that when the time for writing comes, you can get started right away (rather than spending your 30-minute writing time getting organized). Write as much as you can and when the time is up, stop writing. If you write for 30 minutes every day, by the end of a week, you will have spent 3 hours writing! If you wait for a 3-hour block of time to appear in your schedule, by the end of a week, you will have spent 0 hours writing!

Problem 3: Mismanagement of negative emotions. Working on the dissertation is often associated with negative thoughts (e.g., “I am incompetent,” “they made a mistake admitting me into this program”) and negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety). These thoughts and feelings, if not managed properly, feed on one another and result in behaviors that are self-sabotaging. Take procrastination as an example. I had a student with lots of negative thoughts and emotions associated with his dissertation that would overwhelm him every time he tried to work on it, so rather than work on his dissertation he would over commit to other activities (e.g., teaching, taking on more clients, household chores). These activities allowed him to avoid his fears and insecurities while still feeling like he was busy doing important work that had to get done. While procrastination provides temporary relief from unwanted thoughts and feelings, the problem is these avoidance tactics prevent students from making progress on their dissertations, and that lack of progress fuels even more negative thoughts and feelings which lead to more procrastination; a vicious cycle. A solution is to recognize how your behaviors, especially those that interfere with your dissertation, are influenced by your thoughts and feelings. Applying principles of cognitive and cognitive-behavioral theory are helpful in this regard.

These are just 3 of the most common pitfalls graduate students experience while trying to complete their dissertations. There are others that are common and some that are unique to particular situations. Regardless of the problem you are having, the solution is to get active in figuring out the problem and what to do about it. If you have tried to do that and it is not working, there are other options such as seeking the assistance of a dissertation coach. Dissertation coaches can be particularly helpful if you have spent an inordinate amount of time spinning your wheels on your dissertation rather than making real progress, if your dissertation chairperson is not providing the guidance and support you need, or if you are at the beginning of your dissertation and you want someone to help you get set up for the road ahead. A dissertation coach can help you devise strategies and step-by-step plans to keep you making steady progress.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Research – Get Involved!

by Shannon Chavez-Korell, PhD; Assistant Professor, Counseling Psychology; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Getting involved in research is an important and often necessary way to get prepared for graduate school in psychology. Research opportunities are usually available as long as you know where to look. Every year numerous students ask me questions about research opportunities – I hope this helps our blog readers better understand how to navigate this process.

Where to look for research opportunities

A great place to begin looking is your academic department’s website. I always encourage my students to read the faculty members’ profiles on our department’s website. This will help you get an idea of the research interests of your faculty. Decide which faculty members’ interests best match your interests. Then email the faculty member asking if you can meet with them to discuss their research and ways you might be able to get involved. Some faculty members will let you know they are not currently accepting any new students to their labs, other faculty members might not have research teams but might be willing to collaborate on a project with you. Some will immediately invite you to the next research team meeting, and some will schedule a meeting for you to come in and discuss your interests and determine your fit to the team.

If for some reason you are not able to join a research team with one of your department’s faculty, don’t hesitate to look outside of your department. I have a large research team of 15 students and half of these students are not from my department. If you plan to pursue research opportunities outside of your department you would do so similarly to how I’ve described looking for research opportunities in your department: think about fields of study you are interested in, go to that department’s website to read about faculty research interests, and then email faculty members.

Why finding research experience is important

Research is very important to the field of psychology. Psychologists are consumers of research, as our clinical work is influenced by research findings. Psychologists are also researchers, as research is the force that propels the field forward. Considering that research is important to the field, it is an important aspect of graduate training. If you plan to apply to graduate school in psychology, research experience helps graduate programs assess your preparedness for graduate training. Your involvement on a research team demonstrates your authentic interest in research and it suggests that you have more advanced skills than students who do not have research team experience. When reviewing doctoral applications for admission to the doctoral program I work in, I am always evaluating the applicant’s previous research experience.

So now that you know that getting involved in research is an important thing to do, you might be wondering what you will be getting yourself into. Being an active member on a research team can be very rewarding (I promise!). First, something that should not be discounted, you gain exposure to the research process. I have found that some students have misconceptions about what research is and conclude that they are not interested in research because of this misinformation. In reality, research is very exciting, intellectually stimulating, and a strong vehicle for promoting social justice (get involved to find out how)! Secondly, you can gain training and firsthand experience on how to conduct a research study from start to finish. You learn how to design a study (e.g., create research questions and hypotheses, select measures, review literature, etc.). You can gain experience in data collection, data entry, data analyses, manuscript writing, grant writing, and presenting research in public forums and at professional conferences.

If you are an undergraduate…Fundamentally, participation on a research team provides exposure to the research process. Having a history of participation in research gives you a strong background for entrance to graduate school. Participation on a research team also provides a way to network with professors. These professors will be great candidates to write letters of recommendation for graduate school or future employment.

If you are a master’s student…Research experience will be helpful when you conduct your own independent research (i.e., master’s thesis). Research team experience also helps you compete for entry in doctoral programs that have a scientist-practitioner model of training. Admissions to doctoral level graduate programs typically involve an assessment of your research interests and skills. Applicants are typically asked to talk about their research experience, and what they did specifically on past research teams. Participation in research with professors other than your advisor is a great way to learn alternate views of what research looks like, and is a great way to ensure strong letters of recommendation for future endeavors.

If you are a doctoral student…Research experience prepares you for your doctoral thesis, and helps an advanced student learn how to go about assembling her own research team to gather dissertation data. Research experience also helps in the realm of professional development by giving doctoral students the opportunity to present research at professional conferences and participate in the publication of manuscripts in scholarly journals. Research team experience prepares the soon-to-be-academic for assembly of their own research team once tenure track employment begins (there is life after grad-school)!

My hope is that you are thinking about research and how you can (need) to get involved. Involvement in research is critical in shaping the next generation of researchers – you!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Feeling the Need to Prove Your Intelligence in an Academic Environment

by Markeda Newell, PhD; Assistant Professor of School Psychology, Department of Educational Psychology; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Many students of color will report that one of the challenges of being in graduate school is feeling like you have to prove your intelligence to not only your peers, but also your professors. Experiencing this feeling in many ways can be strange for students of color because you have achieved and been considered bright throughout your academic career, which is how you got to graduate school in the first place! Nevertheless, graduate schools are places where there are even fewer people of color and in many ways several significant barriers remain. To exacerbate this feeling, oftentimes there are only one or two students of color within any given cohort, program, or department. Moreover, faculty, staff, and students may not have had many interactions with members of your racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural group. To add another element to this situation, being a student in graduate school means being a student that demonstrates their skill and knowledge so that faculty can see that you will be successful after you obtain a degree. However, feeling the need to prove your intelligence goes beyond this basic (across the board) demonstration of knowledge and skills. Instead, students feel that their peers and professors do not think they have the capacity to actually complete the work let alone complete the work at a high level. So, what are my thoughts on how to handle these feelings and overcome these feelings?

As an African American woman who completed a program where I was the only African American student in my cohort, my first piece of advice would be to build up your self-confidence! You did not get to where you are by luck. It took a lot of hard work oftentimes in the face of significant adversity. To overcome those obstacles and get to graduate school, you probably have done some of the hardest work you will ever have to do. So, recognize that accomplishment and be proud of it! Rarely have I heard that a student of color has been given anything. You have to earn it and you did! My second piece of advice would be to continue to have mentors from undergraduate or even high school who were very supportive of you. They were there when times were tough before, so let them be there for you now. They also have witnessed your academic strengths, so they can be good cheerleaders and reminders for you. My third piece of advice is to try to form relationships/friendships with your cohort mates. You will soon realize everyone has some doubts about their knowledge and skills; this will be a nice reality check for you to see that everyone has their doubts and so in some ways you may not feel as isolated in your feelings.

My final piece of advice is PROVE YOUR INTELLIGENCE! Remember, you may be one of the first students of color to ever go through that graduate program. Therefore, you may be breaking some of those remaining barriers and making it easier for those who will follow you. This is not always a responsibility that students of color want to take on, but sometimes it is unavoidable. So, I would say embrace it and show why it is important to have diversity in graduate programs!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mentorship Networks: What they are, what they are good for, and how they are built.

by I. David Acevedo-Polakovich, PhD; Assistant Professor; Central Michigan University.

Mentorship is a term that psychologists of all stripes often use when having conversations about their professional development. It refers to a special formative relationship between a mentee (i.e., a person who is in the process of learning) and a mentor (i.e., a person qualified to teach). In such conversations, it is not infrequent to hear psychologists (and psychologists in training) refer to their mentor or –more importantly for the purposes of this blog- their mentorS. In this blog entry I would like to present you with an idea, self-evident to some but unknown to others, that a psychologist’s professional development is best served when mentoring occurs in the context of a mentee having a network of mentorS rather than a singular person who serves in that capacity.

Why have mentorS?
Beyond justification implicit in popular folk sayings (i.e., “two heads are better than one”), there are several reasons to ensure that your professional development is guided by more than one qualified person. Perhaps foremost among these is the simple fact that –barring conditions of divinity that are at the moment outside of the realm of empirical confirmation- no one person can know everything there is to know about every domain of your professional development. Having a network of mentorS raises the possibility that the guidance you will receive in any one professional decision or domain is being provided by the most qualified person you know in that area. For example, in my own career this has meant relying on relatively recent job applicants to provide me with practical guidance when looking for a job and on more experienced faculty members when looking to avoid common mistakes that job applicants make. Having access to both groups of mentors allows for a more complete picture of the job search process, and ultimately a better and more successful search. The same principle applies to most domains of professional development in both research and practice.

Another reason to make sure and develop multiple mentorship relationships is that –like most other relationships among human beings- each of these will wax and wane repeatedly over time, and sometimes because of factors outside of your control. Having multiple mentors raises the possibility of accessing someone who is ideally motivated to support you exactly at the time you need it. The most poignant example from my own career came when a mentor that I most often rely on for advice on publishing and writing was faced with an unfortunate series of severe health and family problems. Demanding that mentor’s time and resources under those conditions would have been selfish and indelicate. Having other mentors to rely on in that area allowed me to receive the guidance I needed in order to continue meeting demands of my chosen career as an academic. It also freed my time so that my conversations with the burdened mentor were spent honoring and supporting her through difficult times.

Having multiple mentors can also allow you greater freedom and independence. I run into colleagues, both practitioners and scholars, whose reliance on one or only a few mentors has limited –rather than enhanced- their professional choices (e.g., “I wish I could apply for that job, but I don’t know anyone in that system” or “I can’t publish this, it goes directly against what X has been saying for years.”). I’ve had only a few experiences where I have felt as they do. It is -to say the least- unpleasant to feel that after all the work you’ve put into experiencing success in your field, your growth is now inordinately affected by the whims of a person who you have little influence upon. Whenever I’ve discovered that my professional development environments make success contingent on unfailing alliance to one particular person or set of ideas, I have immediately begun looking elsewhere (a decision most always supported by the mentors in my network).

This brings me to a final benefit of mentorship networks, support. Given your condition as a human being developing a career, it is possible –if not likely- that despite the availability of an ample number of fantastic mentors you will make one or more mistakes regarding your professional development. At those times, it is wonderful to have available to you a number of qualified people who are not within your immediate professional context that can help you navigate back to a sound professional course. In the midst of my worst professional decisions, it has been my mentors who have helped me plot the course out of those decisions, and whose support has led me to believe a successful resolution is possible.

I’m sold, how do I build a mentorship network?
Before discussing specific tactics, I’d like to present you with a thought regarding the attitudinal predisposition that might facilitate your success in this endeavor: “It is difficult, if not impossible, to be mentored without being humble.” Mentorship relations are premised on the fact that a person has something to provide you that you do not have. Valued mentors are often willing to give you that something (e.g., knowledge, a skill, experience, a professional contact, etc.) in exchange for nothing other than the satisfaction of seeing you avoid a pitfall they encountered or watching you develop. Demanding and entitled attitudes on the part of mentees (often soon to be “former mentees”) certainly seem to be antithetical to fostering a mentor’s willingness to continue to assist you. Humility, appreciativeness, and graciousness seem to best honor the benefits received from your mentors.

As for where to begin, I would suggest the best place to begin building mentorship relationships is in your natural environment. Among graduate students perhaps the most natural mentors in this environment are faculty and other advanced students. For lack of humility, I’ve seen younger students ignore incredibly helpful information provided to them by more advanced students. For lack of appreciation, I’ve seen advanced students and faculty stop sharing helpful information with “could have been mentees.” The medieval philosopher Dominic of Guzman is said to have written “appreciate all the wisdom you encounter, regardless of its source.” That is perhaps the attitude most productive to developing mentors. I’ve received incredible advice from people who I’ve not expected it from, often ones who I am not particularly personally drawn to. Making sure to note the appreciation I have for that wisdom (e.g., through written or verbal comments) has ensured more wisdom in the future.

A second natural place to seek mentoring is through programs and structures developed specifically for it. Many educational institutions, programs, and professional societies have formal mentoring or professional development programs. If you find one that works for you, you’ve found a rare commodity that you should not undervalue. (This blog I hope is one example).

Professional societies provide one final place to identify potential mentors and build mentorship relationships. The more you interact with people who share your interests, the more you are likely to find some among them who are willing to guide you. When you find these people, honor and appreciate them. I’ve met some of my most valued mentors and mentees (some of whom in turn have mentored me in specific domains) sitting in the audience of a professional presentation or over lunch at a workshop.

Some final observations
Here are some things I’ve learned in the road to developing and maintaining my own mentorship networks.

1. I repeat, and will repeat it again and again, humility and appreciation go a long way. If a person is helpful to you, let them know it. A doctoral student recently came into my office frustrated that I had stopped giving her direction as I did before. Her frustration was surprise to me as I had scaled down my advice based on the lack of feedback from her about it. It is my job to teach all students at my institution. It is my pleasure and privilege to be able to mentor some. I am more likely to mentor students from whom I get a sense my mentorship is valued.

2. Initiative can work miracles. I once wondered out loud why a friend of mine got advice from one of our mentors that I –despite having more contact with this mentor- did not get. Her answer: I ask. Lesson learned, I now ask. I don’t always get an answer (or the answer I want), but –unsurprisingly- the net amount of times I do get an answer has increased exponentially.

3. Not everyone can be a mentor to everyone else. There are several professionals that I respect and admire who I’ve hoped to develop mentorship relationships with, but these have never materialized. While the reasons for this may be varied (e.g., lack of time, lack of personal compatibility. etc.), one thing I’ve learned is not to take it personally. Sometimes the inability to form a mentorship relationship has stemmed from an identifiable reason that helps me grow, others it has not. In either case, it is good self-care practice to learn as much as you can from that event and then proceed to move on with your life and professional development. In my own life, I often refer students and more junior colleagues who seek advice or consultation from me to someone else. It is not because I do not like or value these people. Much to the contrary, it is because I value them that I refer them to someone who can serve them better than I can at the time.

4. The way you make mentors will likely match your personality. I have a colleague (that is at times a mentor to me) who has the enviable ability to walk up to seemingly anyone and enlist their help. Although I am sure that the process is at times effortful for her, observed from the outside it seems graceful and uncomplicated. As much as I’ve tried to develop that skill and will continue to work at it, it is still something that does not come naturally to me. However, for reasons I don’t fully understand I seem to do well at being an effective contributor to committees, workforces, and other such groups. It is in the context of these that I have forged many of my mentoring relationships. I have other colleagues who develop mentoring networks through social engagements at conferences such as informal lunches, tours, etc. While it is likely wise for all professionals to take advantages of as many opportunities to develop mentoring relationships as they are afforded, my point is that not everyone will excel at the same types of opportunities. Find your strength and exploit it.

Best of luck building your mentorship network, managing it is a whole different issue (and perhaps the subject of a future blog entry).

About the author:

I. David Acevedo-Polakovich, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Central Michigan University where he directs the Center for Community-Academic Initiatives for Development. At the time he wrote this entry, he served as mentorship chair for the Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities (Section VI) of the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of the American Psychological Association).

Writing for Publication: Lessons from the Trenches

by Mia Smith Bynum, PhD; Associate Professor of Family Science; School of Public Health; University of Maryland.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with a recent PhD. graduate about career issues and the struggles we go through to get established in the competitive environment that is academic psychology. Having climbed a steep learning curve myself as a junior faculty, I've always enjoyed passing on the lessons I've acquired along the way. As is the case with many young PhDs and junior faculty in general, this young colleague described extremely common struggles with writing for publication and the accompanying pressures that we feel to produce when it seems that everyone around us is lapping us with their published work. After talking with this young colleague, I thought it would be useful to share some of the lessons I have learned about professional academic writing. My hope is that it will help other colleagues who, like me, have encountered many writing frustrations and have begun to feel as if they have lost their way.

I think the key issues plaguing writing productivity among junior faculty and new professionals fall in six areas. They are: (1) lack of confidence about writing; (2) lack of knowledge of one's personal rhythm/preferences with respect to writing; (4) lack of skill in writing for publication in scientific journals; (5) lack of familiarity and experience with the peer review process; (5) time management struggles; and (6) lack of an extensive professional network. I'll address writing confidence and writing knowledge/skills in depth. I will also provide the names of resources I have found helpful along the way.

Becoming a Professional Writer
Lack of knowledge about how to write for publication in academic journals and other outlets is a common barrier to publishing for junior faculty. In my journey and those of my young colleagues, I learned that several issues with respect to the young scholar's identity as a writer must be addressed. This will lay the foundation for the novice writer to develop the thick skin needed to endure the peer review process and to make it work for her. Learning about the peer review process can be mastered, but only after the writer has resolved some of the other issues first involving confidence and knowledge of personal rhythm and preferences as they relate to the writing process. Until these underlying issues are identified and addressed, academic publishing will always be a frightening, demoralizing process that derails many an academic career. I think that many young scholars struggle with publishing because of fear of rejection, not due to lack of capacity to learn the skills needed to publish successfully.

Young academics must first recognize that being an academic means being a professional writer. This idea was first presented to me in a book called, The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Columb, and Joseph Williams. It seems like an obvious point to me in retrospect, but hindsight is always 20-20. I don't think everyone views it that way at the time they decide to pursue a doctoral degree. I certainly did not. If you fundamentally do not enjoy writing, academia may not be for you. This may seem like a harsh statement, but in my opinion you must derive some intrinsic joy from the challenges of writing or it is not worth some of the sacrifices. There are many wonderful ways to be happy in your career. Why spend your days doing something you hate?

If you know that academia is indeed for you and you simply need some help figuring out how to be a productive writer, spend some time identifying your attitudes about writing. Write them down. Are they generally positive or negative? Also spend some time thinking about the experiences that have shaped your attitudes about writing. Do you dread the writing process? Or do you dread the critical feedback on your writing from colleagues, mentors, and the peer-review process? Or is it both? As cognitive-behavioral theory tells us, attitudes about writing can be changed once they are made explicit. If you are struggling with your writing productivity, it can be helpful to sit down and disentangle any negative beliefs that may impede your writing efforts as manifested through procrastination, writer’s block, and other common writing challenges. There are many myths that surround successful writing that may infect your writing experiences and productivity. Robert Boice addresses many of these issues and provides exercises for young academics to address them in his book, Advice for New Faculty Members.

One critical habit to successful writing is finding and sticking to a regular time to write in your schedule. Make it a regular, preferably daily, appointment in your date book. Do not give that time away to other demands on your time. In his book, The Art of Writing for Publication, Dr. Kenneth T. Henson advises writers to keep the tools of a serious writer nearby in all of the places where you write regularly. The obvious tools are a dictionary, thesaurus, any reference material, and your trusty APA manual. Have a good writing handbook available that addresses each stage of the writing process, including outlining, paragraphing, revising, and proper usage of grammar and punctuation. Such a handbook will help you break down writing projects into manageable pieces and also help you respond to feedback you receive from your mentors and colleagues about ways to improve your writing and to edit your own work. Having these tools on hand will also reduce loss of precious time actually writing by eliminating the need to hunt them down during every writing session.

Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham helps writers deal with the structure of the writing on the page so that it is clear and pleasing to the reader. It helps writers evaluate whether the sentences and paragraphs in the work address a single idea clearly and successfully. Why is this an important resource? Have you ever been asked to review a manuscript or grade a paper littered with 2-sentence or page-long paragraphs? These types of writing problems are always a signal to reviewers that the authors are inexperienced. Professional scientific writing must be technically accurate and meet the standards of polished professional writing of any published work. The more polished your initial manuscripts are when you submit them, the more likely reviewers are to take seriously the scientific findings you wish to convey in your document. Poor writing mechanics irritate reviewers almost immediately and undermine the persuasiveness of your work, no matter how exciting your research findings may be. It requires more work for the reviewer to wade through a poorly constructed document to figure out what you did and what you want to say about it. Given the time pressures reviewers are under, poor writing can aggravate reviewers and, in some cases, lead them to critique your work more harshly. Revising Prose will help you to evaluate your writing systematically in prior to submission and in response to critical feedback.

The Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals by Robert J. Sternberg is an excellent volume on professional writing for psychologists. Sternberg invited several prolific academic psychologists to write a chapter addressing each type of product an author might produce (e.g., empirical journal articles, book chapters, review papers) along with strategies for documenting your research, writing for your audience (e.g., reviewers), and handling the revise-resubmit process. I found the chapters on writing introductions to journal articles and on writing compelling results sections extremely useful as I made my way up the publication learning curve. I refer to the Guide regularly and assign chapters to students working on various writing projects.

Developing Writer’s Confidence
Many students and young PhDs find writing aversive because of negative and/or erroneous beliefs about writing and a tendency to engage in negative self-talk during the writing process. In talking to others and reflecting on my own experiences, writing confidence is the biggest hurdle to clear for young PhDs (or students) who are serious about publishing their research. As one of my major professors said to me during my earlier struggles, writing confidence comes in part from believing that you have "something to say to the field." You have interesting, innovative ideas and findings that you want to contribute to the field and have them shape the way the field evolves.

Writing confidence can also come from gauging the support and interest you receive about your work when you present it at various conferences. Think about it for a moment. You know when you've generated meaningful findings. The audience is excited about your work. You receive great feedback and interesting questions about your presentation. Members of your audience encourage you to publish your findings. You feel energized by the presentation and know you've connected with your audience. This feedback is authentic—it is a preliminary peer review process that helps you gauge the relevance of your work. Trust that feedback, sit down at your computer, and write. Turn that conference paper or poster into a manuscript. Try not to focus on issues related to publication at this stage. Just write. And keep writing until the paper is done. (Now there are issues related to selection of journal outlets that have to be considered, but the unsure writer needs to simply gain confidence that he can express his research findings clearly and persuasively first.)

As you deepen your knowledge about the mechanics of writing and revising your work, you will become more confident about your writing. This will help you figure out how to revise the early drafts of your paper and respond to critical feedback about your written work. With experience, you will be able to tell if: (a) your ideas or findings are compelling but need clearer, compelling writing to communicate them, (b) your research ideas need more work or development, or (c) whether someone is simply hostile to your work no matter how strong the findings are or how well you explain them in your writing. In any of these cases, the feedback will probably sting, but hopefully not for long. And hopefully, it won’t keep you from moving forward with the necessary revisions in the appropriate areas when you have a chance to process the feedback with a clear head.

Life as tenure-track faculty member can be a significant challenge because of the pressures to produce a fairly large amount of published work in a short period of time. In order to develop as a professional writer, you have to be regularly engaged in the writing process. Write regularly and submit your work for review. Over time, you will figure out your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and improve on these using tools such as the ones I am outlining here. Rejection can be scary, but take a deep breath and submit your work anyway. You will learn more quickly and meet success earlier if you fully engage the process. As any published author will tell you, there are fewer sweeter professional rewards than seeing your name and scholarly work in print.

There is so much I could say about the writing process, but I hope there is something useful here that will help you move forward.

Happy writing!


The Craft of Research (3rd Ed.)
Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers (9th Ed.)
Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) – an excellent online writing instruction website.
APA Publication Manual

Online dictionaries & thesauruses (bookmark these for quick word checks and suggestions):

Books by Robert Boice:
Advice for New Faculty
Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide for Productive Writers

Kenneth T. Henson’s homepage
The Art of Writing for Publication
Revising Prose (5th Ed)
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (a classic text that can help writers make their writing active and vigorous)
Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals

About the Author:
Mia Smith Bynum, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland. She is also Membership Chair of APA Division 12 Section VI – Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities.