For most students, hands-on research is the catalyst they need to help them land their dream job, with Rutgers' doctoral psychology program offering students more opportunities than most.
The 2015 edition of “Best PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology" named Rutgers one of the best in the country, according to the Best Counseling Degrees website.
The psychology program is a part of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, said Stanley Messer, dean of the school.
Students who wish to pursue a clinical job attend the school, while students who want to study psychology in an academic setting stick to the general graduate program, Messer said.
“Think of it this way, if you wanted to become a doctor or a dentist, you go to a medical school or dental school. You don’t go to graduate school to study physiology or biochemistry,” Messer said.
The school provides a more “practice-oriented” career path, he said.
“It’s very rare to get a job as a practicing psychologist without a master’s or PhD,” said Alexander Kusnecov, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the area coordinator for interdisciplinary health psychology.
The qualifications for acceptance into the program include a good academic record, recommendation letters, the verbal, quantitative and psychology subject area of the GRE's, a supplemental essay and experience related to a mental health field.
Working in a mental hospital or on suicide hotlines are ways students can prepare for the program, Messer said.
Both the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and the Graduate School of Psychology involve student research, especially the latter, Messer said.
“You’re going to be doing a lot of research, because you’re headed for an academic career,” he said.
Graduate students in the Department of Psychology are involved in research that covers the social, cognitive, clinical and neuroscientific bases of behavior, Kusnecov said.
Kusnecov is part of an ongoing research project with Karl Herrup and Ron Hart in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, along with graduate students who choose to participate in the investigation — they are trying to discover means of correcting motor deficits caused by a rare developmental disorder called "ataxia telangiectasia."
But the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology does not do any less research. There are plenty of research opportunities available because the faculty members themselves conduct individual investigations, Messer said.
Clinical and school psychology-related research topics range from cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, family therapy and psychopathology. School psychology research can explore handling children’s behavior, learning in the best possible way and motivating students to learn, Messer said.
Students have the opportunity to work directly with faculty members, Messer said. If someone is interested in a particular ongoing study, the professor will include them in a research group, all while taking courses at the school.
Jami Young, an associate professor in the Clinical Program of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, conducted an interesting study. Her research focused on preventing depression in adolescents, Messer said.
She screened middle and high-school students to select those who have low levels of depression and are vulnerable to worsening their condition. Once identified, she established programs to prevent them from getting more depressed.
"Students who graduate from the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology go off to work in schools, clinics, private practices and the community, doing practical work to prepare them to be fully functioning professionals,” Messer said.