** Please note that most of the information below comes directly from previously written lab FAQs, specifically from those by Dr. Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, PhD and Dr. Jessica Schleider. Thank you for sharing your guidance and knowledge! **
FAQs: Applying to join the TRUST lab (Treatment and Research for the Underserved with Stress and Trauma) as a PhD student
Lauren C. Ng, PhD
Director, TRUST Lab
Updated: 17 August 2020
Why did you make this document?
The clinical psychology PhD application process is an uneven playing field. Applicants without access to strong mentors, or without professional connections, may have less access to the information provided here. By sharing this FAQ document, I hope to help “level the playing field” across applicants to our lab.
Please note that all responses in this document reflect my personal opinions only. They may not reflect those of the University of California Los Angeles or other faculty members in our clinical science area.
Will you be accepting a new PhD student to begin in Fall 2021?
I hope to accept a new clinical psychology PhD student for Fall 2021 matriculation.
How do I know if I am a “good fit” for the TRUST lab?
When reviewing prospective students’ applications, I am most interested in the goodness of fit between (1) their interests, experiences, and goals, and (2) the lab’s mission, our research focus, and my own strengths (and lesser strengths!) as a mentor.
Overall, applicants who would likely be “good fits” would…
- Demonstrate commitment to the TRUST Lab Mission (Using research to improve access to, and quality of, care for diverse, low-resource, and underserved populations affected by traumatic and stressful events.Commitment to this mission may be demonstrated through your past experiences (both research and applied, including employment and volunteer experience), your personal statement, and your letters of recommendation.
- Want to pursue a career in research on trauma exposure (broadly defined), its effects, and ways to improve outcomes following trauma for underserved and under-researched populations.
- Have accrued independent research experience (e.g., by leading a senior thesis, research project, and/or first-authored posters, talks, or papers).
- Have accrued collaborative research experience (e.g. by working as an investigator or research assistant in a lab, collecting data, conducting quantitative or qualitative data analyses, co-authoring a poster, talk or paper). Often, but not always, successful applicants have had a few years of collaborative research experience when they apply. In addition, most of my graduate students have previous experience conducting research on trauma, often with underserved and underrepresented populations. If this is you, please highlight these experiences in your application!
Of note, having access to previous mentors who can facilitate such independent research experience is itself a form of privilege. The graduate school application process is very competitive. However, I aim to judge applications holistically. If you believe that your research experience does not reflect your potential as a future scientist, (1) ask one of your recommenders to share more about your circumstances to help me holistically assess your achievements, or (2) provide this information in your personal statement.
As a mentor, I feel best-prepared to support students who are interested in careers that involve applied, clinical, and/or intervention research. This includes a wide variety of career paths, including academic faculty positions (e.g. in departments of psychology, psychiatry, education, social work, or public health); combined clinical-research careers (e.g. in academic medical centers); and non-academic careers in applied research or health policy.
I believe that strong training in evidence-based practice is essential to becoming an effective, informed scientist. However, I may not be the most effective mentor for applicants who are interested entirely in clinical practice careers. There will be expectations of strong research productivity throughout graduate schoolas a member of the TRUST Lab. Therefore, if your interest is primarily in learning the skills to become an effective clinician (which is a lofty and admirable goal in itself), then my mentorship will not be the best for you.
What projects would I work on in the TRUST lab?
Please see my website for examples of some of my current projects. In addition, my graduate students often develop and lead their own research projects. I encourage students to develop new and novel research that are feasible and further the mission of the lab and I am interested in learning about new ideas you may have.
What about the GRE? How important are my scores?
For the upcoming admission cycle (submitting an application in 2020 for entry in Fall 2021), the General GRE and the Psychology GRE will be optional. Applications with GRE and Psychology GRE scores will not be given greater weight by the UCLA admission’s committee than those without these scores.
(Regarding my view on the GRE more broadly: The GRE systematically disadvantages BIPOC and low-income applicants. No strong evidence suggests that specific GRE scores are necessary for success as a researcher, teacher, or clinician. I review all applications holistically, bearing these facts in mind.
My undergraduate GPA is below 3.5. Will this remove me from consideration?
No. Many factors can influence one’s GPA, including competing commitments (e.g., working part-time while in school), family obligations, and health challenges. Academic achievement is very important, but context is, too. If you believe your GPA does not reflect your potential as a future scientist, please (1) ask one of your recommenders to share more about your circumstances to help me holistically assess your achievements, and/or (2) provide this information in your personal statement.
Are there any other ‘screening criteria’ you use to review applications?
No. You work hard on your application materials. The least I can do is read them! (And I will read all applications from those who indicate that I am their preferred mentor).
Should I email you to express my interest in applying to your lab?
Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to set up individual phone or zoom calls with prospective students, and there is no need to email me to introduce yourself or send me your CV. However, if you have specific questions that are not addressed in this document or on my website: (https://nglab.psych.ucla.edu), feel free to email me with those questions and I will do my best to address them.
Please note, your decision to email me (or not) will have no impact on your odds of receiving an interview invitation or an offer of admission. Whether or not you contact me in advance, prospective students are encouraged to review our website which may answer many common questions about our research directions and our lab culture and values.
What should I include in my personal statement?
I find it helpful when applicants include the following in their personal statements:
- A clear statement of your general research interests and how they relate to the TRUST lab’s mission and work
- A clear statement of why you are interested in the TRUST lab, in particular
- A statement about your career goals (even if they are approximate/might change, it is helpful to see your thinking!)
- Discussions of your independent and collaborative research experience(s) and what you learned from them. In these discussions, I suggest emphasizing (1) the skills you developed from working on each project (e.g., data collection; coding/running analyses; interviewing skills; partnering with community members; creating a protocol or IRB application; writing certain sections of a paper; submitting/presenting a poster), and (2) what your “takeaways” were from the project—e.g., new research ideas or questions your work inspired.
- For a few annotated examples of graduate school personal statements, with commentary see this resource.
Common Things to Avoid in Personal Statements
Personal statements, in my opinion, are a really great chance to let me get to know you virtually. Here are some common points for writing personal statements:
- You do not need to have a beautiful story about having always been interested in being a psychologist since childhood. You won’t be judged negatively for having this information, but it is not a necessity for me. I’m more interested in your research experience and critical thinking, and how my skills can serve to help develop these skills.
- It is most helpful if you convey the skills that you have learned. How can your skills be developed by my mentorship?
- The work that I do usually involves quite a bit of community partnerships and work with multiply marginalized populations. If you have experience working collaboratively with diverse communities, please let me know.
- Show, don’t tell! Don’t just tell me that I can mentor you, illustrate it with some examples of how you think my research and clinical skills can help you get where you want to be. In addition, don’t tell me you are passionate about the TRUST lab mission, show me that you have experiences that demonstrate your commitment to the lab mission.
- Get an outside eye. Having access to mentors who can help you craft personal statements is very helpful, but is also a privilege that might not be equally available to all. Get outside eyes on your essays. There might be resources at your own undergraduate institutions that can help with this, like writing centers, library personnel, graduate students, or faculty. Attached is a spreadsheet with various academics who may be willing to help field questions and look over application materials. My name is included on this spreadsheet. However, I will not be able to look over application essays for students who will be applying to work with me.
I am interested in becoming a therapist and/or incorporating clinical practice into my future career. I’ve heard that mentioning this in my application will hurt my admissions chances. Is this true?
I aim to recruit students seeking rigorous training in both intervention research and clinical practice. Both skill-sets inform each other necessarily. Our lab develops and tests interventions, so I view clinical training as especially important for trainees in our lab.
At the same time, UCLA’s clinical science program has a very strong clinical science orientation, and students who are happiest in our program tend to want careers that incorporate research in a significant way. Consistent with this orientation, I may not be the most effective mentor for applicants who are interested entirely in clinical practice careers.
My own experiences with mental health problems (e.g., my own, a friend’s, or a relative’s) shaped my current interests. I’ve been told not to mention this in my personal statement. Is this true?
Speaking for only myself: No. Life experiences shape our career interests, trajectories, and goals in meaningful ways. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging intersections between our ‘human’ and ‘scientific’ selves. However, personal/lived experiences should not be the main focus of your personal statement. Your research interests, experiences, goals, and ‘fit’ to our lab are much more helpful to me when reviewing your application.
Is it advantageous to list multiple mentors of interest (or just one) on my application?
There is no inherent advantage to naming multiple mentors of interest on your application unless you sincerely want to work with either or multiple mentors. I closely review all applications on which I am listed as a first-choice mentor. In many cases, applicants to our lab do not list multiple mentors of interest. Listing multiple potential mentors may be appropriate if your interests and goals clearly bridge two faculty members’ research programs (as described in your personal statement)—and in rare cases, co-mentorship by two faculty members in the clinical area is possible. Applicants whose interests and goals primarily match the TRUST lab do not gain an advantage by listing other faculty mentors on their application.
What is your mentorship style/what expectations do you have for PhD students?
I am passionate about teaching, supervising, and mentoring. My approach to teaching is applied. I want my students to view learning as relevant to their lives because I believe this fosters engagement and ownership of learning. I emphasize the “why should we care” aspects of new material by exploring how it directly relates to life satisfaction, functioning, and health, as well as the interests, passions and everyday experiences of my students. As an educator my primary goals are to (1) strengthen a love of learning, science, and critical thinking, (2) help students develop self-awareness and understanding of the role that context, environment, culture and history play in their clinical practice and research, and (3) provide developmentally appropriate guidance to help students achieve their goals.
My mentees learn by doing. I encourage my students to select research questions that they are truly passionate about and to work collaboratively with me, their peers, faculty, participants, and other stakeholders to pursue those questions. Students enter the lab with their own interests and skills and I try to tailor their research experiences to allow them to develop their existing skills and to learn new ones in the context of projects that are meaningful to them. Ultimately, I want to help each student move further down the path towards being independent investigators, while scaffolding their efforts so they remain passionate and excited about research, even in the face of inevitable challenges.
I seek to offer students the opportunity to collect data and conduct field research and to simultaneously work on secondary data analysis. Because research takes a long time, I have found that students who focus primarily on data collection and field research may miss out on opportunities for data analysis and publication. Conversely, students who focus solely on secondary data analysis may not have the chance to learn and practice the invaluable field research skills of flexibility, humility, and building and maintaining mutual respectful relationships with collaborators.
I have never had to write a CV—just a regular resume. How should I organize this document?
I want to apply, but the application fee would create real hardship for me. What should I do?
Waivers of the $120.00 application fee are available for applicants who a) participate(d) in one of these programs or b) demonstrate financial need as described below.
Participants in the following programs are eligible for fee waivers. In the application, on the Fee Waiver page, select one or more of the programs in which you participated and upload a letter verifying your program participation. You may also send the letter directly to firstname.lastname@example.org after you submit the application. You will be contacted if your fee is not waived with further instructions.
- American Political Science Association Ralph Bunche Summer Institute Scholars
- California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) Applicants
- California State University (CSU) Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars Program Applicants
- Florida A and M University Graduate Feeder Scholars Program (FMAU GFSP) Applicants
- Gates Millennium Scholar
- Guardian Scholars
- Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Applicants
- Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Applicants
- McNair Scholars (McNair)
- Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF)
- Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Applicants
- MSTP (UCLA) participants
- National GEM Consortium
- Research Initiative for Science Enhancement (MBRS RISE) Applicants
- STAR (UCLA) participants
- UC Leadership through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) Applicants
- UC Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Applicants
- UC-HBCU Initiative
Or sponsored by one or more of these agencies:
- GEM Scholar
- Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program (PPIA)
- BNU-GSEIS Collaboration
Need-based Fee Waivers
Waivers of UCLA’s application fee are available for U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents and others who meet the following criteria:
Are currently enrolled in a college or university
Receive need-based financial aid (if not a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident, this financial aid must come from the state of California)
Submit a statement from their Financial Aid officer confirming all of the above and stating that payment of UCLA’s $120.00 application fee would be a financial hardship.
If you meet all of these criteria, select Fee Waiver in the application, upload the statement from your Financial Aid officer and submit the application.
Do not submit income tax returns, unemployment documents, copies of your FAFSA Expected Family Contribution or other financial estimates; these cannot be accepted as documentation of eligibility for a fee waiver.
Where else can I find information and guidance for my application process?
I recommend the following resources:
- Mitch’s Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology, provided by Dr. Mitch Prinstein, UNC Chapel Hill. A staple for those considering applying to graduate school in clinical psychology, from determining your best-fit career path to deciding between offers from Clinical PhD programs!
- Getting Into Psych Grad School, provided by the Council of University Directors in Clinical Psychology. Fantastic guide from Directors of Clinical Training at Clinical Psychology PhD programs across the country.
- Open Access Tips/Materials for Clinical Psych PhD Applicants, provided by Mallory Dobias, B.S. A collection of open-access pointers, timelines, and materials—from sample e-mails to prospective advisors to ‘before’ and ‘after’ personal statements—from a PhD student in Dr. Jessica Schlieder’s Lab!
- So You Want to Go to Clinical Psych Grad School? …Or Something? Slides from a lecture prepared by Dr. Jessica Schleider at Stony Brook University on considering careers in clinical psychology and allied disciplines. Includes info about different career options and degrees; preparing to apply for PhD programs; and how to obtain research and clinical experience.
- Deciding to apply to Clinical Psychology PhD programs A blog post written with particular focus on tailoring advice to BIPOC students/applicants, low income students/applicants, and first-generation students/applicants.