Interview Blues, Part Two

13 Jan

The Grand Interview Tour began last Friday. Yesterday I woke up on a friend’s couch in Maryland, and tonight I will be situated on another friend’s couch in Georgia. Eight interviews down, one interview and an open house to go. I am tired. I had thought that interviews would start to feel easier after a while; they would become a performance I knew by heart, and the dread would ebb away. Lol! I still feel like vomiting before every single one.

My last couple of interviews have been held on organized interview days, meaning that I’ve been spending a lot of time with other applicants in addition to site staff and current interns. This has been making everything infinitely worse. The problem is that these other applicants are nice. They’re funny, they’re polite, they’re well-spoken, they’re well-dressed. I sit with them during lunches and meet-and-greets, and we are a small sea of nearly indistinguishable suits and smiles. I enjoy talking to them, they seem to enjoy talking to me, we could easily be friends. When I send thank you emails after interviews, I sense the other applicants typing in tandem with me from their hotel rooms. How in the world am I supposed to stand out here? Every minor mistake I make during interviews – realizing I forgot to  add something during a case conceptualization, stumbling over a word, pausing too long to think – feels like a death knell when my fellow applicants are this good, this likable. I have no idea where I stand.

This process has been an enormous investment of time, energy, and money, and it’s really discouraging to think that a fourth of this year’s applicants (maybe including me) will have to go through it all a second time. Or a third time. The price of my flights, car rentals, gas, suit, and hotel stays will be around two grand when all is said and done, and that’s after cutting travel costs wherever possible (staying with friends for all but two nights, choosing economy cars, and not visiting every site on my list). Two grand. That’s average. That kind of price tag doesn’t jive with psychology’s professional value of improving economically disadvantaged groups’ access to opportunities. I was able to rely on my partner to cover the costs of the internship application process, and I know some others who have been able to rely on their parents… but there seems to be an implicit assumption that everyone applying has access to those kinds of resources, and that’s absolutely not the case. Many university counseling centers, blessedly recognizing the magnitude of the financial burden associated with the internship process, have begun to move toward phone or Skype interviews, but there are just as many sites that continue to insist on (or “strongly prefer”) doing things in person. There are some applicants out there who are going to spend $2000 this month that they don’t have, and then be expected to do it again next year.

And the internship crisis doesn’t seem likely to be resolved anytime soon. Every Monitor or gradPsych I’ve read lately has included articles about what’s being done to address the problem, but the “things being done” seem to consist primarily of holding meetings to discuss what should be done. The last gradPsych described two “landmark victories” achieved last year: securing continued access to federal funding, and restoring intern positions in New York that were temporarily cut last fall. These are important achievements and I’m grateful that APA made them happen, but they represent maintenance, not improvement.

Not that I have any bright ideas for how to fix the problem. Getting an accredited internship program going is a labor-intensive project, and interns must be (sparingly) paid and provided with benefits. Making intern pay optional might create more positions, but it would also create serious difficulties for interns, many of whom already carry a heavy load of student loan debt. Psy.D. programs tend to have class sizes that significantly larger than those of Ph.D. programs, and some really nasty stuff went around on graduate psych listservs a while back about how Psy.D. students were “taking up internship spots” that rightfully belonged to Ph.D. students. Right… because it makes sense to blame other students for the shortage. Students who have devoted years and thousands of dollars in loan money to their educations, and who need APA-accredited internships to legally practice in many states. Much like… Ph.D. students. Not cool, guys. Maybe regulation of the maximum number of students allowed in incoming graduate psych cohorts (Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs alike) could reduce the internship disparity, but I get a headache thinking about the logistical and financial nightmares that a move like this would spawn. Best of luck to the APA.

But… deep breath. If I don’t get an internship, I have good backup options. During the interview process I’m getting to spend a lot of time with friends. And on Sunday I get to go home for a brief interview-free hiatus, ditch the makeup and heels, hang out with my dude, and do regular grad student stuff. I will also get to use as much shampoo as I want without fear of emptying my tiny TSA-approved bottle. It’s going to be magical.

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