You’ve finally received word that you’ve scored an internship site — a process that’s taken tremendous amounts of work and effort. Though it’s taken years to get here, your internship year will fly by. Below, experts provide their insight on making the most of your time.
1. Take the initiative to learn as much as you can.
“Take the initiative to seek out training opportunities” at your internship site, said Gregory T. Eells, Ph.D, associate director of Gannett Health Services and director of Counseling & Psychological Services at Cornell University.
These are “really your last opportunities to be a trainee,” he said. Even if you do a post-doctoral fellowship, you’ll be treated like a staff member, not a trainee, he added. “Don’t just do the minimum training requirements.”
2. Plan out the year.
Still, because you only have a year, be selective in the choices you make, according to Carol Williams-Nickelson, PsyD, former associate executive director of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students and co-editor of Internships in Psychology: The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Fit.
Sit down with your training director to discuss the various opportunities available and which ones are mandatory and which ones you’d like to take advantage of, she said. Basically, you want to “plot your course for the year.” This is also helpful to avoid burn-out and to accomplish all your goals.
3. Be prepared to use all your skills.
Internship offers a window into the future of clinical practice because it requires pulling together a variety of skills and aptitudes in order “to manage multiple demands,” said Sharon Berry, Ph.D, chair of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). “This requires a solid training foundation, critical thinking skills, the ability to prioritize and manage time, organizational skills, efficiency and writing skills.”
4. Talk with other staff members.
Seek out staff members and “pick their brains,” Eells said. These may be “some of the most valuable experiences.” Simply ask them to lunch to talk about their experiences as psychologists. If you’re interested in being a counseling director, for instance, Eells said that you might say: “Tell me what it’s like to be a director. What do I need to do? What kind of experiences should I get?”
Some students are intimidated to talk to staff members and worry that they’re bothering them. But as Eells said, he loves speaking with students and looks forward to the break, as do most of their senior staff members.
5. Get to know your cohort.
Your fellow interns can become a great source of support. Consider “organizing opportunities to bond and get to know your cohort,” such as “planning a monthly dinner at one of the intern’s homes,” Williams-Nickelson suggested. Berry also emphasized the importance of having a strong support network.
6. Journal about your experiences.
Some students may find it helpful “to trace their development [and what they’ve learned] from beginning to end” of the internship, Williams-Nickelson said.
7. Maintain perspective.
Internship comes with many stressors. “To help you get through the rough times,” Berry said, “keep in mind throughout this process why you want to be a doctoral psychologist.” And don’t forget to keep your “ability to laugh and have fun!” she said.
8. Find time for yourself.
As Williams-Nickelson said, it’s “very easy to get caught up in internship and have no time for yourself,” but this is a great “time to learn to balance your personal and professional life.” Whether that’s exercising or participating in a community group, try to cement good habits early.
Again, remember that internship is your “last step between being a student and a psychologist,” Eells said. So make the most of it.