About psychology-law research
To familiarize themselves, students are encouraged to watch the videos produced by the American Psychology-Law Society Minority Affairs Committee about psychology-law research and student involvement in such research.
Optimal time to seek involvement in research
Given that it takes several years to develop good research skills and experiences as a student, Dr. King suggests applying during the summer going into your sophomore year if an undergraduate student, or the summer before starting your first fall term if a master's student.
Volunteer research assistant experiences
Research assistants (RAs) receive various assignments within the lab, including the following:
- extracting information from legal databases and the available research literature
- collecting data from participants
- scoring research measures
- entering paper records into electronic data files
- conducting data analyses, if able
- developing conference presentation submissions
- delivering conference presentations
- co-authoring papers with Dr. King
During their first semester in the lab, RAs can expect to focus on lab orientation, by completing researcher-related (CITI) trainings, and attending weekly lab meetings to hear about ongoing lab projects and professional development topics, and the operations of more senior RAs.
Starting during their second semester and continuing on during their time in the lab, RAs may be assigned data entry or collection tasks, as part of Dr. King's projects or those of his doctoral student mentees; and they may be invited to assist with conference presentations and manuscript drafting.
Master's students and undergraduate students who are interested in working as RAs within the lab must be able to devote 10 hours to lab work per week (including on site as needed). This includes attending an approximately hour-long weekly morning lab meeting.
Notes for BA/MA Program students
Undergraduate students enrolled in the Psychology Department's BA/MA Program who are seeking to complete a master's thesis with Dr. King should indicate this as part of their initial application.
They should also understand that being invited to serve as an RA in the lab is not a guarantee that they will be successful in their thesis aspirations. That is, BA/MA student RAs, once oriented to the lab, are expected to pitch novel yet reasonably accomplishable thesis topics, or topics that "carve out" some data from current lab projects, for consideration by Dr. King. Dr. King will only agree to supervise topics he deems suitable for a master's thesis. Such students should also appreciate that the thesis process can take at least one or two years to successfully complete, and so they should keep these time demands in mind.
Initial appointment and performance reviews
Initial RA appointments are for one semester, but RAs who perform adequately can continue to work in the lab for as long as approved by Dr. King. Availability, dependability, and hard work in the lab is the route to a strong letter of recommendation from Dr. King.
"I want to be a psychologist" (or other human services professional)
Students who are interested in obtaining admission to a master's or doctoral program relevant to clinical-forensic psychology are encouraged to get as close to two years of research experience in the lab as possible. This is in addition to
- studying long and hard to obtain a high GPA
- studying long and hard to score well on the GRE (though recently, many doctoral programs in health service psychology have discarded or made the GRE optional, in light of concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion)
- working with Dr. King well ahead of time to determine graduate programs that would make sense to apply to
- working with Dr. King well ahead of time to develop a strong personal statement and CV
- working with Dr. King well ahead of time to develop a personal statement that is tailored to each graduate program to which you are applying
- volunteering in a second lab to obtain a letter of recommendation from an additional faculty member who does research
- volunteering in a relevant human services setting to round out your experience and obtain a letter of recommendation from a human services provider
- volunteering for activities and projects relevant to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which may yield a letter of recommendation concerning your commitment to this important mission
It is no doubt a lot of work. And the road to become a licensed psychologist (which requires earning a PhD or PsyD degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology, among other things) who practices forensic psychology (which ideally involves specialty training in or soon after graduate school) is especially long and competitive. But the work is highly interesting, meaningful, and consequential, and it can also be fairly lucrative.
Some of these comments apply as well to related but distinct future careers, with their own graduate school training routes, including correctional psychologist, licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, certified alcohol and drug counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, specialty probation or parole officer, and lawyer. Dr. King advises students in his lab about these alternative educational and career options, which may be a better fit for some of them. However, the below selection of resources is worth review by anyone interested in graduate training in health service psychology.
Golding, J. M., McGavran, M. B., Susman, D., & Wright, R. (2020). Demystifying one’s chances of acceptance into clinical PhD psychology programs. Teaching of Psychology, 47(1), 97–101. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628319889537
Michalski D. S., Cope C., Fowler G. A. (2017). Graduate study in psychology summary report: Admissions, applications and acceptances. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education-career/grad/survey-data/2019-admissions-applications.pdf
"I want to be a psychiatrist" (or child advocate, criminologist, or police officer)
Dr. King's lab is likely not a good fit for students interested in forensic psychiatry, as psychiatry has a very different training route than applied psychology and the other human services. The same may also be true for students primarily interested in child advocacy, criminology, and law enforcement.
"I want to be a criminal profiler"
Investigative psychology and the like are distinct from forensic psychology, correctional psychology, and police and public safety psychology.
Take Dr. King's Psychology and Law course or Forensic Psychology course to learn more . . .
Clarifying the confusing array of training routes and careers in human services in the public interest
Students are encouraged to think about "human services" broadly, and if they are interested in the legal system (e.g., criminal court, juvenile court, family court, correctional systems), to also think about "the public interest" broadly. By way of metaphor, think about human services in the public interest as "Rome" and there being many roads to Rome, each with their respective pros and cons, and with applied/health service psychology (i.e., clinical, counseling, or school psychology) being just one among many partially overlapping (though nonetheless distinct) routes. Note also that all the below are human services disciplines that can and do lend to the public interest. It's partially just a matter of seeking employment in that sector (e.g., working for an organization that provides services to individuals who are involved with the legal system for one reason or another).
For another take on some of the information discussed below, see the following reference.
While an undergraduate or with an undergraduate degree
While an undergraduate student, or else once you graduate with a bachelor's degree, the most common human services positions you might obtain are as a case manager (sort of like a quasi-social worker) or human services/behavioral health/etc. technician ("tech") (often sort of like a monitor and chaperon for persons with behavioral health needs). Sometimes persons with this level of training also obtain employment in the vein of working as an office assistant (e.g., for a mental health organization or private practice) or, somewhat similarly, a project or grant (funded project) manager.
Students are also encouraged to consider jobs in community corrections, as sometimes all that is required for hire is a bachelor's degree with a generally relevant major (e.g., working as a pretrial services, probation, or parole officer, for a city or state government, or for the federal government). Indeed, in modern times, such professionals blend public safety responsibilities with human services functions (e.g., evaluating persons they supervise and trying to counsel them to succeed in different ways). Students often overlook the human services relevance of such careers.
A pro of these sorts of positions is that they typically do not require any graduate training (though some may, or else a graduate degree may make you more competitive for some of them). A con is that they tend to be relatively lowly paid. However, some of these positions do have room for internal promotion and growth, and some can certainly result in income levels sufficient for a career in that field.
Graduate training routes
Turning to graduate training in human services, there are several disciplines to think about, with the different disciplines variously overlapping somewhat (e.g., all entailing working with people with behavioral health needs, and often engaging in some similar assessment and treatment tasks), but also all being distinct in many crucial ways (e.g., in their philosophies and particular services for which they are uniquely expert or allowed to provide). There is no particularly simple way to figure out what their assorted similarities and differences are. One strategy is to ask your advisors and instructors about this, for those disciplines that seem to be jumping out to you as a good fit with your interests and circumstances.
These disciplines vary in offering, roughly,
- one-year (usually a program aligned with the educational requirements for a certificate that, with more, a state licensing authority may ultimately issue you),
- two-year (master's degree),
- three-year-plus (a more involved master's degree), and
- doctoral training programs (which usually take five-plus years to complete),
Such training programs lend to eventual applications for one of two credentials (i.e., a certificate or license) from a state government (specifically, from a "state licensing authority/board") to enable you to "practice," with or without supervision, within the bounds of what that discipline is recognized as being competent to do. (Sometimes you may also have to apply for an interim permit to practice under supervision during your ultimate march toward an unsupervised certificate or license.)
To some extent, the differences in the duration of training programs reflects how much experience you'll obtain providing supervised human services "in the field" while in the degree program, and how much "more" experience you must obtain, and still other things you must accomplish following graduation (e.g., passing certain tests and background checks), to obtain a certificate or license from a state licensing authority. Relatedly, you can expect that, with the more years of education completed, the more complex and diverse the services you'll ultimately be empowered to provide, to a more complicated and diverse range of clients, across a wider range of service settings, and without needing to be supervised by a more advanced human services professional. This is to say, a certificate generally limits you to working with a specific population of clients in a specific type of service setting; whereas a license, which requires more training to obtain, is much more open-ended as to what you can do, with whom, and where.
See, e.g., https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Pages/Licensed-Professions-and-Occupations.aspx
While what was just said is a pro of pursuing lengthier graduate training within a specific human services discipline, a con, of course, is that such entails more investment of time and typically cost.
The three leading disciplines (i.e., the most widely recognized) worth considering by most students interested in human services are counseling, social work, and psychology. Of course, there are still others, including marital and family therapy, nursing/psychiatric nursing/nurse practitioner, and medicine/psychiatry. Moreover, students are encouraged to think outside the box about "non-helping" professions that nevertheless are informed by or frequently collaborate with human services professionals, and that do in a general sense try to assist people with whom they work or represent (e.g., law enforcement professionals, corrections officers, legal professionals). These can be very interesting, meaningful, rewarding, and lucrative careers, even if not exactly traditional "helping" professions.
Part of your task is to identify universities that offer a degree program in the training route that you decide is the best fit for you (note that not all universities offer degree programs for all the below). While open-ended Internet searching is one strategy, a more focused strategy is to search for listings of universities and programs that tend to be compiled by professional organizations within that discipline (especially by organizations that accredit, or certify the quality of, programs that meet the organization's requirements). Yet another strategy is to find articles or books by reputable organizations or authors on the topic. Examples for psychology include
You also want to ensure that programs you are looking at will adequately prepare you toward obtaining the state-issued certificate or license credential that you are ultimately after, which you can find out by reading program materials (especially about whether programs are accredited by the leading accreditation organization in that discipline); speaking with program administrators; and looking for or requesting alumni outcome data (e.g., about licensure rates).
Finally, you want to determine which educational and related training experiences make one competitive for admission to that specific training route. In general, the longer duration training routes expect applicants to have an undergraduate major in that discipline or a closely related discipline, a higher GPA, research experience, perhaps also some externship/work experience within human services, etc.
Counseling (which is a wholly distinct discipline from "counseling psychology" as dicussed below) overlaps with some of the assessment and talk therapy functions of health service psychology (among other things).
A one-year training program in counseling typically focuses on services for persons with substance use problems, and can lead to obtaining a certificate from a state licensing authority as a drug and alcohol counselor/alcohol and drug counselor/or the like (i.e., a CDAC/CADC: certified drug and alcohol counselor/certified alcohol and drug counselor). A pro of this training route is that it is efficient (and with increased efficiency comes decreased cost). Cons include that you are typically limited to working with persons with substance use problems and in settings that serve such persons; and your pay tends to be relatively low relative to the other training routes discussed below.
The two-year training program is counseling often focuses on persons with mental health problems, and can lead to a license, in some states, as a mental health counselor (i.e., a LMHC: licensed mental health counselor). Pros of this training route are that it remains fairly efficient and generally opens up the range of places at which, and range of clients with which, you may work. Cons include that not all states license mental health counselors (e.g., New York State does, New Jersey doesn't), and employers know there is the more traditional and widely recognized three-year option discussed immediately below.
The three-year-plus training program in counseling is referred to as professional counseling, and can lead to a license as a professional counselor (i.e., an LPC: licensed professional counselor). Pros of this training route are that a license empowers you to "do more" than a certificate and work in any setting without supervision, such that LPCs are highly in demand. Cons include that admissions to such programs tend to be fairly competitive (generally, longer duration programs in the human services are more in demand and thus competitive); and that while you will tend to be paid at higher rates than human service professionals with less training, you will still tend to make less than those with more training (e.g., psychologists and psychiatrists). A potential exception is that LPCs can work in private practice settings (think outpatient mental health offices), and if they start, grow, and operate successful private practices, then they have the potential to make quite a lot of money. However, there is necessary business savvy (and risk) that goes into such a pursuit. Moreover, private practices have appreciable limits in terms of meeting the wide demand of human services in the public interest.
There are also doctoral programs in counseling, but these are more research-focused degrees that tend to be specific for those who want to work in academia (i.e., be professors or generally conduct research for their career).
Social work is a bit more distinct from health service psychology, though at the three-plus year level (i.e., clinical social work), some assessment and treatment overlap becomes more apparent.
A two-year training program in social work focuses on traditional social work functions, such as community outreach, referrals to serves delivered by a wide range of professionals, and coordination of services. This training route can lead to a license in social work (i.e., an LSW: licensed social worker). Pros of this training route include that social workers serve critical functions in human services systems, such that they are always in demand by employers, and that a license empowers one to work with a wide range of clients across a wide range of service settings. A con is that pure social workers are limited to traditional social work functions, as contrasted with clinical social workers discussed next.
The three-plus-year training route in social work focuses on both traditional social work functions and clinical functions that overlap some with psychology (e.g., certain assessment tasks and delivery of some talk therapies). This training route can lead to a license in clinical social work (i.e., a LCSW: licensed clinical social worker). Pros of this training route include that you are arguably the most versatile of licensed human services professionals, who can dynamically shift between offering traditional social work services as well as assessment and treatment services that begin to somewhat approximate what psychologists do. Thus, LCSWs are highly in demand by employers. Cons of this training route include that, considering what was just mentioned, admissions to social work programs that provide for specialized clinical training tend to be quite competitive, and that clinical social workers tend to make less than doctoral-level human services professionals. However, the potential "successful private practice" exception mentioned above for LPCs applies in equal measure to LCSWs.
As is the case with counseling (and most academic disciplines for that matter), there are doctoral training programs in social work for those interested in pursuing a career in academia or conducting research.
Health service psychology.
While there are many subareas of psychology, there are only three "applied" subareas that can lead to a certificate (specific to school psychology) or license to "practice" (i.e., provide assessment and treatment services): clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology. School psychology (being highly focused on youth and human services in schools) is a bit more distinct than clinical and counseling psychology. Whereas the differences between clinical and counseling psychology are arguably more historical and reputational (e.g., that clinical psychologists focus more on severe behavioral health conditions, and counseling psychologists more on "normal" range issues such as relationship problems or making life decisions about career direction, etc.). Indeed, the American Psychological Association now just uses the term health service psychology to refer to all three, but especially clinical and counseling psychology which are so similar in the modern age.
Relative to counseling and social work, the entry-level degree necessary toward becoming licensed as a psychologist is a doctoral degree. Specifically, a PsyD (doctorate in clinical, counseling, or school psychology) or PhD (doctorate of philosophy in clinical, counseling, or school psychology). The fundamental difference between the PsyD and PhD is that the PsyD is focused primarily on service delivery and secondarily on research, with the priority order being reversed for the PhD (hence the reference to philosophy in the technical name of a PhD). Pros of the PsyD include that some students are most interested in practice than research, and class sizes tend to be larger, such that admissions is moderately less competitive (but certainly still competitive) for PsyD programs relative to PhD programs. Cons include that PsyD programs typically do not offer non-loan funding support for students, with the PsyD training route being very expensive (necessitating that many take out substantial amounts of student loans); and that PsyDs tend not be competitive for academic positions which focus on research (though there are some exceptions). Pros of the PhD include that one will ultimately be competitive for both practice and academia/research positions, and many PhD programs offer partial or full non-loan financial support to students (i.e., a tuition waiver and living stipend). Cons of the PhD include that not all students are interested in the amount of research training required, and admissions is highly competitive.
Pros of either doctoral route in health service psychology include that you are among the highest trained human service professionals, such that you will be in demand by employers and can generally expect to make more than all but medical professionals (some of whom focus on behavioral health, as briefly discussed below). Psychologists also have unique expertise in more complex types of assessment, diagnosis, and talk therapies; theorizing about cases; and generally conducting research. Cons of either doctoral route include the competitiveness of admissions, the length of training, and that you still tend to make a fair deal less than medical professionals.
When it comes to master's training in applied psychology, it is important to appreciate that, with one exception for school psychology, such training in clinical or counseling psychology does not directly lead to any certificate or license. Thus, folks should only consider attending master's programs in applied psychology as a route for obtaining additional experiences and generally demonstrating readiness for doctoral admission (i.e., to increase the competitiveness of their subsequent applications to doctoral programs in health service psychology). That is, if their undergraduate record and related experiences are insufficient to be competitive for doctoral admission "right out of undergrad." However, those pursuing master's training in applied psychology need do so with full appreciation that admission to a doctoral program will still be very challenging, and it may not ultimately pan out for them for a variety of reasons.
One other potential reason to attend a "terminal" master's program in applied psychology (i.e., the program ends with the master's degree—there is no automatic transition to doctoral training) is to increase one's competitiveness for hire to positions (including as an alternative to doctoral training) that essentially entail working as an assistant to or "arm" of a licensed psychologist in certain types of organizations that have some special rules about this (e.g., governmental organizations).
As for the school psychology exception at the master's level, there is a three-year training route in school psychology that can lead to a certificate, in some states, in school psychology (i.e., a certified school psychologist). Pros of this training route include that it is a relatively efficient route for those who specifically want to work with youth in schools in a psychological capacity. Cons include that you are limited to this work setting, and that you can expect to be paid less than doctoral-level school psychologists (who generally speaking are actually just licensed psychologists commensurate with clinical and counseling psychologists; while they often do spend their careers in schools, they are not actually limited to this setting).
Marital and family therapy.
The short of martial and family therapy is to think of it as most akin to the counseling discipline, but a field that historically evolved as its own distinct discipline, and which is very focused on (and limited to), as its name suggests, couples and family therapy.
The short of medical-spectrum training is that students need to focus more on natural sciences (vs. social sciences) as undergraduate students, likely including an undergraduate major in nursing, chemistry, or biology. They then need to apply for graduate nursing programs, physician assistant programs, or medical school. Eventually, there will be opportunities for those pursuing these disciplines to receive some focused training in graduate school or beyond about working with persons with behavioral health conditions, and to eventually work with such persons (and even possibly obtain credentials to prescribe medications and other "medical interventions" for such persons). Medical professionals also frequently collaborate with and evidence some overlap with the other human service disciplines described above. For instance, a certain type of specialist physician (psychiatrist), while an expert in mental health medications, will sometimes also engage in talk therapy (like psychologists generally), and some may also conduct evaluations for the courts (like forensic psychologists, specifically).
Still other disciplines.
As briefly mentioned above, the foregoing is not an exhaustive list of all disciplines or opportunities for human services in the public interest. However, it is hoped that this summary highlights the more traditional avenues for students to further explore with their advisors and instructors. All the different involved disciplines are noble callings that perform important work. And all can result in successful and rewarding careers that benefit our communities, including our most vulnerable members.