PROSPECTIVE PHD STUDENTS

Opportunities and information for graduate student applicants

I will not be recruiting a new PhD student for the current application cycle. However, exceptions may be made for applicants with special funding circumstances (i.e., external funding source, military funding). If this applies to you, please contact me directly to discuss potential opportunities.
Last updated: 4/20/22

This page is intended to provide information, suggestions, and transparency for individuals interested in applying to work with me towards the completion of their PhD. I recognize that the PhD application process is a highly competitve and selective process. However, I also recognize that not every qualified candidate may have had the same access to or the same quality of mentorship, experiences, or opportunities during their undergraduate education or when preparing their application materials. My hope in providing this material is to offer insight into how I review PhD applicants so that prospective candidates can (a) make a more informed decision as to whether they think I would be a good match as an advisor and (b) prepare their application materials in a way that provides me and the review committee the most informative picture of your capabilities, interests, and motivations.

Note that the information provided below are my personal views and may not reflect the opinions or advice of any other institution, department, or faculty.


How do I know if I am a “good fit” to work with you?

“Fit” has been a notoriously tricky and suprisingly complex concept to define and making decisions based too heavily on perceptions of fit has the potential to perpetuate biases and inequities if not carefully considered. To this end, I attempt to consider this question from the perspective of a prospective student’s supplementary and complementary fit:

  • Supplementary fit refers to when two parties possess similar capabilities and/or values. Like adding more of your favorite toppings to an ice cream sundae, supplementary fit is improved by the extent to which each party adds to the presence of an already desirable quality.
  • Complementary fit refers to when the weaknesses/needs of one party are offset by the strengths/resources of the other. Like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, complementary fit is improved by the extent to which each party brings something that the other wants, needs, or benefits from.

Based on these distinctions, I’ve listed some aspects of prospective PhD students that are likely to have high complementary and supplementary fit with me, my work, and my approach to training PhD students.

  • Supplementary attributes
    • Inter- and/or trans-disciplinary interests. As noted in my research philosophy, I place high value on integrating ideas across different areas of psychology and other scientific disciplines. If you are primarily only interested in developing knowledge within a single field (i.e., only IO psychology, only social psychology), you are less likely to fit well with my work or approach to PhD training.
    • Commitment to research. I am motivated and do all that I can to support whatever career path my students ultimately find rewarding. However, by signing up for a PhD program in psychology, you are committing to learning how to conduct research and become a social scientist. If you are primarily interested in going directly into a practice/consulting career with little to no interest in engaging in the research process (e.g., designing/conducting studies, writing publications, presenting at conferences), you are less likely to fit well with my work or approach to PhD training.

  • Complementary attributes
    • Independence and self-motivation. As described in my mentoring statement, I believe that a critical component of graduate training is the development of one’s personal and professional identity. I further believe this is difficult to attain if the advisee-advisor relationship is one in which I (as the advisor) simply tell you (as the advisee) exactly what to do or what to work on. Instead, I think this development process is facilitated by approaching the mentoring relationship as one in which I and my advisees are active and participative decision-makers in the work we do. This does not mean that I expect my advisees to be wholly “on their own” from day one or that there will not be times in which I have a specific project in mind for an advisee. However, it does mean that if you are looking for an advisor to hand you ideas, projects, topics, papers, etc. that are ready-to-go and for which your role is mostly to just follow orders to complete the work, you are less likely to fit well with my working and mentoring style.
    • Research interests/topics. I am generally less concerned with whether I share the exact same specific topics of research interest (e.g., team cognition, team processes, training) with my graduate students. Indeed, the opportunity to learn, grow, and be pushed by the unique interests of my students is something I find very rewarding and motivating. However, I have a strong inclination towards approaching research questions/topics from the perspective of complex systems, process mechanisms, and observing behaviors over time. Furthemore, having at least some alignment with my substantive interests can be helpful as there are certainly many topics that I simply won’t possess the requisite expertise in to be as effective of a mentor. Nevertheless, so as long as you are open/willing to integrate your ideas and collaborate with me on your specific research interests, you are likely to fit well with my work and approach to PhD training.

What do you think makes a great PhD student?

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses that make them unique, and there is certainly no one “right” way to succeed as a PhD student. In my experience, the best doctoral students I have seen and/or had the opportunity to work with all had some combination of the following capacities. Note this doesn’t mean I think a person must have all of these things to be successful as a PhD candidate; but all successful PhD candidates I’ve known had many of these qualities to different degrees.

  • Intellectual curiosity. I think a deep passion for learning is a hallmark of great scientists and thinkers. The motivation to always question what we think we know, how or why we think we know things, and to want to pursue new knowledge that helps better understand the world around us is helpful for keeping you going in a PhD program (and beyond).
    • Ways to develop:
      • Read widely (not just within your own area of interests)
      • Listen to others talk/present about their work and ask questions
      • Seek opportunities to learn from and with people doing things you know little to nothing about

  • Conscientiousness. Being organized, disciplined, and a dependable collaborator and student are helpful for managing the workload and obligations of a PhD program. As a PhD student, you will have a fair bit more independence and choice with respect to when and how you accomplish your work than you did as an undergraduate student. Being able to effectively and efficiently manage your personal and collegial responsibilities is instrumental to meeting important milestones.
    • Ways to develop:
      • Use a weekly calendar/scheduler to organize your time
      • Create plans for accomplishing your work with specific tasks, milestones, and deadlines
      • Arrive early (rather than on time) for events

  • Writing and communication skills. Getting a PhD in the social sciences means you are signing up to become an expert in an area that almost everyone thinks they already know something about. The ability to clearly and concisely convey your knowledge, research, and expertise to your peers, advisors, colleagues, and the public through both written and spoken language is paramount to success both while in and after finishing your PhD program.
    • Ways to develop:
      • Create and use outlines before starting to write or put together a speech
      • Share your writing and practice presentations with others before you submit the final product
      • Seek feedback and help from writing centers and/or peers whose communication skills you admire

  • Critical thinking and argumentation skills. All of science involves formulating ideas about how the world works, gathering and interpreting observations, and evaluating evidentiary claims. The capacity to piece together a coherent and sensible argument, defend/support an idea or conclusion, and incorporate new or different knowledge into your worldview are all instrumental to growing as a PhD scientist and practitioner.
    • Ways to develop:
      • After writing a complete draft of a paper, write a reverse outline where you summarize the points made in each paragraph
      • Practice your listening and ask questions – you’d be suprised at how much you can learn about how/why people think about something by simply listening
      • Practice your meta-cognitive and self-reflection skills by asking why you feel, believe, or react in a particular way

  • Collaboration skills and prosocial orientation. The development and application of scientific knowledge to better understand and improve the world is a “team sport.” The days of the lone wolf, go-it-your-own scientist are over. Being able to work in and contribute to collaborative efforts through forming supportive and enriching relationships with peers, colleagues, and other stakeholders is a must.
    • Ways to develop:
      • Actively participate in group assignments/projects
      • Consider what you are giving and receiving in your working relationships and strive to keep them balanced
      • Practice giving and receiving construtive feedback

How do you evaluate PhD applications?

Although the term is often over-used and under-defined in higher education admissions, I do my best to adopt a holistic review of prospective PhD candidates. For my purposes, this means three things:

  1. There is no single piece of information (e.g., GPA, standardized test scores, research experience) that I use to determine whether someone is versus is not qualified as an applicant
  2. There are no specific thresholds of achievement that I rely upon when evaluating applicant qualifications
  3. To the extent possible and based on the available information, I do my best to take the context and/or circumstances of an applicants' experiences into account when interpreting their achievements

A low GPA, poor GRE scores, or minimal research experience is thus not guaranteed to tank your application, especially if there were extenuating life circumstances that may have impacted your academic experiences. In such cases however, it is critical to use alternative means to convey your potential for success as a PhD student in your application. For example, you could ask your letter writers to specifically comment on your circumstances and/or provide this information in your personal statement to help me better contextualize your application.

In the previous section (“What do you think makes a great PhD student?"), I listed several competencies that I feel tend to be indicative of success as a PhD student and future scientist-practitioner. When reviewing prospective students, I generally attempt to formulate impressions of each of these facets based on the information provided in your application. There is no single metric that conveys each of these attributes perfectly, but in the interest of transparency, I’ve provided examples of some of the indicators I attend to when forming these interpretations below. This list is non-exhaustive and is not intended to reflect my final decision-making process.

  • Intellectual curiosity
    • Potential indicators:
      • Conducting independent research (e.g., honor’s thesis, first-authored posters, talks, or papers)
      • Participating in one or more research labs
      • Attending and/or presenting at conferences or research fairs
      • Letters of recommendation

  • Conscientiousness
    • Potential indicators:
      • Experience as a research lab manager
      • Direct experience preparing study materials, collecting data, or conducting analyses
      • Writing and/or co-authoring papers
      • Undergraduate GPA
      • Leadership positions in work, school, or community organizations

  • Writing and communication skills
    • Potential indicators:
      • Writing and/or co-authoring papers
      • Conducting independent research (e.g., honor’s thesis, first-authored posters, talks, or papers)
      • Presenting at conferences or research fairs
      • Quality of writing in the personal statement
      • Quality of writing samples

  • Critical thinking and argumentation skills
    • Potential indicators:
      • Conducting independent research (e.g., honor’s thesis, first-authored posters, talks, or papers)
      • Writing and/or co-authoring papers
      • Participating in one or more research labs
      • Quality of writing samples
      • Letters of recommendation

  • Collaboration skills and prosocial orientation
    • Potential indicators
      • Leadership positions in work, school, or community organizations
      • Accomplishments and feedback on group projects
      • Participating in one or more research labs
      • Co-authoring papers
      • Letters of recommendation

Should I let you know of my interest in working with you? Can I schedule a call with you for more information?

You are welcome to email me to introduce yourself prior to sending your application, but it is not required–and frankly does not affect your chances of being selected.

Additionally, there is simply not enough time in the day for me to take meetings or phone/video calls with all applicants who wish to chat. I thus have a policy of not scheduling private conversations with any prospecitve student during the application process unless there are particularly unusual circumstances (e.g., military applicants, applicants with atypical funding situations). After I have completed my initial review of all submitted applications, I schedule phone/video calls with a small number of applicants to provide an opportunity for us to further discuss mutual interests and learn more about relevant experiences.

You may email me or any of my current graduate students if you have specific questions that are not addressed here. However, and prior to doing so, I strongly encourage you to review all the information found on my website as you will likely find answers to many common questions about the work I do and what it would be like to work with me.