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To prospective doctoral students:


Hi! Thanks for visiting.


I’ve prepared this page in the interest of transparency, hoping that it might answer most of your questions about applying to our graduate program to work with me as a prospective mentor.


Each year, I receive lots of emails from prospective applicants. I have a hard time responding to all of them; please accept my apology if your message goes unanswered. (I say this not to discourage you from contacting me—please feel free to do so—but note that emailing faculty members does not confer any competitive advantage in graduate admissions decisions.)


I mentor graduate students pursuing their Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Miami, especially those in our Child/Family Clinical Area (which is part of the Clinical Program and Child Division).


Student mentorship is one of the most important and rewarding parts of my job. I try to prioritize protecting time and resources for my students, and this means I must limit how many students I take on. In any given year, I expect to serve as a primary mentor for 2-3 doctoral students. Thus, I expect to admit no more than 1 new doctoral student per year. Some years I know I won’t be taking any, and in those cycles I try to make it as clear as possible that I will not be reviewing applications.


The graduate school application process is imperfect, competitive, and wildly imbalanced. On our side, we typically see several dozen applicants for each available slot. This competitiveness should not be interpreted to mean that becoming a doctoral student is so wonderful and desirable that it’s a great idea and everyone should do it (just ask any current graduate student, they will readily disabuse you of this notion). Nor should you be discouraged that the odds are so stacked against you that you couldn’t possibly get into graduate school (we are just 1 program looking at a bunch of applicants, but the odds work out a little differently for the applicant who applies to 10-20 carefully selected programs).


When I work with undergraduate students and research assistants, I generally recommend that they obtain full-time work experience and consider other options first, and then apply for doctoral programs only if they are sure of their research trajectory.


In short, the decision to pursue a Ph.D. is not one to be taken lightly. If you not ready to apply yet or still thinking through what you want to do next, here are some resources that may be helpful:


If you have decided to apply for doctoral programs, and you’re considering whether to apply to work with me or not, this part is for you. Here is some information that might be helpful in informing your decision.


Research fit is of paramount importance. In particular, students should have clearly defined research interests and questions that they are passionate about pursuing using empirical methods. When I say “research fit,” I do not mean that your interests must be identical to mine (that would be boring and confusing). I also do not mean that applicants with any and all research interests could find their place in my lab. I would encourage you to think about what you want to do with your research, then closely review the work of prospective faculty mentors, and see if there are 1-2 overlapping interests in current areas of work, as well as 1-2 complementary interests where you might bring a unique voice.


If you are applying, naturally you might want to do all you can to increase your chances of admission. So how to do that, you ask? Again, research fit is critical. Please note: We do NOT consider GRE scores in any form (don’t bother taking it for our program, and if you do, don’t submit the scores). Beyond that, let me share some things I am I looking for in a prospective student.


The most competitive applicants typically have…

  • Enthusiasm for research, with clearly articulated interests that are complementary to our lab’s work (again, fit!).

  • Experience as a member of a research team (e.g., undergraduate lab experience for multiple semesters, a full-time post-bac research position).

  • Research promise shown by taking a leading role (typically mentored by a more senior researcher) in developing empirical work from start to finish (e.g., a first-author conference poster, senior honors thesis, substantive co-authored contribution to a manuscript).

  • Solid and well-rounded academic performance in undergraduate coursework (and graduate, if applicable), emphasizing psychology or a related field (e.g., transcripts)

  • Quantitative skills and interests (e.g., courses in statistics and mathematics, development of coding skills, use of R, SPSS, Mplus, etc. in student research work)

  • Potential to serve as a clinical provider working children, families, and adults (e.g., past volunteer/work, appropriate interpersonal skills, absence of ethical/professionalism concerns)


We also prioritize diversity. Individuals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. I denounce all forms of racism, discrimination, and harassment. I embrace diversity as a core value, and strive to maintain an inclusive environment where all persons feel safe, welcome, included, heard, and valued as individuals. Further, Miami is a large, vibrant community, with rich multi-cultural representation from racial/ethnic backgrounds and the LGBTQ+ community. There are ample opportunities to meet with students, the diversity equity committee, to visit us, and to get a feel for what it would be like to come here.


On a final note, the decision of whether and where to go to graduate school is far more consequential for YOU than it is for me or any prospective mentor. While I try to recruit strong students who would be a good research fit, I don’t want anyone to go somewhere they aren’t going to be happy and flourish. This is a crazy and stressful process, but ultimately the sorting hat of “fit” has a way of helping things out for the best… or in the right way… or at least not for the worst. I encourage you to make the decisions that are in your best interest, and get to where you want to go.


Best of luck!


Spencer                                            305-284-8413                                            © UM CAB Lab

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