One of the biggest hurdles early-career psychologists face is becoming and remaining solvent.
"We leave graduate school pretty idealistic--we want to save the world and be charitable civil servants," says Corey J. Habben, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and co-editor of a new book, "Life After Graduate School in Psychology: Insiders' Advice from New Psychologists" (Psychology Press, 2004). "But we need to learn early on how to generate revenue, how to market ourselves, how to create a network — all of the things that we psychologists just don't like to do." To prepare yourself for the financial aspects of your career, Habben and others advise you to negotiate the following:
Your salary. If you are considering a position where a salary is your main means of income, discuss its terms once you have determined that it is indeed negotiable (at unionized institutions, for example, positions often are not), early-career experts advise.
This is especially important in academia, where starting salaries vary dramatically and what you negotiate at the beginning determines the size of your paycheck later on, says Karen Gasper, PhD, who earned her doctorate in 1999 and is up for tenure at Penn State University. Because such jobs are scarce, however, be diplomatic in your dealings, she advises: One of her colleagues, for example, essentially tells potential employers, "Thank you for your offer of X — but Y is closer to my ideal salary." Pick colleagues' brains on other good ways to communicate your wishes, she advises.
Equipment. Negotiate on computers and lab supplies, as well as on job parameters such as the size of your course load, Gasper says. E-mail is a good vehicle for this, allowing you time to research your requirements compared with the terms offered and then to communicate them using specific monetary amounts and documentation. Just as importantly, e-mail provides a written record should there be any question what the institution has agreed on, she notes.
Contracts. Likewise, read contracts carefully, and challenge items you disagree with, early-career experts advise. In the practice arena, for example, insurance and managed-care contracts often contain such pitfalls as unacceptably low reimbursement rates and gag rules that free companies from responsibility for patient outcomes (see "Avoiding contractual pitfalls"). Similarly, some academic settings — in particular, medical schools — urge psychologists to sign "non-compete" agreements that restrict them from seeing clients "on the side" in private practice, notes Brandon Briery, PhD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami's Mailman Center for Child Development and a member of APA's Ad Hoc Early Career Committee. Be clear about your points of disagreement and about what you want instead, he advises, and move on if you don't like the final terms.
Also in the financial arena, early-career experts advise psychologists to:
Hire a professional. A good accountant can help you navigate taxes, prepare for potential audits of a private practice or business, and plan and manage your finances — new ground for many early-career people, says Habben, a 1998 graduate whose first job was at a group practice before he landed his job at Walter Reed. An accountant helped him transition smoothly from being a student who filled out simple 1040EZ tax forms during TV commercials to a professional with complex business needs. "It was probably the best money I ever spent," he says.
Learn business skills. If you are running your own business or private practice, learn to craft a business plan, whether by hiring a business coach, reading, attending classes or all of the above, experts advise.
As a practitioner, one way to receive hands-on business training and mentoring is to join a group practice, adds Christine Farber, PhD, who earned her doctorate in 2000 and is now on staff at the Traumatic Stress Institute in South Windsor, Conn. The center — which provides treatment for child and adult trauma survivors, trauma training and forensic work — offers an excellent business model by emphasizing practice diversity and staff development, she notes.