Before I set out on my internship at Harvard my two main learning goals were to get more insight into the field of clinical psychology and to gain confidence in my work abilities. I think that I achieved my learning goals defined at the beginning of the summer and then some! While not as hands on as I anticipated, my internship was a wonderful learning experience and I really valued the time I spent in the lab. I definitely saw what working in a clinical psychology field entails and how it is different from any other working environment. There is a strict level of confidentiality, especially when dealing with child clinical psychology. I always had to remember to keep data with participant’s names separate from the data with numbers as well as to only upload information that was non-identifying.
I feel that I also achieved my second learning goal of gaining a sense of independence and higher responsibility. I tried to be as professional as possible in all of my interactions and attempted to figure things out on my own before asking for clarification. That being said, I had to learn that it is ok to ask questions and to do so in a confident manner without self-blame. My goal was to appear mature and to not be seen as merely “the intern.” The lab was an incredibly warm and welcoming place and I definitely got a chance to socialize with everyone outside of just a working relationship.
My internship this summer definitely helped me clarify my interest in working in a clinical psych field. I feel like my interest was really sparked whenever I was reading through the psychological measures given to participants or attending weekly seminars. I listened to talks that were on various topics in the field such as pediatric clinical psychology in a hospital setting and new approaches to looking at the role of parental behavior in anxiety. There is a lot of new and exciting work being done and it is inspiring to see so many people work furiously to ensure that the lives of children are improved.
Due to the nature of the work of my lab, as a volunteer I did not have direct contact with families that had risk or abuse situations. However, in my work I read a lot of participant files that describe traumatic events and sometimes even on paper the accounts were difficult to process. Also, I was in the room where the research assistants made phone calls to families. There were some conversations that described children wanting to hurt themselves or past abuse by others, which again was very disconcerting to hear. For anyone looking to pursue an internship in youth mental health, you should remember that the work that is being done will hopefully make a difference in the lives of adolescents. It is important to practice self-care and to talk to coworkers about issues that are of concern to you. In terms of general internship advice, I recommend trying to take on more responsibility and going above and beyond what is asked of you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to be specific about what you would like to learn from the internship. I am most proud of navigating my internship, becoming more professional, and even when work was difficult – maintaining a smile on my face.
Now that I am more than halfway done with my internship at the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health it is time that I reflect upon my work here so far! I have definitely become more comfortable with the working environment at the lab and feel like I am a helpful part of the research team.
After the initial excitement of starting out my internship, the next couple of weeks were a bit trying. There was a big push for data to be entered into Excel so a good portion of my time was devoted to data entry. After figuring out how to correctly code the data, I found the work to become monotonous after typing for several hours straight. On top of that I developed tendonitis in both of my wrists from typing too fast and incorrectly so I was a little bit disheartened. However, I remembered from the WOW advice given to me at the start of my internship that I should “embrace the grunt work” and try to look at the bigger picture of the work being done. I really took that guidance and applied it to my internship setting. I recognized that while the day-to-day typing was not the most glamorous job, that the results that came out of the study could really help children with mental health concerns.
Furthermore, I was trained in the meta analysis project which is more hands on and utilizes some of the knowledge I have gained from previous neuroscience and psychology classes. The meta analysis is a paper that the PI (principal investigator) puts out every couple of years that examines many previously published studies. It is a way to streamline all the data that exists in youth psychotherapy approaches. There are many different criteria a paper must meet to “pass” through the screening process so my job has been to read the paper and code for different research elements. It is extremely interesting to read about all the current work being done, and I feel like it has really enhanced my internship this summer.
I think that while my classes at Brandeis have prepared me for this internship, working is pretty different from university/academic life. I’ve noticed that I am much more tired after working in the lab for a couple hours, versus taking classes and participating in extracurricular at Brandeis. Sitting in front of a computer requires energy in a very different way than I would have originally thought! However, as the weeks continued I noticed I became more adjusted to a working schedule and it didn’t feel as overwhelming. I have also noticed that working in a research lab is not as much about what you know but how well you work with others. Key skills are thinking on your feet, problem solving, and multitasking. Collaboration is essential to being able to accomplish anything in the lab.
Overall I feel that my weeks working at the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health have given me a greater understanding in what research in a clinical psych lab looks like. While I am not sure if I would pursue a career solely in research, I can see myself being happy working as a research assistant after graduation and gaining more skills in the field. I am excited to finish out my internship and continue to develop professionally.
It has been a great first week at the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health! The lab is located at William James Hall, which is named after the famous psychologist.
The lab’s main mission is to improve child and adolescent mental health through the dissemination of evidence-based mental health practices. The projects span across many clinics and schools to test the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. The lab’s work is of further importance as many of the projects deal with providing quality mental health services to youth in lower income communities. One of the research projects I am helping out with tests the effectiveness of the “MATCH therapy”, which is an evidence-based treatment of childhood anxiety, depression, trauma, and conduct problems. Given that many of the studies are conducted over multiple years and have 100+ participants, maintaining the database is an integral part of the work being done in the lab. I help out with a lot of the “behind the scenes” work such as entering data from psychological measures in the database, verifying that information is correct, and updating participants’ files. For further information about the research projects you can follow this link.
For me, it is really interesting to see what the actual assessments look like and how data is put together to examine the psychological needs of a child. The work I am doing in the lab will hopefully help me figure out what my specific interests are within the field of child clinical psychology.
Another interesting aspect to my internship is getting the opportunity to sit in on lab meetings and presentations. I attended a presentation by one of the post-doctoral students regarding her work at Boston Children’s Hospital. The presentation topic was about the emerging field of pediatric psychology and how psychologists can positively impact a patient’s hospital stay and overall outcome. Several case studies were presented in which children who had traumatic injuries and severe illnesses had their psychological needs met in addition to their medical ones. The hospital can be a scary place for a child and having adequate psychological services can help kids cope with their illnesses. Pediatric psychologists can help with explaining the illness/injury in a developmentally appropriate way, addressing emotional concerns, and working through issues regarding self-identity. We also learned that it is also important to conduct a comprehensive screening as some children with chronic medical conditions have had their psychological needs previously overlooked as a result of their serious illness. The importance of early intervention and streamlining psychological screening was also discussed.
I also attended an MRI safety session at the Harvard Center for Brain Science. I went for training to obtain a “yellow badge” so that I can observe MRI scans and be a “scan buddy” for child participants. The training emphasized the importance of being vigilant about safety and how powerful the MRI machine is. We discussed what conditions/implants would be contraindicated for an MRI scan and what the safety procedures are. At the end of the training we went into the room with the machine and threw around a tennis ball filled with magnetic paper clips!
One of the videos that we watched during training can be viewed here:
Overall, I had a very exciting (and busy!) week at the lab and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the upcoming weeks.