Internship Insider

January signals a post-holiday lull for most Americans. But for these five psychology grad students — and the thousands of others like them hoping to land an internship in the fall — the new year meant juggling multiple modes of transportation, fending off sickness and fine-tuning their answers for interviews across the country. Here's their take on the process, and their hopes leading up to Match Day.

Did they match? Watch video diaries of these five students receiving the big news.

Lee V., 30

PsyD candidate in clinical psychology

Lee V. (Credit:Ivan Lizarde)Lee completed his final three interviews in early January, which required a week-and-a-half cross-country haul that included trains, planes, cabs and one rental car. "It was exhausting," he said. "It feels good to be done."

The process became predictable to Lee, who said he "hit a stride" by his fourth interview. "They want to get to know us, they want to know if we're flexible, and they want to know if we can work as a part of a team," he said. "Every place worked around those themes."

Another theme was a frustrating lack of feedback, Lee says. Most interviewers took furious notes with their heads down and rarely reacted to Lee's responses. "I felt like a traveling one-man show — showing up, doing my dance, but there's no applause," he said.

Though Lee had anticipated being most attracted to big hospital settings, he found himself more drawn to the personable atmosphere at community mental health centers. Their rural settings, too, might also better suit his young family, he said. His and his wife's first child, Josephine,was born in mid-January.

"We know [having a baby] is going to change things, so we'll see if it changes the ranking process," he said.

Emily V., 28

PhD candidate in counseling psychology

Emily V. (Credit: Juan Javier Castañeda)Emily interviewed at nine places and will rank 10, since one site offered an optional open house but no interviews. She split her travels into three trips, to the South, Midwest and East, including a first-time trip to Boston. "I had these great lofty plans to do touristy things," she said, "but after each interview the only thing that could pull me out of my hotel room was: Go find food."

Emily maximized her savings by sticking with one-way flights on Southwest Airlines and signing up for its credit-card rewards program. She also reserved rental cars early — a move that was less expensive than picking one up on site and more convenient for storage than taking a cab. "It doesn't look very professional to roll up with all of your bags," she said.

She interviewed mostly at VA and prison systems, and found the questions at each to be fairly standard. Several sites that began toward the bottom of Emily's list moved up, however, when she learned about their focus on training. "It was clear the interns weren't just treated as people to do work for staff," she said. "They were focused on giving trainees what they needed [to achieve] their goals."

But ranking still proved to be a challenge. She tried ranking sites to be close to her husband in Texas or family in Ohio, on unique training opportunities or on the most direct route toward a future career, and each approach resulted in "a completely different list," she said.

Sommer T., 32

PhD candidate in neuropsychology

Sommer T. (Credit: Steve Smith)To save money and hassle, Sommer booked all of her interviews to take place over two weeks and did not return home in between. She took eight flights to seven interviews including in Albuquerque, San Diego and Chicago, where she has family. Despite the zigzagging, she enjoyed herself. "I feel like it's much less of a crazy, stressful experience than it's made up to be," she said.

Sommer's interviews, too, were more relaxed than she expected. "They've been less like interviews and more like meet and greets," she said. She was never asked many of the questions her program told her to expect, such as why she should be accepted over other candidates or how she handled a bad teaching experience. One question, however, on the findings and method in a paper on which she was a fourth author, did trip her up. "It was buried in the back of my mind, so I struggled a bit," she said.

Most of Sommer's visits heightened her excitement about her options, though one site sank after she learned that the rotation options weren't as broad as advertised. Eventually, her rankings took into account ease of travel to her husband in Utah and overall experience.

"I'm just looking for the place that's going to give me the best balance of depth and breadth of training," she said.

Matt P., 26

PhD candidate in clinical psychology

Matt P. (Credit: Andrew Itkoff/SILVER IMAGE Photo Agency)At the beginning of a nine-interview marathon, Matt came down with a sinus infection.

The upside? Matt says being sick kept him calm. "I didn't have the energy to get wound up," he said.

Weariness aside, Matt's interviews only made him more excited about the sites; they didn't change his ranking plans. The atmospheres were friendly and relaxed, perhaps a reflection of his picks' common theme: child psychology. "I think people who work with kids tend to be relaxed, friendly and down to earth," he said. A few interview questions came as surprises, however, including one about how his friends would describe him. "That caught me off guard," he said, "but I appreciated those types of questions because it showed they were trying to get to know me."

Matt's home base was with his family in Baltimore throughout his several weeks of interviewing in the Northeast. To save money, he drove and took trains to interviews and familiarized himself with various cities' public transportation systems. And, to ward off stress, he kept his focus on the big picture.

"It's a pretty exciting process," Matt said. "It makes you reflect on where you want to go and who you want to be. You kind of see what your life might look like."

Christian M., 29

PsyD candidate in clinical psychology

Christian M. (Credit: Orlow Kent Nygren)After moving back to Puerto Rico to be close to his family, Christian zeroed in on his goal: To land an internship at the VA in Puerto Rico, the only program in the territory that's APA-accredited. Fortunately, he felt well-prepared for his interview by attending seminars on trauma and learning about concepts such as moral injury, the psychological effects of behaving in ways that run counter to your values. "They were surprised I did my homework and educated myself," he said.

Christian was pleasantly surprised himself with the warm atmosphere at the site. He got a chance to talk to the current interns, who encouraged him to match with a VA. "They said wonderful things about the internship," he said.

After completing a couple more interviews at non-APA-accredited internship sites, Christian worked on his dissertation, which he hopes to complete over the summer, and made time to take care of himself in addition to his family. In January, he went biking on the beach with friends — something he hopes to do more of in the future.

"Before, I wasn't focusing on myself," Christian said, "but now [my priorities are] my mental health, family and school."