Abstract

Discussions of and recommendations for the training of clinical neuropsychologists exist at the doctoral, internship, and post-doctoral level. With few exceptions, the literature on undergraduate preparations in clinical neuropsychology is sparse and lacks empirical evidence. In the present study, graduate-level faculty and current trainees completed surveys about graduate school preparations. Faculty expectations of minimum and ideal undergraduate training were highest for research methods, statistics, and assessment. Preferences for “goodness of fit” also emerged as important admissions factors. These results offer evidence for desirable undergraduate preparations for advanced study in clinical neuropsychology. Although undergraduate training in psychology is intentionally broad, results from this study suggest that students who desire advanced study in clinical neuropsychology need to tailor their experiences to be competitive in the application process. The findings have implications for prospective graduate students, faculty who train and mentor undergraduates, and faculty who serve on admissions committees.

Clinical neuropsychology is a scientific specialty that enhances human functioning, particularly functioning related to the central nervous system, through applied assessment and interventions (Hannay et al., 1998). As the first specialty area formally recognized by the American Psychological Association (Crosson, 1998), pioneers of the field devoted much time, effort, and thought to the training of clinical neuropsychologists (Division 40/INS Task Force, 1988). Discussions of training were a central focus of the “Houston Conference”, a series of seminal discussions on specialty education and training in clinical neuropsychology. This conference included explicit discussion and recommendations of training at the doctoral, internship, and post-doctoral levels (Hannay et al., 1998). Additional discussions of training in clinical neuropsychology include models for providing effective supervision (Stucky, Bush, & Donders, 2010), recruitment and retention of women and ethnic minorities (Byrd et al., 2010; Hilsabeck & Martin, 2010), as well as routes to specialization (Boake, 2008; Boake, Yeates, & Donders, 2002; Meier, 1987). A recent survey of training experiences in clinical neuropsychology indicated that the guidelines of the Houston Conference were adopted widely and that adherence to Houston Conference guidelines by training programs promotes professional development of trainees (Sweet, Perry, Ruff, Shear, & Breting, 2012).

It has been suggested that specialization in clinical neuropsychology occurs during internship and post-doctoral training experiences (e.g., McFall, 2006). As such, the literature on training and preparations prior to graduate school in clinical neuropsychology is sparse. This is not unique to clinical neuropsychology, as other specialty fields also emphasize training in graduate school and beyond (e.g., Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)). However, actually knowing faculty preferences and expectations of applicants to graduate programs may be quite useful to the field, and there are several reasons to consider the importance of undergraduate education in clinical neuropsychology.

First, a “goodness-of-fit” approach utilized by many graduate programs during the admissions process suggests that applicants should look beyond prestige of an institution, admission rates and minimum grade point average (GPA) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and instead consider particular faculty interests. Consistent with this approach, prospective applicants are often encouraged and expected to demonstrate that their previous training prepared them to learn efficiently in and make unique contributions to a specific graduate program or research laboratory (e.g., Appleby & Appleby, 2006; Buskist & Sherburne, 1996; Prinstein, n.d.). The very notion of a “goodness of fit” suggests that applicants should possess not only sound training in the general field of psychology, but also clear and demonstrated interest, exposure, and experience to match the particular training that occurs in a given institution or laboratory. Applicants are evaluated on the extent to which they demonstrate a good fit, and it would seem very difficult to demonstrate genuine fit without prior exposure and training within a specialty field.

A second reason that an emphasis on undergraduate training is important is that existing discussion on undergraduate education in clinical neuropsychology is sparse, even though several scholars have noted its importance for graduate preparations. In a critique of the Houston Conference model, Reitan, Hom, van de Voorde, Stanczak, and Wolfson (2004) noted that the Houston Conference did not address undergraduate training. They emphasized the need for targeted discussion on undergraduate education, noting that controversies and disagreements may emerge among neuropsychologists due to a lack of consistent preparatory training prior to graduate education (Reitan et al., 2004). Byrd and colleagues (2010) noted that many undergraduate students may be unaware of the specialty of clinical neuropsychology due to a lack of exposure and that this lack of exposure during undergraduate education may be one barrier that limits diversity in the field. Thus, by increasing awareness of what graduate faculty expect of applicants, undergraduate students, including those from underrepresented backgrounds, will be in a better position to seek the experiences that will prepare them for graduate education.

A third reason to consider undergraduate preparations for clinical neuropsychology is that available information on undergraduate training (e.g., Bornstein, 1988) is without objective evidence. This makes it challenging for undergraduate educators to develop undergraduate coursework, creates structured training and research experiences in clinical neuropsychology, and advises students interested in pursuing graduate education in clinical neuropsychology. As a result, advice offered to students across institutions about preparations for graduate education is likely very inconsistent, and in some cases, mentorship may include information that is neither accurate nor fruitful for the trainee.

Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to identify competencies and training experiences central to preparing students for graduate-level training in clinical neuropsychology. To ensure a pure sample, we targeted only faculty who train graduate students in a specified clinical neuropsychology track. Three questions guided the development of the present study. First, what do graduate-level neuropsychology faculty look for in applicants to their programs? (e.g., what training would an ideal candidate possess? are there minimum qualifications?). We began with faculty preferences because this approach was fruitful in investigations of other specialty training programs (Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)). We asked graduate-level faculty with expertise in clinical neuropsychology what they expect of their incoming students.

Second, we asked current trainees who were successful in gaining admission to graduate programs about the educational and training experiences they acquired prior to graduate school, and third, we explored the extent to which trainee experiences align with what faculty suggest are the most important domains. To evaluate these areas of inquiry, current graduate-level trainees were asked to reflect on their undergraduate and post-baccalaureate training experience. To our knowledge, this study was the first to examine these questions empirically within the field of clinical neuropsychology. Therefore, it was exploratory and no a priori hypotheses were made.

Method

Participants and Procedure

Recruitment for this study was adapted from the methodology used by Karazsia & McMurtry (2012). The Human Subjects Research Committee of the College of Wooster approved all research procedures. For our primary recruitment approach, we invited potential participants through e-mail messages sent to faculty members at institutions included on the APA Division 40 website. We identified 21 programs (15 PhD, 6 PsyD) listed on this website that offered specialized training in clinical neuropsychology. Using public access websites associated with these programs to obtain contact information, we contacted the 80 faculty associated with the specialized training tracks. The invitation asked faculty members to share the study links with eligible colleagues and trainees. As a supplement to this direct recruitment strategy, study information was also posted on the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience website with an announcement that read, in part, as follows: “(We) are conducting a study to develop ‘evidence-based advising tools’ for trainees who want to pursue graduate education in clinical neuropsychology… . Though I know most of you are at small colleges and not involved in accepting graduate students, I was hoping you would send the survey link to your former students that might be in graduate programs, or any colleagues at large research universities that can help” (emphasis in the original). Given the usage of snowball sampling and “word of mouth” techniques that were also utilized, the precise response rate is unknown (Sweet, Meyer, Nelson, & Moberg, 2011). At the end of the survey, participants were presented with the option of completing a separate survey that required giving their personal information in order to enter into a drawing for $25 Starbucks™ gift cards (odds of winning ∼1 in 15). The data gathered from the survey responses were collected during April and May 2012.

To be eligible for the study, participants had to be: (a) a faculty member involved in accepting students into graduate programs that specialize in clinical neuropsychology graduate training, or (b) a trainee enrolled in a graduate program specializing in clinical neuropsychology. After reviewing an electronic consent form, participant eligibility was assessed by asking individuals to indicate if they fit either of these criteria.

A total of 21 faculty members completed a consent form, of which 20 were eligible and 19 actually participated (9 women, 10 men; Mage = 48.53). The majority (n = 18) of faculty self-reported PhD as the highest level of education; one faculty member reported PsyD. The modal setting of employment was an academic psychology department (n = 10), followed by a medical school or academic health center (n = 8; one participant did not report setting of employment). A total of 17 faculty reported that they are members of a clinical psychology graduate program, and all faculty indicated explicitly that they play a role in accepting graduate students into a program that offers a specialty in clinical neuropsychology. Among the two faculty participants who were not members of a clinical psychology graduate program, one reported membership in the International Neuropsychological Society, and the other reported an academic health center as the primary place of employment.

There were 34 current trainees who completed the consent form, of which 26 participated (21 women, 3 men, 2 non-responders for gender; Mage = 27.35). It is interesting to note that the gender difference among students differed significantly from that of faculty, χ2(1) = 8.10, p < .01. The modal level of training at the time of survey completion was pre-internship while working on dissertation (n = 15), followed by students working on master's (n = 7), current interns (n = 3), and a student who had completed everything but the dissertation (n = 1). Reports of program descriptions were as follows: 21 (80.8%) clinical neuropsychology-generalist and 5 (19.2%) clinical neuropsychology-adult.

Measures

Two surveys were utilized in this study: One for faculty and another for trainees. Both surveys were modeled after a similar study that yielded similar practical information related to pediatric psychology (Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)). The faculty and trainee surveys shared response options for training levels. This scale consisted of numerical values reflecting different levels of training ranging from 1 (“No Training”) to 7 (“Substantial Experience”). Operational definitions of each training level are presented in Table 1. Using this scale, faculty reported their ideal and minimum preferences for applicant training across 15 domains relevant to the field of clinical neuropsychology (see Table 2 for a listing of domains). The list of competencies was adapted from previous research and was presented in a random order (Karazsia & McMurtry (2012); Roberts et al., 1998; Wiertelak & Ramirez, 2008). Faculty also reported the importance of more general admissions criteria (e.g., undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, goodness of research fit; Table 3) using a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Not Important) to 7 (Very Important/Critical). See Table 3 for a listing of the general admissions criteria. Finally, with an open-ended response option, all faculty were asked to specify any other minimum and ideal qualifications or competencies in prospective trainees.

Table 1.

Response options for level of experience in the 15 competency areas

Level of experience Definition 
1. No Training  
2. Minimal Exposure Introduction to the topical area as a component of a broader course 
3. Substantial Exposure Advanced/upper-level coursework or observation in an applied or research setting 
4. Minimal Experience Practice of the topical area or activity in a research project or applied setting 
5. Substantial Experience Independent research project (e.g., honors thesis); post-baccalaureate experience in research or applied setting 
6. Expertise Co-author of peer-reviewed conference presentation; substantial experience with interventions or assessment beyond shadow experiences (e.g., ABA therapist; psychometrician; supervised delivery of psychological interventions) 
7. Substantial Expertise Co-author of peer-reviewed publication; graduate-level training (e.g., Master's in Experimental/Clinical Psychology) 
Level of experience Definition 
1. No Training  
2. Minimal Exposure Introduction to the topical area as a component of a broader course 
3. Substantial Exposure Advanced/upper-level coursework or observation in an applied or research setting 
4. Minimal Experience Practice of the topical area or activity in a research project or applied setting 
5. Substantial Experience Independent research project (e.g., honors thesis); post-baccalaureate experience in research or applied setting 
6. Expertise Co-author of peer-reviewed conference presentation; substantial experience with interventions or assessment beyond shadow experiences (e.g., ABA therapist; psychometrician; supervised delivery of psychological interventions) 
7. Substantial Expertise Co-author of peer-reviewed publication; graduate-level training (e.g., Master's in Experimental/Clinical Psychology) 

Faculty were asked to rate both the minimum and ideal levels of training for incoming graduate students. Trainees were asked to indicate their level of experience for each of the areas of competency prior to entrance into graduate school.

Table 2.

Means and standard deviations of faculty and student experience ratings across 15 competencies

Domain Faculty (n = 19)
 
Trainee (n = 26) 
Ideal Minimum Experience 
Experimental Design/Research Methods 5.63 (1.12)a 4.05 (0.85)a 4.65 (1.36)a 
Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies 5.11 (0.88)a,b 3.42 (0.77)a,b 3.92 (1.41)a,b,c 
Assessment 4.79 (1.44)a,c 3.11 (1.41)a,b,c 3.31 (1.89)a,b,d,e 
Behavioral Neuroscience/Neuroendocrinology 3.95 (1.22)b,c,d 2.68 (1.00)b,c 2.85 (1.32)b,d,e 
Diversity 3.89 (1.20)c,d 2.63 (1.01)b,c 2.46 (1.50)d 
Psychopathology 3.74 (1.05)c,d 2.74 (0.65)b,c 3.46 (1.24)a,b,d 
Neuroanatomy 3.63 (1.07)c,d 2.53 (0.84)b,c 3.65 (1.02)b,d 
Introductory Biological Sciences 3.42 (1.22)c,d,e 2.26 (1.05)b,c,d 2.81 (1.23)b,d 
Intervention Strategies 3.42 (1.31)c,d,f 2.32 (1.00)c,d 3.00 (1.67)b,d,e 
Professional, ethical and legal issues 3.32 (1.11)c,d,f 2.21 (0.71)c,d 2.58 (1.36)d 
Psychopharmacology 3.16 (1.26)d,e 1.89 (0.94)c,d 2.35 (1.13)e 
Cellular Neuroscience/Neurophysiology 3.11 (0.99)d,e 2.11 (0.88)c,d 3.15 (1.22)b,d 
Advanced Biological Sciences 2.95 (1.22)d,e,g 1.95 (0.71)c,d 2.46 (1.33)c,d 
Introductory Chemical Sciences 2.42 (1.07)e,f,g 1.68 (0.89)c,d 2.31 (1.26)d 
Advanced Chemical Sciences 2.16 (0.95)e,g 1.53 (0.84)d 1.92 (1.13)e 
Within-subjects ANOVA (within a given column) 
 Degrees of freedom 14, 252 14, 252 14, 350 
F-value 20.56, p < .001 13.47, p < .01 10.26, p < .001 
Domain Faculty (n = 19)
 
Trainee (n = 26) 
Ideal Minimum Experience 
Experimental Design/Research Methods 5.63 (1.12)a 4.05 (0.85)a 4.65 (1.36)a 
Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies 5.11 (0.88)a,b 3.42 (0.77)a,b 3.92 (1.41)a,b,c 
Assessment 4.79 (1.44)a,c 3.11 (1.41)a,b,c 3.31 (1.89)a,b,d,e 
Behavioral Neuroscience/Neuroendocrinology 3.95 (1.22)b,c,d 2.68 (1.00)b,c 2.85 (1.32)b,d,e 
Diversity 3.89 (1.20)c,d 2.63 (1.01)b,c 2.46 (1.50)d 
Psychopathology 3.74 (1.05)c,d 2.74 (0.65)b,c 3.46 (1.24)a,b,d 
Neuroanatomy 3.63 (1.07)c,d 2.53 (0.84)b,c 3.65 (1.02)b,d 
Introductory Biological Sciences 3.42 (1.22)c,d,e 2.26 (1.05)b,c,d 2.81 (1.23)b,d 
Intervention Strategies 3.42 (1.31)c,d,f 2.32 (1.00)c,d 3.00 (1.67)b,d,e 
Professional, ethical and legal issues 3.32 (1.11)c,d,f 2.21 (0.71)c,d 2.58 (1.36)d 
Psychopharmacology 3.16 (1.26)d,e 1.89 (0.94)c,d 2.35 (1.13)e 
Cellular Neuroscience/Neurophysiology 3.11 (0.99)d,e 2.11 (0.88)c,d 3.15 (1.22)b,d 
Advanced Biological Sciences 2.95 (1.22)d,e,g 1.95 (0.71)c,d 2.46 (1.33)c,d 
Introductory Chemical Sciences 2.42 (1.07)e,f,g 1.68 (0.89)c,d 2.31 (1.26)d 
Advanced Chemical Sciences 2.16 (0.95)e,g 1.53 (0.84)d 1.92 (1.13)e 
Within-subjects ANOVA (within a given column) 
 Degrees of freedom 14, 252 14, 252 14, 350 
F-value 20.56, p < .001 13.47, p < .01 10.26, p < .001 

Domains are presented in ordinal ranking of faculty ideal experience ratings. Competencies within a column that share a superscript do not differ significantly, while those that do not share a superscript do differ significantly (based on Bonferroni-corrected post hoc analyses following a within-subjects ANOVA). Note that Faculty-Ideal, Faculty-Minimum, and Trainee-Experience ratings are rated on a 1–7 scale; see Table 1.

Table 3.

Importance of criteria in admissions: Mean faculty ratings

Criteria Importance 
Research Fit with Faculty Interests 6.16 (1.17)a 
Clinical Fit with General Program 5.84 (1.20)a,b 
General Interpersonal Skills 5.79 (0.98)a,b 
Letters of Recommendation 5.74 (1.05)a,b 
Research Fit with General Program 5.68 (1.20)a,b,d 
Perception of Applicant Intellect 5.53 (1.58)a,b,d 
GPA 5.42 (1.12)a,b,d 
Clinical Fit with Faculty 5.16 (1.46)a,b,d 
GRE-Verbal 4.89 (1.52)a,b,c 
Coauthor on Publication 4.84 (0.96)b,c 
Coauthor on Professional Presentation 4.84 (1.34)b,c 
GRE-Quantitative 4.79 (1.32)b,c 
Completion of Independent Research Project 4.68 (1.25)b,c 
Prestige of Letter Writers 4.47 (1.39)c,d,e 
GRE-Analytic 4.32 (1.25)c,d,e 
Psychology Major 4.05 (1.22)c,d,e 
Prestige of Undergraduate Institution 3.47 (0.96)c,d,e 
Neuroscience Major 2.79 (0.92)e,f 
Personal Networks 2.42 (1.02)f 
Within-Subjects ANOVA (within a given column) 
 Degrees of freedom 18, 324 
 F-value 17.24, p < .001 
Criteria Importance 
Research Fit with Faculty Interests 6.16 (1.17)a 
Clinical Fit with General Program 5.84 (1.20)a,b 
General Interpersonal Skills 5.79 (0.98)a,b 
Letters of Recommendation 5.74 (1.05)a,b 
Research Fit with General Program 5.68 (1.20)a,b,d 
Perception of Applicant Intellect 5.53 (1.58)a,b,d 
GPA 5.42 (1.12)a,b,d 
Clinical Fit with Faculty 5.16 (1.46)a,b,d 
GRE-Verbal 4.89 (1.52)a,b,c 
Coauthor on Publication 4.84 (0.96)b,c 
Coauthor on Professional Presentation 4.84 (1.34)b,c 
GRE-Quantitative 4.79 (1.32)b,c 
Completion of Independent Research Project 4.68 (1.25)b,c 
Prestige of Letter Writers 4.47 (1.39)c,d,e 
GRE-Analytic 4.32 (1.25)c,d,e 
Psychology Major 4.05 (1.22)c,d,e 
Prestige of Undergraduate Institution 3.47 (0.96)c,d,e 
Neuroscience Major 2.79 (0.92)e,f 
Personal Networks 2.42 (1.02)f 
Within-Subjects ANOVA (within a given column) 
 Degrees of freedom 18, 324 
 F-value 17.24, p < .001 

Admissions criteria are presented in ordinal ranking. Criteria that share a superscript do not differ significantly, while those that do not share a superscript do differ significantly (based on Bonferroni-corrected post hoc analyses following a within-subjects ANOVA). Ratings were completed on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Not Important) to 7 (Critically Important).

In the trainee survey, participants reported the degree of training they received prior to enrollment in a graduate program in each of the 15 domains assessed.

Results

All scale variables were sufficiently normally distributed (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). Results are discussed in an order that corresponds with the areas of inquiry: Faculty responses, student responses, and comparisons of faculty and student responses.

What Do Faculty Members at Graduate-Training Institutions Look for in Applicants to Their Programs?

Table 2 presents faculty ratings of ideal training across the 15 domains in ordinal rankings. These ordinal rankings indicate faculty-reported prioritization of criteria. A within-subjects analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed significant differences in the mean rating of ideal training across the 15 domains. Despite the small sample size, observed power was 0.99, reflecting the large effect size in this analysis (partial η2 = 0.99; Cohen, 1992). This large effect size indicates that faculty participants had strong preferences for ideal training in certain domains. As can be seen in Table 2, mean faculty ideal experience ratings were highest for Experimental Design/Research Methods, and this rating was significantly higher than almost all other topic areas. The mean of 5.63 reflects a rating between Substantial Experience (independent research project or post-baccalaureate experience) and Expertise (co-author of conference presentation). Ratings of two competencies did not differ significantly from Experimental Design/Research Methods: Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies (M = 5.11) and Assessment (M = 4.79). These competencies received an ideal rating that was approximately Substantial Experience. Training in Introductory and Advanced Chemical Sciences received the lowest rankings, reflecting a rating between Minimal and Substantial Exposure.

A parallel within-subjects ANOVA was also significant for minimum ratings (observed power = 0.99, partial η2 = 0.97), which are also displayed in Table 2. Once again, the mean rating for Experimental Design/Research Methods received the highest ranking, with a rating that was significantly higher than most other domains. The mean rating for the minimally acceptable training in this domain reflected training at the level of Minimal Experience (practice via research project). As with the ratings for ideal levels of training, Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies and Assessment did not differ significantly from Experimental Design, with both rated between Substantial Exposure and Minimal Experience. Training in Introductory and Advanced Chemical Sciences was ranked as the lowest for minimum training experiences, classified between No Training and Minimal Exposure.

Mean faculty ratings of the importance of general applicant information are presented ordinally in Table 3. On average, faculty participants placed the most emphasis on the “goodness-of-fit” research and clinical criteria: Research fit with faculty interests and clinical fit within general program. However, a within-subjects ANOVA (observed power = 0.99, partial η2 = 0.49) revealed that mean ratings of these “goodness-of-fit” criteria did not differ significantly from several other criteria, including GRE scores, applicant intellect, general interpersonal skills, and letters of recommendation. It is also worth noting that mean responses of all four “goodness-of-fit” criteria were in the top nine of the ordinal ranks.

In addition to quantitative response options, faculty were asked to specify in an open-ended response format other minimum or ideal qualifications or competencies in prospective trainees. For minimum qualifications, 11 faculty responded; for ideal preferences, 9 faculty responded. Appendices A and B contain an exhaustive list of responses. Where appropriate, we added the corresponding competency or qualification from the survey in brackets. As can be seen in this listing, there was substantial overlap with competencies that appeared in the quantitative sections of the survey (e.g., “None besides those already listed,” “Research experience in a neuropsychology or neuroscience lab” [competency equivalent: Experimental Design/Research Methodology], “Experience with administration of neuropsychological tests” [competency equivalent: Assessment]).

What Training Experiences Did Current Trainees Acquire as Undergraduates?

Table 2 contains the mean ratings of training experiences attained by current trainees prior to their graduate work. In terms of the level of training and based on a within-subjects ANOVA (observed power = 0.99, partial η2 = 0.89), most domains do not differ significantly with each other, although there are exceptions. Trainees reported significantly more training in Experimental Design/Research Methods, Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies, and Neuroanatomy than most other domains and significantly less training in the Chemical Sciences. The reported level of training for Research Design falls between Minimal Experience (practice in a research project) and Substantial Experience (independent research project). For the Chemical Sciences, the reported level of training falls between Minimal Exposure (component of a larger course) and Substantial Exposure (advanced coursework or observation).

Do Student Experiences Align with Faculty Preferences?

Using a series of Independent Samples t-tests, faculty ratings of minimum and ideal training were compared with student reports of their training. Given the large number of analyses, a relatively conservative criterion of 0.01 was set for achieving significant differences. First, mean faculty minimum ratings were compared with trainee reports of their training. This analysis indicated the extent to which trainee participants met the minimum expectations of faculty participants during the application process. In all cases, student training either met (no significant differences) or exceeded (significant differences) minimum ratings by faculty. The two domains in which students reported more training than faculty-reported minimum were Neuroanatomy (Cohen's d = 1.20) and Cellular Neuroscience (d = 0.98; both p's < .01; both effect sizes large; Cohen, 1992).

Second, faculty ideal ratings were compared with trainee reports of their training. This analysis offers an indication of the extent to which undergraduate or post-baccalaureate training could be enhanced, based on faculty preferences. There were four domains in which faculty reported ideal preferences significantly higher than trainee reported experiences: Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies (d = 1.01), Assessment (d = 0.88), Behavioral Neuroscience (d = 0.87), and Diversity (d = 1.53; all p's < .01 and all effect sizes are large; Cohen, 1992).

Discussion

To our knowledge, this study is the first to offer a survey of faculty preferences and expectations of prospective graduate level trainees in clinical neuropsychology. As such, this study offers an evidence-based step toward responding to Reitan and colleagues (2004) critique of the Houston Conference, and it provides support for the helpful but anecdotal advice offered previously (e.g., Prinstein, n.d.). Graduate-level faculty reported strong preferences for applicants to have advanced training in Experimental Design/Research Methods, Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies, and Assessment. In these domains of competency, faculty reported that the ideal applicant to graduate programs in clinical neuropsychology would complete an independent research project (such as an honors thesis), or perhaps coauthor a conference presentation.

Faculty preferences for more general admissions criteria paralleled their reported preference in experimental design, research methodology, and statistics, as the top-ranked general admissions criteria was research “goodness of fit.” It is worth noting that this preference for a research “goodness of fit” was no less important than other general domains, such as GRE scores and clinical fit. Therefore, it appears that graduate faculty desire applicants who have strong broad-spectrum criteria (e.g., strong GPA and GRE scores, strong letters of recommendation), as well as specified research experience in fields relevant to the areas of expertise of individual faculty. Applicants may need to emphasize how their experiences beyond the classroom (e.g., internships, research experiences) provide a basis for genuine preparation and interest in a mentor's research.

Results from the trainee survey indicated that current trainees met or exceeded minimum training expected of faculty in all domains. This finding is not surprising given the select group of participants; these trainees were admitted to graduate-level programs. However, there were domains where faculty indicated an ideal preference for more advanced training than that reported by current trainees: Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies, Assessment, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Diversity. Although trainees already reported a high degree of training in quantitative methodologies (equivalent to Minimal Experience), more advanced training opportunities, perhaps via collaborations that result in conference presentations or publications, can enhance an application. It is particularly interesting to reflect on faculty preferences for advanced training in the areas of Assessment, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Diversity. Although these domains received relatively high rankings among faculty, they were lower in ordinal rankings among students. Specifically, students reported receiving more training in areas reported as less important by faculty, namely Neuroanatomy. Thus, the present results could be useful in shaping course selection and the pursuit of applied experiences by prospective applicants to graduate school in clinical neuropsychology. For example, undergraduates can gain applied exposure with assessment by arranging volunteer observations or research assistantships with neuropsychologists who conduct such assessments.

Comparing and contrasting the present findings with previous research on faculty preferences makes it possible to identify consistencies across specializations (i.e., more general qualifications for graduate school) and unique areas of focus within a particular specialization (i.e., specific expectations for a particular concentration). To our knowledge, this study is only the second quantitative assessment of graduate-level faculty preferences of prospective trainees in a specialized area of psychology, with the first study focusing on pediatric psychology (Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)). Therefore, available comparisons are thin, but interesting patterns emerge from such a comparison nonetheless. Regarding consistencies, faculty in both pediatric psychology and clinical neuropsychology reported competencies related to research methodologies as their primary preferences in prospective trainees. Faculty from both specialties also rated “Research Fit with Faculty Interest” as the number 1 general criterion. On the other end of the spectrum, both groups of faculty ranked “Personal Networks” as the least important general criterion. These findings suggest that, in general, faculty from graduate-level clinical training programs desire applicants with well-developed research skills within the context of a research program that matches specific faculty interests. Importantly, these skills appear to be valued much more than an applicant's personal networks. Additionally, faculty from both groups rated preferences for GPA and GRE scores in a nearly identical fashion. In both groups, they were important, but not rated as primary criteria. Thus, a general piece of advice for individuals interested in pursuing graduate school in clinical neuropsychology is that GPA and GRE scores are clearly important, but they should not come at the expense of pursuing additional opportunities that will demonstrate clear research and clinical fit with faculty in specific programs.

In light of these similarities, some differences emerged as well. Faculty from clinical neuropsychology programs reported a much stronger preference for their trainees to have a clinical fit with the program (M = 5.84), relative to faculty from pediatric psychology programs (M = 4.75), and this difference is statistically significant, t(41) = 2.69, p < .05. (The original mean value for pediatric psychology faculty was 3.46, though the scale was 0–6 instead of 1–7. So, a linear transformation was applied to make the values directly comparable. Please note that faculty in both surveys reported on a 7-point scale with almost identical criteria listed [the present study included one additional option: Neuroscience Major]. Inclusion of this additional option was rated very low in the present study, and therefore, it likely did not influence ranking of clinical fit.) A practical implication of this finding is that clinical neuropsychology faculty may particularly appreciate experiences that combine both clinical and research experiences. For example, a motivated undergraduate or post-baccalaureate would likely benefit from obtaining advanced assessment experiences with clinical populations while working in the context of a clinical research laboratory (i.e., administering assessments in the context of a clinical research trial).

The results from this study have important implications for three groups of individuals. For undergraduate students, this research provides advice for maximizing chances of pursuing graduate training in clinical neuropsychology. Based on the present results, undergraduate students are encouraged to focus graduate school searches on matching their research interests with those of potential mentors. Though ranking of the university or program and acceptance rates may be relevant, our data indicate that they should not be the main focus of a search for graduate schools. When students write letters of intent, they should be very clear and very specific about how undergraduate training, experiences, competencies, internships, and so on, have prepared them to work on the lines of research of specific faculty mentors. In addition, they will want to provide a convincing argument demonstrating interest in their future mentor's research, and when possible how they will integrate themselves into the research questions being posed in the lab now and in the future. Graduate faculty indicated that they would like to see more experience with behavioral neuroscience or neuroendocrinology than their current graduate students reported having; therefore, undergraduate students should seek coursework or applied experiences these areas. Undergraduate students should also note very seriously that any well-crafted cover letters and any meaningful applied experiences cannot come at the expense of basic indicators of strong applicants such as GPA and GRE scores.

For faculty who teach and mentor undergraduates, this research offers insight into domains of training to highlight in coursework and for structuring research and applied experiences. This might be accomplished via structured mentoring throughout the undergraduate years for students sure of their interests in clinical neuropsychology. Early in the student's career, mentors might advise students to take at least one behavioral neuroscience or neuroendocrinology course (preferentially with a research component). Later, mentors might help students design a senior project or take part in an internship that will provide “Substantial Experience” or “Expertise” within a particular research area so that they can demonstrate “Research Fit” with specific graduate-level faculty. If a curriculum is light in any of the areas highly ranked by graduate faculty, mentors can help students find academic opportunities that will increase their “Exposure” or “Experience” for that domain. When it comes time for students to apply to graduate school, undergraduate mentors can assist them in writing a strong cover letter that highlights how their trajectory of training fits with the specific research questions of graduate-level faculty. Mentors should also detail specifically in letters of recommendation why a particular mentor or program is the next logical step for the student. Such letters should include specific examples that demonstrate work ethic and methodological preparedness. These recommendations may be most salient in the context of advising individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. The evidence from this study can assist mentoring to help such students be efficient in their efforts to gain admission to graduate programs. The specific information to be shared would not change based on student demographics, but the value of such information may be particularly helpful to individuals from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the academies.

Finally, the results from this study have important insights for graduate-level faculty who assess applicants. This study offers a list of perceived importance of training domains as well as more general admissions criteria that may be helpful in evaluating future candidates to graduate programs. Additionally, our data indicate that “goodness of fit” is a very important criterion for qualified students to be admitted to your programs. However, fit is intangible. Any objective definition of this criterion or specific experiences that students can engage in to indicate fit would be helpful to undergraduate students and their mentors. For example, Drotar (2012) reflected on the survey conducted by Karazsia & McMurtry (2012) to note specific training experiences that he values in graduate level trainees. Lastly, the gender ratio of trainees and faculty differed significantly. This ratio was approximately evenly split among faculty, though among trainees, there were far more female than male participants. This trend mirrors findings from a recent survey by Sweet and colleagues (2011), thus offering further support for the notion that an increasing number of women are receiving specialized graduate training in clinical neuropsychology. That the graduate student body represented in this sample is predominantly women certainly can be viewed as a positive step in increasing the diversity of the clinical provider population (Hilsabeck & Martin, 2010). As indicated by Hilsabeck and Martin (2010), as more women enter the field, they might benefit from female mentors during their graduate training experiences.

Of course, the unique contributions of this research need to be balanced with limitations. Although faculty and students affiliated with programs recognized by Division 40 were targeted as a leading professional organization in clinical neuropsychology, the sampling methods clearly excluded Clinical Neuropsychologists who train graduate students in programs without a specific Neuropsychology track. This certainly limits the generalizability of our findings, but this was a deliberate choice. We erred on the side of sample purity, choosing to include only faculty within a specialized training program in clinical psychology so as to ensure that preferences obtained were relevant to trainees in clinical neuropsychology, not general clinical programs. It is important to note that even with this limitation, the current data demonstrated a very high level of agreement with a similar study conducted within pediatric psychology (Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)). Applicant fit within faculty interests, fit within general program, general interpersonal skills, and letter of recommendation were among the most important criteria for admission in both samples.

Despite adequate power and large effect sizes, we did conduct many post hoc analyses which could have increased the possibility of a Type II error. Rather than using a Delphic poll methodology to identify important qualifications and competencies (e.g., Brown & Roberts, 2000), we developed a list of competencies and qualifications based on previous research (e.g., Karazsia & McMurtry (2012); Roberts et al., 1998; Wiertelak & Ramirez, 2008). This could be viewed as a limitation, as it is possible that crucial criteria were omitted from the survey. However, as can be seen in Appendices B and C, virtually all open-ended responses overlapped with survey content, which suggests that our study was valid and that additional rounds of surveying would likely not yield further critical information. Also, though trainee reports of training were retrospective and may have been susceptible to reporting errors, they were not asked to recall personal competencies, simply level of exposure to particular areas.

In light of these limitations, results of the present study extend previous research (e.g., Karazsia & McMurtry (2012)) to suggest that undergraduate students need to think strategically about their training experiences so that they can provide evidence of a goodness of fit with graduate-level mentors. That said, the authors do not intend to imply mandatory admissions criteria that should be adopted by all programs, as specific decisions about applicant selection should be made by individual programs (e.g., Hannay et al., 1998). Moreover, our findings should not be interpreted as a prescription for graduate entry or an undergraduate training model. Clearly, an undergraduate degree in psychology is intentionally broad, providing a strong foundation in the science of behavior (e.g., American Psychological Association, 2007). However, given the increasingly competitive nature of graduate admission, there has been some speculation that undergraduates need to begin tailoring their experiences to meet expectations of potential faculty advisors (e.g., Prinstein, n.d.). Our study offers evidence supporting this notion, as well as data regarding levels of training expected of specific domains within the discipline of clinical neuropsychology.

This study also sets the stage for future research in this area. It will be important to extend this research to training that occurs outside of a specified clinical neuropsychology track. Additionally, future research can refine concepts garnered from this study. For example, what specific training, applied, or clinical experiences to faculty prefer? Do faculty desire exposure to specific methodologies or techniques that are used in a faculty member's laboratory? Undergraduates most likely consider these questions as they plan their education and prepare their applications materials, and thus future research that seeks to provide definitive answers will be very practical.

Funding

This study was supported financially by Faculty Development Funds from The College of Wooster, awarded to the first author.

Conflict of Interest

None declared.

Acknowledgements

We thank the faculty and trainees who participated in this study.

Appendix A: Minimum requirements for prospective trainees: Open-ended responses

“having life or work experience with brain disabling conditions” [Clinical Fit with General Program; Clinical Fit with Faculty]

“The applicant should be focused, bright, energetic, personable and have interests that match training/research opportunities available in our program.” [General Interpersonal Skills; Research Fit with Faculty Interests; Research Fit with General Program; Clinical Fit with General Program; Clinical Fit with Faculty]

“We do not have specific requirements; just desirable qualifications/competencies.”

“The ability to work collaboratively with others. Good judgment.” [General Interpersonal Skills]

“maturity and trainability” [General Interpersonal Skills]

“Solid testing experience with neuropsychological measures, exposure to patient populations” [Assessment; Clinical Fit with General Program; Clinical Fit with Faculty]

“Research experience in a neuropsychology or neuroscience lab” [Research Fit with General Program; Experimental Design/Research Methods; Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies]

“Experience with administration of neuropsychological tests” [Assessment]

“Personal statement must be extremely well-written.”

“I look for people with coursework or experience in the field of aging” [… Fit with Faculty]

“None besides those already listed”

Note. Corresponding competencies or qualifications from the quantitative survey are listed in brackets.

Appendix B: Preferences for ideal prospective trainees: Open-ended responses

“Clinical experience in neuropsychology and research experience” [Clinical Fit with General Program; Research Fit …; Experimental Design/Research Methodology; Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies]

“The following are desired: 1. Undergraduate GPA = 3.2 2. GRE's above 70th percentile3. Coursework in experimental psychology, abnormal psychology, statistics, and research design4. Prior experience with neuropsychological evaluation (e.g., clinical technician or for research)5. Research experience in an area that matches with a specific primary mentor” [GPA; GREs; Experimental Design/Research Methods; Statistics/Quantitative Methodologies; Psychopathology; Assessment; Research Fit with Faculty Interests]

“Authored or co-authored publication(s).Scholarships and awards.A history of extracurricular activities to suggest a well-rounded individual. maturity and trainability; passion” [Coauthor on Publication; Perception of Applicant Intellect; General Interpersonal Skills]

“All of our applicants have at least a publication or two, that appears to be the trend now” [Coauthor on Publication]

“An understanding of how clinical neuropsychologists work, esp. in relation to other applied psychologists” [Clinical Fit …, Research Fit …]

“Ideal candidate fits in with the amiable and industrious lab culture that we already have established.” [General Interpersonal Skills; Research Fit with Faculty Interests]

“Self-directed, eager to learn” [General Interpersonal Skills]

“Ability to get through a rigorous program” [General Interpersonal Skills; Perception of Applicant Intellect]

References

American Psychological Association
APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major
 , 
2007
Washington, DC
Author
 
Appleby
D. C.
Appleby
K. M.
Kisses of death in the graduate school application process
Teaching of Psychology
 , 
2006
, vol. 
33
 (pg. 
19
-
24
)
Boake
C.
Clinical neuropsychology
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice
 , 
2008
, vol. 
39
 (pg. 
234
-
239
)
Boake
C.
Yeates
K. O.
Donders
J.
Association of Postdoctoral programs in clinical neuropsychology: Update and new directions
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2002
, vol. 
16
 (pg. 
1
-
6
)
Bornstein
R. A.
Entry into clinical neuropsychology: Graduate, undergraduate, and beyond
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
1988
, vol. 
2
 (pg. 
213
-
220
)
Brown
K. J.
Roberts
M. C.
Future issues in pediatric psychology: Delphic survey
Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings
 , 
2000
, vol. 
7
 (pg. 
5
-
15
)
Buskist
W.
Sherburne
T. R.
Preparing for graduate study in psychology: 101 questions and answers
 , 
1996
Boston
Allyn & Bacon
Byrd
D.
Razani
J.
Suarez
P.
Lafosse
J. M.
Manly
J.
Attix
D. K.
Diversity summit 2008: Challenges in the recruitment and retention of ethnic minorities in neuropsychology
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2010
, vol. 
24
 (pg. 
1279
-
1291
)
Cohen
J.
A power primer
Psychological Bulletin
 , 
1992
, vol. 
112
 (pg. 
155
-
159
)
Crosson
B. A.
B. How should the different levels of education and training be integrated?
Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology
 , 
1998
, vol. 
13
 (pg. 
206
-
227
)
Division 40/INS Task Force
Report of the INS/Division 40 Task Force on education, accreditation, and credentialing
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
1988
, vol. 
2
 (pg. 
25
-
29
)
Drotar
D.
Training in pediatric psychology-current perspectives and future opportunities: Introduction to the special section
Journal of Pediatric Psychology
 , 
2012
, vol. 
37
 (pg. 
121
-
126
)
Hannay
H. J.
Bieliauskas
L. A.
Crosson
B. A.
Hammeke
T. A.
Hamsher
K.
Koffler
S. P.
Proceedings of the Houston Conference on Specialty Education and Training in clinical neuropsychology
Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology
 , 
1998
, vol. 
13
 (pg. 
157
-
250
)
Hilsabeck
R. C.
Martin
E. M.
Women and advancement in neuropsychology: Real-life lessons learned
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2010
, vol. 
24
 (pg. 
481
-
492
)
Karazsia
B. T.
McMurtry
C. M.
Graduate admissions in pediatric psychology: The importance of undergraduate training
Journal of Pediatric Psychology
 , 
2012
, vol. 
37
 (pg. 
127
-
135
)
McFall
R. M.
Doctoral training in clinical psychology
Annual Review of Clinical Psychology
 , 
2006
, vol. 
2
 (pg. 
21
-
49
)
Meier
M. J.
Continuing education: An alternative to respecialization in clinical neuropsychology
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
1987
, vol. 
1
 (pg. 
9
-
20
)
Prinstein
M. J.
Mitch's uncensored advice for applying to graduate school in clinical psychology—Revised 2012
 
Reitan
R.
Hom
J.
Van De Voorde
J.
Stanczak
D. E.
Wolfson
D.
The Houston Conference revisited
Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology
 , 
2004
, vol. 
19
 (pg. 
375
-
390
)
Roberts
M. C.
Carson
C.
Erikson
M.
Friedman
R.
La Greca
A.
Lamanek
K.
, et al.  . 
A model for training psychologists to provide services for children and adolescents
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice
 , 
1998
, vol. 
29
 (pg. 
293
-
299
)
Stucky
K. J.
Bush
S.
Donders
J.
Providing effective supervision in clinical neuropsychology
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2010
, vol. 
24
 (pg. 
737
-
758
)
Sweet
J. J.
Meyer
D. G.
Nelson
N. W.
Moberg
P. J.
The TCN/AACN 2010 “salary survey”: Professional practices, beliefs, and incomes of U.S. Neuropsychologists
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2011
, vol. 
25
 (pg. 
12
-
61
)
Sweet
J. J.
Perry
W.
Ruff
R.
Shear
P.
Breting
L.
The Inter-Organizational Summit on Education and Training (ISET) 2010 Survey on the Influence of the Houston Conference Training guidelines
The Clinical Neuropsychologist
 , 
2012
Tabachnick
B. G.
Fidell
L. S.
Using multivariate statistics
 , 
2007
5th ed
Boston
Allyn and Bacon
Wiertelak
E. P.
Ramirez
J. J.
Undergraduate neuroscience education: Blueprints for the 21st century
Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education
 , 
2008
, vol. 
6
 (pg. 
A34
-
A39
)