Dr. Bridget Callaghan plans to review graduate student applications this cycle (for Fall 2021).
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Info on UCLA
Disclaimer: this information is subject to change. The most accurate information on specific UCLA policies that are referenced here can always be found on the UCLA Psychology prospective students page.
1. How much does graduate school cost?
2. How does housing work for UCLA graduate students?
3. Is there support for international students at UCLA?
4. How much does it cost to apply to the Developmental PhD program at UCLA?
PhD Program Applications
5. Do I need to email Bridget prior to applying?
6. How much prior research experience do I need? How closely does this experience need to match the focus of labs that I’m applying to?
7. Should I apply for grant funding before graduate school?
8. Do I need to decide on a specific research topic before applying to graduate school?
9. What skills are useful for graduate students who want to do research in the BABLab?
10. What is the BABLab looking for from applicants/which aspects of the application does the lab prioritize most?
11. Is there a specific GRE cutoff score for applying to the BABLab?
12. How do I choose a lab to join? What other questions should I ask?
Info on UCLA
Students in UCLA’s psychology PhD programs are not expected to pay for their education*. These programs are “fully funded”, meaning that students don’t pay any tuition, and they are paid a stipend for the duration of their PhD. Unless they receive outside fellowships, part of this funding is expected to come from student teaching and/or research assistantships, in which PhD students assist professors in teaching courses or work in professors’ labs; the other part of the funding is a department fellowship. Within maximum and minimum TA requirements, students can choose the amount of TA and/or RA work they do. Students are not expected to take out loans to fund their PhD program, unlike other graduate programs such as JD, MD, and master’s. Exact funding levels are set on a yearly basis. Students can (and are encouraged to) apply for external funding, which may replace or supplement their UCLA award.
*Applies to US-citizens and permanent residents. International applicants can also be supported, but this requires your lab to provide additional funding. Scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships are available to undocumented students with AB 540 status, though the details for this funding vary by department. DACA recipients are eligible for work opportunities. If you would like more information, please contact the psychology department.
UCLA has a limited supply of housing for single graduate students as well students with families (information can be found here). Students apply for these spots through a lottery system; level of competition varies year to year. Many students also opt to look outside of the UCLA subsidized offerings in a variety of neighborhoods around campus; commonly used resources are craigslist, Zillow, and Trulia. Housing in the immediate area around UCLA is expensive, but prices are lower in some areas a bit farther away and if students choose to live with roommates. For those who live outside walking distance and choose not to drive, there are several different bus infrastructures with lines that go through UCLA campus, including Metro buses (Los Angeles), BruinBus (UCLA-sponsored), Big Blue Bus (Santa Monica), and CCB (Culver CityBus). Graduate students have access to the Bruin Grad Pass, which provides unlimited free rides on these bus lines.
UCLA and the BABLab appreciate diversity and welcome international students. The PI of the BABLab, Bridget, is herself an immigrant to the US from Australia. For more information on the BABLab’s commitment to diversity, see our diversity statement. However, funding is a bit tricky for international applicants to the Developmental PhD program. Because international students are not eligible for in-state tuition, funding is more expensive for them, and individual labs are expected to pay the difference. Unfortunately, at this time the BABLab does not have grant funding to support an international graduate student. In general, international students will need to obtain a visa in order to study at UCLA. Graduate applicants typically apply for either an F1 or a J1 visa, and both visa categories have their advantages (see comparisons here and here). Additional information for graduate applicants to UCLA, including how to obtain a visa, can be found here. Newly admitted and current international students are supported by the Dashew Center.
The fee to apply to the developmental psychology PhD program at UCLA for the 2021-2022 academic year was set at $120 for US citizens and permanent residents, and $140 for other applicants. Check the application fees page for updated information and more details. There are fee waivers available for applicants who qualify. Taking the GRE and submitting scores can cost more than $230 as of 2020, not including costs associated with getting to a test center. Please note that the GRE is not required for applicants for the 2021-2022 academic year. If you need to take the TOEFL, costs are similar to the GRE (about $200 as of 2020) but vary depending on location. If you are invited for an on-campus interview with the psychology department, all expenses (e.g., airfare, lodging, meals, transportation to/from the airport) are typically paid for. If there are any caps on airfare cost, they will be stated explicitly in the interview weekend email. Note that most PhD programs in psychology cover these expenses in the US, but there may be exceptions, and some programs do have reimbursement caps.
PhD Program Applications
If you are interested in applying to the BABLab as a PhD student, you are welcome to get in touch with us. If you would like, you may send a copy of your CV and a brief description of your research interests to Dr. Callaghan at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, emailing is not necessary; Dr. Callaghan will not conduct phone interviews until after the application deadline to be fair to all applicants. If you have specific questions, you may email Dr. Callaghan or other members of the lab and we will do our best to answer.
There is no one set amount of research experience that an applicant needs to have before applying. It’s possible to join the BABLab as a PhD student directly out of undergrad, after several years of post-college research experience, after a master’s program, or from another field. Having prior research experience is helpful because it allows you to: 1) build relevant skills and an understanding of how research works, 2) refine your research interests, and 3) evaluate whether research is something you want to do for the (fairly long) duration of a PhD (~5 years). For information on how to get research experience, see the research assistant and research coordinator/lab manager sections of this guide (coming soon).
As the UCLA Psychology department provides funding for the duration of graduate studies, obtaining outside grant funding is not necessary. However, it is common for students to apply for outside funding as it conveys some benefits, including establishing a record of securing funding for your research (which will be important if you want to continue in academia beyond grad school), potentially providing a higher stipend than what UCLA gives, and potentially allowing students to do less teaching assistant work than they otherwise might have to.
The most common grant funding for students to apply for before entering graduate school is the NSF GRFP, which provides 3 years of funding (tuition and stipend). At present, only US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for this award. Students are eligible to apply for the NSF at most 2 times, including once before enrolling in a graduate degree program and once in graduate school (during either first or second year). See detailed eligibility criteria here. For those applying before graduate school, award decisions are not made until the admissions process is complete but applying can be a helpful way to think through some project ideas, show that you are a serious applicant, and get experience applying for grants. However, applying is absolutely not necessary, and many people get admitted to multiple graduate programs without applying for the NSF GRFP. If you are interested in applying, lab members recommend Alex Lang’s website and Mallory Ladd’s blog for tips.
You do not need to have a specific project or topic in mind that you are set on studying as a PhD applicant – we don’t expect you to have figured out everything at that point, and your interests will evolve as you learn and progress in graduate school. However, at graduate program interviews you may be asked questions such as “If you could perform any research project you wanted (and resources weren’t an issue), what would you do?” In the BABLab, we are interested in which approaches and questions are most interesting to you and why, as well as the ideas you may have for research projects. We won’t hold you to carrying out a project you may discuss during the interview; rather, the purpose of questions such as these is to learn about your interests and see how you “think like a scientist”.
Because the BABLab conducts research with developing populations, experience with children, adolescents, and/or families in research settings is helpful. Since graduate students publish in scientific journals, a certain level of written communication is expected. The research that we do is pretty computationally intensive, so experience with coding/data analysis (e.g., with R, Python) is useful. The BABLab values contributions that students can make to the lab’s mission. This could involve ideas that are generated from personal and other experiences as well as “thinking like a (developmental, equity-oriented) scientist” – i.e., insights that move the lab’s projects forward or stimulate new lines of inquiry. In order to make these contributions, it is helpful to possess a working knowledge of scientific methods, the history of related research, common theories in the field, and frameworks for ethical science. This knowledge can be acquired through critical reading of relevant papers – e.g., thinking about design choices the researchers made, the theory/rationale they provide for their work, their assumptions, and future directions they (and you!) identify based on the research.
In the BABLab, we are looking for students with genuine interest and passion for the topics we study (see our lab website to get a sense of these topics), and a drive to persist through the (inevitable) times when research gets challenging or frustrating. We are also looking for students who will contribute perspectives, ideas, and/or experiences that will enrich the lab culture and research. We value the diversity of our lab members, and strive to be a welcoming and inclusive space that respects and appreciates all regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc (see our diversity statement for more on our commitment to this). Finally, because we work to foster a sense of community in the BABLab, we are looking for someone who shares the values and ethos of the lab (see our lab manual for more details).
In the BABLab, we believe that intelligence and aptitude are complex and multifaceted, and that the GRE is a biased and inaccurate measure of both (see this article for an explanation of the flaws of the GRE and how scores are correlated with applicant privilege). For this reason, there is no specific cutoff score on the GRE that is necessary for potential graduate student applicants. Further, across the entire UCLA psychology department, students applying for the 2021-2022 academic year are not required to submit GRE scores as part of their application.
Choosing a lab to join for graduate school is often a complicated task! Since you are applying to an academic program, of course research fit – Do you find the lab’s research exciting and meaningful? Could you see yourself thinking about it deeply and frequently for 4-6 years? – is very important. Mentor-mentee fit with the principal investigator (PI, or head of the lab, typically a professor) is also very important, as you will probably be working closely with the PI for the duration of your program. Your potential fit with a mentor can be assessed through the interactions that you have with them if you are offered an interview, and by asking questions of their other mentees. When talking with the PI, can you generate a stimulating discussion together? Do you get along? PIs also vary in terms of their mentorship style and how much independence they give trainees. You can determine this by asking questions of their trainees such as: How would you describe [PI] as a mentor? What are [PI]’s expectations? Consider what is important to you in a mentor and ask specific questions about that too. In addition, the PI’s values are an important influence on the culture of the lab. To get a sense of this, ask the PI how their lab functions and how lab meetings work, and ask mentees what the PI’s values are and what sort of culture they promote.
Beyond fit with the lab’s research and the PI, you also want to consider aspects of the program (e.g., What are its strengths and weaknesses? What is its structure and requirements? What is the funding situation like?) as well as practical considerations outside of your school: Would you be happy living in the university’s location? Will you have access to resources you may need (e.g., training opportunities, healthcare facilities, transportation options)?
Note: Credit for the idea for this guide and some of the content goes to the Stanford VPNL (see their grad school info page).