Book by Tara Kuther
Review by Alison Sommers
Psychological and Brain Sciences
University of Louisville
Psychology is one of the most popular liberal arts majors and many students majoring in the field tell advisors they are considering graduate school. However, there are hundreds of different degree areas within psychology at both doctoral and master’s levels that can be housed in departments of psychology, colleges of education, social work schools, medical schools, and even within colleges of business. How can one person advise on graduate school planning for students faced with so many different opportunities?
Enter Graduate Study in Psychology: Your Guide to Success (abbreviated as GSP.) The author is a psychology professor at Western Connecticut State University who is active in the Council for Undergraduate Research and the Society for Teaching of Psychology (APA Division 2), and is the author of two other recommended books: The Psychology Major’s Handbook and Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World. She knows whereof she speaks.
GSP lays out in great detail what psychology majors must do during their undergraduate years to be competitive for entrance to graduate programs, some of which are actually more selective than medical schools. This fact may shock psychology majors into attentiveness when advising them to get both research and clinical experience, as well as strong grades. The importance of cultivating faculty relationships and the necessity of studying for the GRE are also addressed in detail.. Since students must begin planning for graduate school in their sophomore year, advisors cannot assume that departmental faculty will address students’ need for acquiring needed information and should take the initiative to tell students early what they need to do.
Kuther’s tone is simultaneously supportive and realistic. She addresses misconceptions and common pitfalls from an understanding but call-it-like-it-is point of view; she knows how students think, what questions they have, and what risky shortcuts they might attempt. When it is difficult for advisors to be direct with students who have unrealistic goals, this book makes it easier to help these students become well-informed and make reasonable plans.
GSP offers topics missing from similar books. For example, Kuther makes it clear that graduate school is not just “more of the same” and certainly is not for everyone. She is straight-forward about the actual graduate school experience, from dealing with an advisor who may be primarily concerned with achieving tenure to coping with competitive peers. One of the best sections of the book addresses what to do if applications are rejected; here Kuther offers several wise “plan B” options rarely mentioned in similar books.
Kuther sometimes wastes space on the obvious: she recommends exercise and sufficient sleep, not chatting in the class of an instructor who could make a good reference, and managing interview/test anxiety by relaxing. Each chapter offers first-person tips from graduate students who provide wish-I-had-known-that comments meant to be personal and direct but these comments are a mixed bag – some are already addressed in the chapters, others are obvious, or too general.
As an academic advisor to psychology majors, I consider this the best book on the topic among the ten or so books I have on my shelf. It definitely is worth the purchase for students. GSP would be useful in advising any liberal arts major as the expectations and graduate school application processes are fundamentally similar across disciplines. This book should be in most college libraries; if it is not then advisors should recommend the book to library staff for purchase. While comprehensive, with a 2004 publication date, this book is not completely current. However its reference section includes over 100 online sources worth adding to advising website areas for career and graduate school information links.
Graduate study in psychology: Your guide to success. (2004). Book by Tara Kuther, Review by Alison Sommers. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher. 198 pp., $28.95, ISBN # 978-0-398-07479-1