Neuropsychology Pre-Grad Intern Mishon Lecheler
I would first like to begin by stating that this internship has been a life changing opportunity. My experience as an undergraduate undertaking the pre-graduate internship has been unforgettable, as it has opened doors of opportunity that I would have otherwise never have the ability to open. I have gained valuable research experience, neuropsychological assessment training, and I am continuing the process of gaining level-2 training for MRI certification. Not only have I developed these important skills for my field of interest, I have worked closely with my mentor on developing timelines and strategies to help successfully prepare me for applying to graduate school. The internship allowed me unrestricted insight into the lives of graduate students, from witnessing what graduate level courses are like, to discussing the social life and personal financing of graduate school. Along the way, I have developed professional relationships with incredibly successful people who have expressed interest in assisting in the advancement toward my goals. I went into this internship with little experiential knowledge of graduate school expectations, obstacles, and lifestyle. I am leaving this internship with a greater understanding what I need to do to get into graduate school, what it will be like when I get there, and what will be expected of me as I progress through my educational career toward becoming a neuropsychologist.
When I first signed up for the internship and found my graduate mentor, I set up a curriculum with my mentor. As the internship progressed the opportunities took on a life of their own. My mentor allowed me the freedom to tweak my internship goals and take charge on what I wanted to learn and experience for the internship; a freedom which I am very thankful for. Because of this, I was able to pursue additional tasks, and experiences that will be very helpful in applying for graduate school and for personal experience in the field. One of these additional tasks included the development of a personal graduate timeline and curriculum vitae. This put me on track to know how I was doing and what still needed to be done to gain entry in a competitive graduate program. We walked through the steps I would need to take each semester to prepare for applications and I received invaluable advice about how to conduct a successful search for programs. Working on my curriculum vitae with my mentor exposed some of the areas I need to work on, such as participating in a poster presentation or getting published on a research project. Consequently, these areas are being pursued in future semesters as I plan on continuing to work extensively in Dr. Allen's research lab, and I have been offered help on the development of my honor's thesis by several graduate students.
Another opportunity I was granted during the semester was the ability to sit in on some of the graduate level courses. I had the opportunity to sit in on Dr. Allen's Bio Basis course and Dr. Carlson's Family Therapy course. I was surprised at how long the graduate courses were, about 3-4 hours in total. Also to my surprise, graduate students only attend their courses once a week per course. I realized that this system of attendance allows the students more freedom to participate in outside clinical and research opportunities. I was also astonished, and admittedly excited to find out that many of the graduate courses do not administer course tests as is traditional in an undergraduate setting. Instead of tests, the grades tend to come from presentations, classroom attendance, participation, and discussion. I was told by my mentor that graduate school is not about testing to see if you know every little detail in the course, it is more about actively participating to learn concepts that you can apply in fieldwork. I think this aspect of graduate coursework was the most surprising to me as I expected it to be very similar to my undergraduate courses, only harder. In fact, I am excited to know that this is how graduate courses are taught because it is my preferential learning style. I feel that although the coursework may be harder, I will excel in this environment. I noticed that not only are the courses different than undergraduate courses in teaching style, I also found the professor-student relationships to be very different. Unlike undergraduate courses where a student is often 1 out of 500, graduate level courses are very small (between 5 and 12 students) and therefore the professors seem to put much more personal effort into the success of the students. This is another aspect of graduate school that I look forward to, as being one student in a sea of 500 undergraduates, getting any kind of personal attention from a professor is difficult.
The majority of the time I spent during my internship was working in Dr. Greg Allen's autism lab about ten hours a week. In the lab I learned skills such as working with Analyze 9.0 on tracing anatomical features within the cerebellum. Neuropsychologists administer many different kinds of neuropsychological tests on patients during their career, and I was given the opportunity to gain exposure to these tests through observation of administration and independent scoring of the actual tests. My hope is that, as I continue to work in the Allen lab in future semesters, I will receive training on the administration of these tests and eventually gain permission to administer them to participants.
Another skill that I have obtained during my internship is level-1 MRI training. While I am still working on obtaining my level-2 training, eventually I will gain certification in running the MRI machine at the Pickle Research Center. I feel extremely lucky to have access to this training as some training facilities charge over $17,000 in tuition for this certification, and I am receiving this training free of charge!
Although I have worked in a research lab before, I feel as though I have a clearer idea of what research in a university is really like since my previous lab supervisor was operating out of San Antonio. Here in the Allen lab I have been able to work closely with the graduate students and faculty. While classes are important to graduate students, conducting research in labs appears to be equally important. I have discovered that for many of them, much of their time is devoted to completing independent research projects which often stem from a main lab project conducted by the overseeing faculty member. It has become clear to me that research is what keeps the funding for programs going, and therefore it is not surprising that graduate students are often expected to work a good amount of hours in the research labs.
My internship experience working closely with faculty and graduate mentors has helped me hone on what graduate programs look for in a potential graduate student. The ideal candidate for programs I will be applying to is an individual who is research-focused, personally motivated, proficient at handling multiple tasks at any given time, and experienced in research.
Through my experience in the internship, I feel that I have progressed toward this ideality. This window into graduate life has awarded me with a special insight that few potential graduate students have experienced, allowing me an edge on the competition and a framework for success in my field. While my goal of becoming a neuropsychologist is such a long road to travel, I feel that this internship has truly brought me one step closer to obtaining my goal.