Information for Prospective Graduate Students

I am NOT planning on taking a new student for Fall 2024. Please check back in future cycles, or consider applying to one of my wonderful colleagues (should your interests overlap).

For those considering admission in a future cycle, below you can find information on what I look for in prospective students.

IDEA lab grad students Angela Santee, Gwyn DeLap & Katy Chang and Dr. Starr collaborate around a large conference table with computers

I am always excited to expand my lab and welcome new talent! If you’re considering applying, please read the following FAQs to help determine whether you’re the right fit for our lab, and to learn more about how I evaluate graduate applicants. You can learn more about the University of Rochester’s clinical program more generally here.

What do you look for in a graduate student?

Applications are reviewed holistically. That means there is no strict algorithm for admissions or cut-off scores—each applicant is judged as an individual based on myriad factors. Here are a few (non-exhaustive) things that I weigh:

  • Fit with lab focus. More on that below!
  • Research driven. Our program is a better fit for students who are oriented towards the clinical science model. As such, I look for students who hope to pursue careers with a prominent research component.
  • Independent research experience. That is, you have gone beyond data entry and other basic tasks to begin to form your own research questions, via honors theses, posters, manuscript authorship/co-authorship, grant/fellowship applications, or some other demonstrated capacity to formulate and pursue your own ideas.
  • This is not always easy to quantify, but I appreciate it when an applicant shows that they go “above and beyond” to pursue opportunities to enrich their training.
  • Academic preparation. More on that below!
  • Contribution to enriching diversity, equity, and inclusion. I look for students who, as members of our community, will help to build a more inclusive, and affirming environment. I also consider whether applicants have life experiences that may inform their scholarly work and enrich our community.

What research interests would fit best with your lab for Fall 2023 admissions

You can read more about my interests here, and see publications here. My interests, although falling under the general umbrella of depression, anxiety, and life stress, really cut across a lot of areas, and I’ve been very excited to mentor students with a diversity of research foci. However, for the upcoming (Fall 2023) cycle, I expect that the applications in the following general areas might be the best fit for the lab (including interests that intersect across these areas).  This changes year to year as grants/ projects evolve, so if you are thinking about a future cycle, check back.

  • Stress and adversity throughout the lifespan (in relation to depression/ related constructs)
  • Assessment of life stress and related constructs
  • Basic affective processes/ emotion regulation in relation to depression/ internalizing disorders
  • Daily experiences/ emotional dynamics (assessed via ecological momentary assessment, etc.)
  • Interpersonal functioning in internalizing disorders
  • Interplay between all of the above (my favorite thing!)

That said, what I really look for is people with crystalized interests—who have already begun to develop probing questions into their focus area, and who seem genuine and informed in their interests. If you’ve read my research and are genuinely excited about the kind of work we do, please don’t hold back in applying to the lab, even if you don’t fit squarely in one of these categories.

I’m primarily interested in researching treatment of anxiety/ depression. Am I a good fit?

Probably not. I hope to transition to studying treatment-related questions at some point, but at this point in time I would not feel comfortable taking a student who is primarily motivated to conduct that kind of research, as it is not an immediate focus of the lab.

How do you assess academic preparation? Do you use the GRE?

The University of Rochester is GRE-optional for the upcoming cycle. I don’t use it in admission, so it doesn’t matter if you send it or not. Like other parts of the application, academic preparation is assessed holistically via your full application and not using a formula-based approach. For example, I do not use specific cut-offs for GPA.

Should I email you to introduce myself/ ask if you’re really taking students?

You can if you want to, but there is no need. It will NOT increase your chances of getting admitted. I accept students based on their application materials, not based on preliminary interactions. And I promise I am really taking students! If you have a question that would help you clarify whether or not you should apply, by all means email, but don’t do it because you think you have to.

Will you set up a phone call or Zoom to chat about my application before the deadline?

Unfortunately, no. Because I need to prioritize my time to my current trainees, projects, and teaching, I cannot meet with all prospective applicants, and it is unfair to grant meetings to some and not others. Consequently, by policy I cannot honor requests for meetings before you are selected for an interview. However, if you see me at a conference, I’m happy to chat informally with you there!

I did email you and you didn’t respond. Should I read a deeper meaning into that?

No! It probably means that your email got swallowed into the abyss of the academic inbox. It can be difficult for me to keep up with prospective student emails sometimes as I attempt to prioritize correspondence with current students and collaborators. I promise it’s not a reflection on you. I am excited about all prospective students!

Do students in your lab typically come straight from undergraduate?

No, so far all my students have gotten at least a couple years of postbacc research experience. This is not a blanket rule by any means! My perception, however, is that it is difficult to accumulate the independent research experience that you need to be competitive during undergraduate years alone, unless you are someone who has had an extraordinary level of opportunities, who became heavily involved with research very early on, and/or who has truly gone above and beyond typical levels of achievement.

How can I gain better access to mentorship to help navigate the application process?

Psychin’ Out. A peer-to-peer network devoted to disseminating resources and dismantling barriers to increase inclusion within the field.

Mitch’s Uncensored Advice. From Mitch Prinstein at UNC-Chapel Hill.

[Stay tuned as I plan to add more resources!]

I didn’t get in to any graduate programs this cycle. Am I doomed for a life of failure?

No!!!!!!! Many, many talented applicants don’t get into graduate programs every year. The staggering number of applicants in the pool each year make it a statistical certainty. A frustrating truth about Ph.D. admissions is that because the pool of qualified well-applicants so vastly outnumbers the number of slots, luck is a major factor. Sometimes, it takes more than one round for luck to work out in your favor. If this career path is truly for you (that is, if you know for sure that the Ph.D. is the right path for you—it’s also OK to re-evaluate), then you probably have the perseverance to apply again. In my lab, I have been delighted to see people take the initiative to reapply, and have interviewed and accepted second-time applicants.

It is a tough experience to experience rejection when you pursue a goal—I have been there, in multiple stages of my career. But you will come out of it, it will be OK, and you are not alone.