Wu Lab, Northern Illinois University
*** Update as of June 11, 2018 ***
To prospective graduate applicants: I have decided to NOT recruit an incoming student for the Class of 2019.
For information about the Clinical Psychology PhD program:
For information about the NIU Department of Psychology:
For information about our in-house training clinic, the Psychological Services Center:
My lab’s mission involves two related goals: (1) The pursuit of scholarly research in the hopes of better understanding human psychopathology and (2) The training of students for careers as clinical psychologists. The NIU training program identifies as a scientist-practitioner model program, which means to me that its purpose is to train clinical psychologists who are fully competent to critically evaluate and conduct scholarly research as well as to practice clinical psychology using empirically-supported methods. The closer the link between these two activities, the better. As such, the focus of the research done in the lab is on clinically-relevant issues and the clinical work performed is informed by the relevant empirical literature.
Graduate Student Recruitment
Undertaking a PhD program in clinical psychology is a big deal and it takes a special skill set to both succeed and enjoy its rigors and challenges. Recruiting is about me trying to find applicants who are best-suited to meeting these challenges and who will genuinely embrace and enjoy the process. I typically welcome into the lab one incoming graduate student each Fall. Successful applicants are admitted to the clinical psychology doctoral training program at NIU, for which admission is highly competitive. Of course the numbers vary from year to year, but it is typical for us to receive ~200 applications (for 2017, we received 181) for an entering class that ranges from ~6-8. In a given year, anywhere from 25-45 students apply to work in my lab (for 2017, there were 36 applicants who listed being interested in my lab). These applicants represent exceptionally strong candidates for graduate training and I am fortunate to have several outstanding students working with me. The top applicants (generally, 40-45 overall to the program and 5 specific to my lab) are invited to our Interview Day in February and offers of admission are made soon thereafter. (Personally, I find this event to be an enjoyable experience all-around.) My graduate students are recruited nationally and have come to DeKalb from undergraduate institutions in (alphabetically) California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Each person is unique, but if there are similarities that run across the students who are most successful, these would include being intellectually sharp, highly conscientious and hard-working, emotionally grounded or "even," comfortable with increasing and appropriate independence, and genuinely motivated to pursue research. They are also kind, friendly, good-humored, and low-ego/low-entitlement people who work well together rather than in competition against each other. I encourage collaboration and am appreciative of this sense of "lab family." You will find a brief introduction to each lab member by visiting the relevant page on this website (links at left).
A word about “match” or “fit” is important. First, regarding the research domain, students who intend to train solely for a career in full-time clinical practice typically are not a good match for my lab. That is, the research expectations likely are too intensive/time-consuming for those without a strong interest in research endeavors. Second, it clearly is the case that a degree of compatibility is critical to a successful advisor-advisee relationship in what is truly a challenging program of study. To me, this means that an applicant’s skill set and areas of interest must be reasonably in line with mine. It does not, however, mean that I recruit students who profess to want to study precisely what already is being done in the lab. This will be clear from a review of the research completed by former students. Rather, “match” refers to identifying students who are likely to bring strong skills and work ethic to the study of psychopathology domains in which I can provide substantive supervision (broadly construed: anxiety, mood, and personality). Those whose primary interest is OCD, however, are most welcome to apply! Of late, most of my graduate students have been focused on OCD-relevant issues and this has had a strong influence on transitioning the lab to a more experimental focus.
The Actual Process
Let me make some comments about how I actually review applications. Please understand that I offer this information for general interest only -- in the spirit of being transparent and helpful. Step 1: Once received by the Graduate College, all complete applications are reviewed by a subcommittee of the clinical faculty for information such as numerical data, listed faculty of interest, and research experience. Step 2: I review all applicants who specifically list my lab in their personal statements. I first examine numerical data, including undergraduate GPA/institution and standardized test scores. I do not use absolute cut-offs, but obviously look favorably on applicants with the highest scores. For example, applicants whose GRE scores are below the 50th percentile are less likely to compete successfully given how many of the applicants are scoring above the 80th percentile, but again, this is not absolute. Next, I read personal statements and letters of recommendation to identify the strongest applicants who also show a reasonable fit with respect to the lab's interests. Step 3: I compare my list against the other NIU clinical faculty (mainly, Dr. David Valentiner) to determine if there are overlapping candidates. Step 4: Via email around mid-January, I invite my top 5 applicants to attend the mid-February Interview Day. If an applicant declines to attend, I invite the 6th ranked applicant, and so forth, until I reach 5 students who represent high-quality applicants. I will not invite a student whom I believe would not be in a reasonable position to succeed (e.g., based on credentials or fit). Step 5: Shortly after the Interview Day, the clinical faculty meet to discuss rankings and make our first line of offers to our top-ranked applicants. I typically prefer to do this by phone. If that applicant accepts, the remaining applicants are notified and the process concludes. If an applicant holding an offer declines, the next-ranked applicant is offered, and so forth, until either the position is filled or all qualified applicants have been offered. Note that when applicants hold an offer indefinitely, there is nothing I or the other faculty can do until that person makes a decision (at least until April 15th, which is an important APA deadline). This is regrettable, but a part of the process.
As many of you know, this process is a real challenge -- believe me when I say that I remember it well as an applicant in the mid-1990s and know it well as a faculty member. The review process generally does not come down to "what is wrong with someone's application" but rather "look at how tremendous these 5-10 applications are." I cannot emphasize this point enough. I consistently am impressed at how strong our applicants are, from grades to test scores to research and/or clinical experiences to letters of recommendation from some of the most productive labs in the country. If you are the 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th ranked applicant -- please do not take this as a personal insult. It means I think you are a tremendous applicant on a long list of other strong applicants. If you ultimately do not find a match in my lab, it may well reflect nothing more than an unfortunately necessary outcome of the process: 25-45 applicants for 1 (or less commonly, 2) slots. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort each of you dedicates to applying to our program and to my lab. Best wishes for success.