Evaluation and Feedback Processes

Being a scientist-practitioner psychologist requires a delicate blend of intellectual acumen, expert knowledge, personal stability, emotional sensitivity, and professional responsibility. Balancing these complementary and, at times, seemingly contradictory, attributes involves receiving and assimilating feedback about your performance and your personal style. It is the obligation of the clinical faculty to provide you with timely feedback about how you are viewed in each of these, and other, domains. We are committed to facilitating your personal and professional growth within a supportive and interactive environment. Periodic student evaluations and feedback meetings reflect this commitment and we consider them to be an integral component of graduate training. Feedback sessions are one way to receive the constructive criticism necessary to further your development. It is also a way of acknowledging your achievements! Clinical supervisors offer feedback each semester using the Vertical Team Evaluation Form (Appendix D) and the Clerkship Evaluation Form (Appendix E). Clinical feedback includes narrative descriptions of your skills and progress as well as ratings on a variety of professional competencies. Your advisor provides an annual summary evaluation and documents that on a Clinical Psychology Student Evaluation Form (Appendix C). This feedback is provided at the end of each semester for first-year students and for students who have experienced difficulties.

We believe that, to be maximally useful, feedback should be (a) relevant to your professional development, (b) understandable, (c) descriptive, (d) verifiable, (e) constructive, (f) comparative, and (g) continuous throughout your course of study. Two types of feedback exist – formative feedback is a continual process that emanates from your interactions with faculty and peers; summative feedback is a more formal process that involves receiving a written evaluation and having a chance to discuss it with your academic advisor. Summative feedback is based upon summaries of your academic and clinical work that the faculty as a whole discuss at the conclusion of the Spring semester (and also the Fall semester for first-year students). Material for each meeting, as gathered by the Director of Clinical Training, includes grades, evaluations of all clinical work, progress on research requirements, and faculty perceptions relating to your acculturation.

Following periods of summative faculty evaluation, you will be scheduled for a feedback meeting with your faculty advisor. All faculty are obligated to hold such meetings with every advisee. These meetings afford you opportunities to discuss openly adjustment and progress issues, as well as to problem-solve specific areas of mutual concern. If you are not invited to participate in such a feedback meeting within two weeks of the faculty meeting at which evaluations are completed, (typically at the end of the semester) please request this feedback from your major advisor and, if it is not forthcoming, inform the Director of Clinical Training.

As part of the transition from student to professional, your grades will become increasingly less important. At the beginning of your stay here, your grades reflect the faculty’s collective appraisal of how much knowledge you absorbed and how well you integrated and expressed it. As you progress through the Program, however, your evaluations center increasingly on the perceptions of your supervisors and major advisors. That said, you must achieve at least a B- in required coursework for it to count towards program requirements.

Prospective employers at internship sites, postdoctoral training programs, and in other venues will judge your suitability in terms of (a) what you have done, as exemplified on your professional vita, (b) your ability to articulate your philosophies and strengths, as called for in personal statements of research interests, personally-focused internship essays, or “teaching portfolios,” and (c) letters of recommendation. These letters will focus on issues such as your ability to get along with others, your openness and responsiveness to supervision, your ambition, resilience, warmth, sensitivity, and other personal qualities that relate to the kind of colleague that you would make. In essence, if we agree to write you a letter of recommendation, it means that we have come to trust you — to trust your word and to trust your actions.

The Clinical Psychology Student Evaluation Form bridges the gap between formal evaluations of your academic work and the sort of information that is routinely provided in your letters of recommendation to internship sites and post-graduate employment settings. The form is comprised of rating scale data and descriptive comments that assess your relevant strengths, relative weaknesses, and suggested areas for growth along multiple academic and interpersonal dimensions. As part of our effort to keep the evaluation focused and useful, only those dimensions that have applicability to your particular functioning within a given year (semester for first year students) are assessed. In order to remain in good standing in the program, students must attain a grade of B- in all courses and they must receive practicum or clerkship evaluations at the expected level or above. In addition, students must receive satisfactory ratings on their annual evaluation from the faculty to document acceptable progress in research, coursework and clinical training. If students do not meet minimal requirements, their adviser will develop an action plan for remediation, which is appended to their annual evaluation and reviewed in 6 months. Failure to address noted difficulties or attain the goals outlined in the action plan after one year will result in a recommendation to the Dean of the Graduate School for dismissal from the Program. While it is important that you are aware of the consequences of failing to attain expected standards, in practice this happens very rarely and is almost always resolved through the mechanism of the action plan.

Although these evaluations are intended primarily for your use in successfully becoming acculturated as a clinical psychologist, they will routinely be made part of your educational records, which are retained in a locked file in the office of the Program Administrative Manager. We do this in order to satisfy our obligation to accurately document your performance. During this feedback process, you are encouraged to discuss the validity of the data and provide additional information that will augment existing perceptions. Our desire is to negotiate any major discrepancies in opinions about your functioning in an informal manner.

You have the option of responding in writing to your summative evaluation. If you wish to appeal any aspect of an evaluation, you should first speak directly to your major advisor. If this discussion fails to resolve existing concerns, you should next talk to the Director of Clinical Training. If any disputed issues remain unresolved following consultation with these individuals, you may then engage the formal grievance mechanism as specified in the Policies and Rules for Graduate Study in Psychology. The University does not have a uniform grievance policy for faculty. Some forms of grievances are addressed through the American Association of University Professors grievance policy as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Other forms of grievances are addressed in the By-Laws of the University.

The American Psychological Association has adopted a series of profession wide competencies to further clarify the skills and knowledge base required for entry into independent practice. Many of these competencies are assessed in our practica courses and clerkship placements and they are infused into the goals and competencies that define the program.

Feedback meetings can also provide opportunities for faculty to receive information from you. The faculty believe that feedback is a bi-directional process. We want your input, not only about your own performance, but about how well we are meeting our mandate to educate you thoroughly. We expect that you will have the courage to discuss directly and honestly with us as individuals your evaluations of our efforts. The Program Head and the Director of Clinical Training also ask students to complete an anonymous survey each spring about their experience in the program. They then hold a Program-wide meeting to review feedback and discuss issues related to Program functioning with the entire Program community.

Recognizing and Remedying Personal Difficulties

We understand that you may well experience difficulties during your stay here. Unfortunately, the potential range of problems is as large as life itself, and may include illness, problems with romantic relationships and family members, financial pressures, confusion about career choices, personality conflicts, and others. Such difficulties may lead to the erosion of your professional performance. When you experience stressors that adversely affect you, we hope that you will feel comfortable approaching any faculty member to discuss your concerns. You may want to set some limits on the extent of detail you want this faculty member to share with colleagues, but do not be so restrictive that this person cannot serve effectively as an advocate on your behalf.

Our collective experience suggests that certain types of activities create special difficulties for students. The most blatant difficulties stem from activities that are clearly unethical. We expect that you will know and abide by the ethical standards of our profession. Breaches of ethical standards will be treated seriously by the faculty; they may result in your being placed on probation, having to engage in mandatory remedial activities, or a recommendation to the Graduate School that you be dismissed from the Program.

A second blatant difficulty involves dishonesty. Professionals operate by making and honoring commitments; they understand their reputations are priceless in keeping their standing in the community. A good reputation is painstakingly built but can be quickly ruined; dishonesty will ruin one’s reputation quickly and thoroughly.

Avoidance is a third pattern that creates special problems. People tend to avoid onerous or difficult life tasks. Such avoidance is very expensive psychologically, however, in that what is being avoided nags continually at the person doing the avoiding. Avoidance also feeds on itself, breeding further avoidance. This difficulty often manifests itself in failure to complete research objectives in a timely way. Its negative effects are magnified if you remain away from campus or avoid having contact with your major advisor. Faculty will encourage your learning and involvement, but it is your responsibility to get your work done in a timely way.

A final area of special concern occurs when a student manifests patterns of poor judgment or interpersonal problems. In this scenario, no single problem in and of itself constitutes a blatant violation of ethics or blatant disregard of others, but a student accumulates a history of engaging in troublesome peculiar responses in a wide variety of situations. Individuals who manifest such behavioral patterns usually are unable to recognize their existence, and often do not view them as problems. Lack of recognition about how one generally affects others can create problematic interpersonal relationships with faculty and peers; these problems are not easy to address.

During your evaluation, whenever an area of concern is serious in nature (e.g., such as an unfulfilled Program requirement, accumulation of multiple incomplete grades, difficulties dealing with clients, etc.), you will be required to develop an action plan of remediation, in conjunction with your faculty advisor. This plan should clearly outline behavioral goals and specific steps necessary to meet these goals as well as a timeline for implementation. The action plan should be completed within a month after your feedback meeting. Your advisor will place a copy of the plan in your record. It is your responsibility to keep your advisor informed of how you are progressing with any remedial interventions and to negotiate alterations in the plan. Any such changes should be mutually agreed upon in writing, as an amendment to the original plan.

Probation and Recommendation for Dismissal

Our philosophy of evaluation assumes that you will be able to recognize and willing to remedy deficiencies. Failure to take feedback seriously and use it to improve may result in more formal sanctions. Ethical violations and/or patterns of unremediated deficiencies may result in a decision by the faculty to provide a formal reprimand or to place you on probation. Students on probation must work out and implement a remedial plan with their advisors, as described above. The Program will attempt to continue providing financial aid for students on probation, but, in difficult economic times, probationary students will have a lower priority for funding.

The most serious sanction involves a recommendation by the faculty to the Graduate School that a student be terminated from the Program. The final decision to terminate is made by the Dean of the Graduate School. Major reasons for termination usually involve failure of a student on probation to demonstrate improvement within mutually agreeable time frames, conviction of a felony, and egregious ethical violations. Students may appeal a termination under the provisions outlined in the Complaint, Appeal, and Hearing Procedures section of the Graduate School Catalog. Fortunately, recommendations to terminate students have occurred very rarely in this Program.