Laboratory for Clinical Affective Neuroscience
Graduate Student Applicant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
 
Thank you for considering Stony Brook University for graduate school and me as a potential graduate mentor! I am very dedicated to mentorship and teaching, and I aim to be as transparent as possible in the application process. Below are some of the most common questions I receive from prospective graduate students. The answers provided are specific to me as a mentor and my lab and might differ from other faculty in the department. I am very lucky to receive a large number of email inquiries from prospective graduate students each summer/fall. Because of the large number of emails, I am not able to hold individual phone/video calls prior to the application deadline. Please feel free to email me (brady.nelson@stonybrook.edu) if you have any additional questions that are not addressed below.
 
Will you be accepting a new PhD student to begin in Fall 2021?
Pending availability of funds, I hope to accept a new PhD student for Fall 2021.

Do you only accept clinical psychology graduate students?
No. I primarily accept clinical psychology graduate students, but I also accept students in other areas for which I could be an appropriate mentor (e.g., Integrative Neuroscience). My ability to accept students from other (non-clinical) areas is dependent on the recruitment needs of those areas and my ability to mentor the student.
 
Should I email you to express my interest in applying to your lab?
Your decision to email me (or not) will have no impact on your likelihood of receiving an interview invitation or an offer of admission. That being said, I am happy to answer emails from prospective students if there are specific questions that you would like to have answered.

What would make me a competitive graduate student applicant to your lab?
I am most interested in the goodness of fit between your research interests, experiences, and training goals, and my research program and strengths/weaknesses as a mentor. Below are some research interests that would make an applicant a good fit (Please note: you do not need to have ALL of these interests)

Affective/cognitive neuroscience. I use a multi-method approach, which includes electroencephalography (EEG), event-related potentials (ERPs), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), heart rate variability (HRV), and startle electromyography (EMG). I use EEG/ERPs in most (but not all) of my research studies. I occasionally use fMRI, but this is not one of my main methodological tools. If your primary methodological interest is fMRI, then I am not your ideal graduate mentor.

Mechanisms and risk for psychopathology. I primarily conduct research on internalizing psychopathology (e.g., anxiety disorders, depression), but I also assess other psychopathology spectra (e.g., externalizing disorders, thought disorders). I currently do not conduct intervention or treatment research, except in collaboration with other faculty in the department.

Impact of development and the environment on mechanisms and risk for psychopathology. I am not a developmental psychologist, but much of my research focuses on childhood and adolescence because they are critical periods for the developmental of key neural systems that are implicated in the emergence of psychopathology.

Basic science research. I am also interested in non-clinical, basic science research (e.g., experimental task development, evaluation of psychometric properties of neuroscience measures).

Finally, I think it is also important to note: I do not look for applicants who have backgrounds, experiences, and interests just like me. I value collaboration, diversity, and innovation. While there needs to be some degree over overlap in research interests, your training goals/my mentorship abilities, and the opportunities/resources available in my lab, I am excited to recruit prospective students who have bring new ideas and perspectives to the field.

Do I need to have neuroscience/psychophysiology experience to get into your lab? Does it have to be with EEG/ERPs?
I prioritize applicants who have at least some human neuroscience/psychophysiology research experience or training, but it does not have to be with EEG/ERPs. Affective/cognitive neuroscience research is quite complex and I want to make sure an incoming graduate student has at least some previous experience in this field, but I do not expect the individual to have already mastered a particular methodology.

Do I need to know about and have read all of your research before I apply?
Absolutely not. I would recommend that applicants read and be able to discuss 1-2 papers (so we can have more detailed discussions about research), but I do not expect you to be an expert in any area of inquiry.

My undergraduate GPA is below 3.5. Will this remove me from consideration?
No. Many factors can influence GPA, including competing commitments (e.g., working part-time while in school), family obligations, and health challenges. Academic achievement is very important, but context is, too. If you believe your GPA does not reflect your potential as a future scientist, please (1) ask one of your recommenders to share more about your circumstances to help me holistically assess your achievements, or (2) provide this information in your personal statement.

My GRE scores are low. Will this remove me from consideration?
The GRE will be waived for the upcoming two admissions cycles (Fall 2021 and 2022). Stony Brook’s clinical psychology doctoral program will not consider or accept scores from any applicant.

What should I include in my personal statement?
I find it helpful when applicants include the following in their personal statements:

  1. A clear statement of your general research interests and how they relate to our lab’s mission and work
  2. A clear statement of why you are interested in our lab
  3. A statement about your career goals (even if they are approximate/might change, it is helpful to see your thinking)
  4. Discussions of your independent research experience(s) and what you learned from them. In these discussions, I suggest emphasizing (1) the skills you developed from working on each project (e.g., coding/running analyses; collecting and processing neuroscience/psychophysiology data; interviewing children/families; writing certain sections of a paper; submitting/presenting a poster), and (2) what your “takeaways” were from the project (e.g., new research ideas or questions your work inspired).

Is it advantageous to list multiple mentors of interest (or just one) on my application?
There is no advantage to naming multiple mentors of interest on your application. I review all applications on which I am listed as a first-choice mentor. In many cases, applicants to our lab do not list multiple mentors of interest. Listing multiple potential mentors may be appropriate if your interests and goals clearly bridge two faculty members’ research programs (as described in your personal statement)—and in rare cases, co-mentorship by two faculty members in the clinical area is possible.