For Prospective Ph.D. Students

Dr. Li will be accepting Ph.D. students in clinical psychology into his lab for the Fall 2025 admissions cycle. 

If you are interested in joining our team, please review our “Projects” page to see the on-going research projects that may be of interest to you. At this time, we are looking to recruit graduate students who are statistically-inclined and are passionate about one or more of the following foci:

  • Racial and ethnic differences underlying multidimensional mental health outcomes (HiTOP), including but not limited to studies of measurement invariance, social determinants of health, longitudinal outcomes, etc.
  • Gene, brain, environmental, and cognitive and behavioral factors underlying the development of complex neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism and ADHD, from a neurodiversity perspective
  • Gene-environment interactions underlying the development of neurodevelopmental and externalizing outcomes across the lifespan
  • Identifying biomarkers in the prediction of neurodevelopmental and externalizing outcomes across the lifespan

Information on the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at UW-Madison can be found at the UW Department of Psychology’s website. For information on submitting your application, go here.

FAQs about Graduate Admissions

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Should I email you (Dr. Li) ahead of time to declare my interest in working in your lab?

No, it is not necessary to email me in advance if you are planning to apply. If you believe our lab is doing research that is in line with your interests, then please consider applying!

Will you let me know if I'm a competitive applicant if I send you my CV and transcript in advance?

No. A CV and transcript is not sufficient to evaluate the competitiveness of an applicant to our program or to my lab. Additionally, it would not be fair to evaluate materials for some students and not for others ahead of the application deadline.

Instead, please submit your full application by the application deadline to ensure your candidacy is evaluated fairly and with scrutiny. In addition to CVs and transcripts, we look closely at students’ personal statements, letters of recommendations, and their writing samples. We also strongly consider the fit between student and mentor.

Should I submit a writing sample in my application?

Yes. In fact, some potential advisors will even ask for one if you did not submit one as part of your application. A good writing sample is incredibly helpful during applicant evaluations. It showcases an applicant’s general writing abilities, knowledge in a specific domain, critical thinking, data analytic skills (especially for research papers), and creativity. Research writing differs quite significantly from a traditional college essay, so I would recommend submitting a research paper (e.g., honors thesis or manuscript in preparation) if at all possible.

How do I know I'm a good “fit” in your lab?

Our lab website is a good place to start to see if we are working on the kinds of papers, projects, and ideas that coincide with your own interests. I recommend doing a very deep dive by reading our research papers, and preferably a very recent one, to make sure that you can see yourself doing similar kinds of research as a graduate student.  That said, students come from different backgrounds that lead to having different interests and perspectives. I welcome all students to apply if they have an interest and passion for contributing to the overarching mission of the lab, but may also have ideas that diverge from the ones we have. I am especially eager to work with students who have a clearly evident passion in clinical psychological science and a desire to learn.

Do I need to have prior research experience? 

Yes. Research experience is important because a) it means you know what you are getting yourself into before going to graduate school, and b) potential mentors have a sense of what kind of research you might be interested in pursuing/conducting while in their lab. However, some students confuse research experience as being in lots of labs and doing lots of different things on many different research topics. While this is great for figuring out what you’re interested in, this approach may not always translate to success in graduate school where you are typically in just one lab working on a few, very focused projects that require a lot of time devoted to it. Instead, here are some examples of undergraduate research experiences from our past and current doctoral students:

  • an honors/undergraduate thesis project in which you conceptualized a project and completed it, including the writing and data analysis
  • substantively contributing to mentor’s project, such as in the data analysis, writing, and/or dissemination, leading to a poster presentation or co-authored publication
  • substantively contributing to a mentor’s grant proposal

What prior research skills do you look for in prospective graduate students? 

Generally, students in my lab come in with a strong skillset in statistics (e.g., undergraduate-level regression), as well as an above-ground level competency in R. Obviously, you can expect to learn a lot of cool quantitative skills in graduate school (e.g., machine learning approaches, structural equation modeling, longitudinal analyses, etc.), but it’s harder to learn these techniques without an already strong foundation in undergraduate statistics.

What if my research experience doesn’t align with the research being conducted in your lab?

That’s totally fine! In fact, most of my graduate students came into the lab with experiences that were not directly related to developmental psychopathology, gene-environment interaction, and genomics. Many of the skills gained from your college or post-bac lab experience should still translate (think: conceptualizing a study design, conducting a literature review, research writing, data analysis, coding, presenting research to scientific audiences, etc.).  In your personal statement, I’ll be eager to learn about why you are interested in conducting the research of our lab, and how you believe the specific skills you gained as an undergrad research assistant should translate.

Do I need a background in genetics? 

No, a background in genetics is not required or expected. We have a plethora of research projects that do not involve genetics.

Do I need to have experience working with child clinical populations (e.g., children with ADHD)? 

No. Many students applying to graduate school may have been unable to acquire valuable field experience during their college years due to COVID-19. However, it is expected that graduate students in my lab are willing and comfortable to work with other adults and children in research settings (i.e., conducting a clinical interview, administering a neurocognitive battery).

Do you have any general advice about applying for graduate school in clinical psychology?

There are many excellent guides and resources published by others on getting into graduate school in clinical psychology. Here are a couple that I think are particularly helpful for students:

I’m not sure about doing research, but I really want to work with children. Should I apply to work with you if my goal is to be a child psychologist? 

Our graduate program is probably not the best fit for you if you are primarily interested in a clinical career. Per the UW-Madison Clinical Psychology admissions website: “Our program’s emphasis on training clinical scientists highlights our strong “commitment to empirical approaches to evaluating the validity and utility of testable hypotheses and to advancing knowledge by the scientific method” (APCS mission statement). The principal goal of the UW-Madison Clinical Program is to train clinical psychological scientists who will: 1) generate new and significant knowledge about the factors that influence mental health and illness, 2) develop more effective methods for treating mental illness and promoting mental health, and 3) deliver evidence based, cost effective, clinical care to treat psychopathology and improve mental health.”

However, there are so many excellent training programs that better suit your interests! Refer to the resources I linked above to read about some of them (e.g., master’s in social work, master’s in public health, MS in applied behavior analysis, etc.).