Join Our Lab!

Dr. Li will be accepting Ph.D. students in clinical psychology into his lab for the Fall 2024 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 for the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at UW-Madison can be found at the UW Department of Psychology’s website.

Am I 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 a paper or two, and preferably a very recent one, to make sure that you 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 does not typically 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 experience from past and current doctoral students that seemed to have translated to success in graduate school:

  • an honors/undergraduate thesis project in which you conceptualized a project and completed it, including the writing and data analysis, from start to finish, leading to a poster presentation or publication.
  • 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 kind of prior research skills are needed to do well in your lab (or in graduate school, more generally)? 

Generally, students in my lab come in with a strong skillset in statistics (i.e., 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 college or post-bac research experience doesn’t align with research being conducted in your lab? Should I still apply? 

Yes, and 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 to have 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 clinical populations (i.e., children with ADHD)? 

No, especially as many students applying to graduate school these days may have been unable to acquire valuable field experience during their college years due to COVID-19. Recruitment for our own studies have been negatively affected by COVID-19 as well. 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).

What resources do you recommend for students who are interested in 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 like working 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.).

General expectations of mentees

A major aspect of my job is to train and advise students to become successful in whatever they are striving for. My ultimate expectation is for you to obtain your degree, with which you can do many great things with! To that end, I will help you set substantive goals and hopefully achieve them. I expect you to:

  • Take ownership over your own educational experience
  • Learn to communicate effectively
  • Be engaged within the research group
  • Develop strong research skills
  • Meet deadlines

You will take ownership over your own educational experience

  • Acknowledge you have the primary responsibility for the successful completion of your degree. This includes commitment to your work in classrooms, the clinic, and the lab. You should maintain a high level of professionalism, self-motivation, engagement, scientific curiosity, and ethical standards.
  • Ensure that you meet regularly with me and provide me with updates on the progress and results of your activities. Make sure that you also use this time to communicate new ideas that you have about your work and challenges that you are facing. I expect you to come to meetings prepared, usually with an agenda and/or presentation slides of the work that you’ve done. Expect our meetings to be a two-way street, and that I will be just as interested in your thoughts as you are of mine. Do NOT expect our meetings to be Q&A sessions, with you supplying the Q’s and me providing the A’s.
  • Be knowledgeable of the policies, deadlines, and requirements of the graduate program, the graduate school, and the university. Comply with all institutional policies, including academic program milestones, laboratory practices, and rules re: clinical practice
  • Seek funding opportunities for your graduate training. I also expect you to find ways to obtain funding by actively pursuing and applying for grant and fellowship opportunities. Hence, I will help you identify and apply for these opportunities.
  • Actively cultivate your professional development. UW-Madison has outstanding resources in place to support professional development for students. I expect you to take full advantage of these resources, since part of becoming a successful scientist involves more than just doing academic research. You are expected to make continued progress in your development as a teacher, as an ambassador to the general public representing the university and your discipline, with respect to your networking skills, and as an engaged member of broader professional organizations. The graduate school has a regular seminar series related to professional development. The Delta program offers formalized training in the integration of research, teaching, and learning. All graduate degree programs require attendance at a weekly seminar. Various organizations on campus engage in science outreach and information education activities. Attendance at conferences and workshops will also provide professional development opportunities. When you attend a conference, I expect you to seek out these opportunities to make the most of your attendance. You should become a member of one or more professional societies, such as the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), Association for Psychological Science (APS), International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology (ISRCAP), Integrating Genomics in Social Science (IGSS), and many others.

You will learn to communicate effectively

  • Remember that all of us are “new” at various points in our careers. If you feel uncertain, overwhelmed, or want additional support, please overtly ask for it. I welcome these conversations and view them as necessary.
  • Let me know the style of communication or schedule of meetings that you prefer. The mentor-mentee relationship is going to evolve over time. If there is something about my mentoring style that is proving difficult for you, please tell me so that you give me an opportunity to find an approach that works for you. No single style works for everyone; no one style is expected to work all the time. Do not cancel meetings with me if you feel that you have not made adequate progress on your research; these might be the most critical times to meet with a mentor.
  • Be prompt. Respond promptly to emails from anyone in our lab group and show up on time and prepare for meetings. If you need time to gather information in response to an email, please acknowledge receipt of the message and indicate when you will be able to provide the requested information.
  • Discuss policies on work hours, sick leave, and vacation with me directly. Consult with me and notify fellow lab members in advance of any planned absences. Most research participants are available during university holidays, so all travel plans, even at the major holidays, must be approved by me before any firm plans are made. I believe that work-life balance and vacation time are essential for creative thinking and good health and encourage you to take regular vacations. Be aware, however, that there will necessarily be epochs – especially early in your training – when more effort will need to be devoted to work and it may not be ideal to schedule time away.
  • Discuss policies on authorship and attendance at professional meetings with me before beginning any projects to ensure that we agree. I expect you to submit relevant research results in a timely manner. Barring unusual circumstances, it is my policy that students are first author on all work for which they took the lead on data collection and preparation of the initial draft of the manuscript.
  • Help other students with their projects and mentor/train other students. This is a valuable experience! Undergraduates working in the lab should be encouraged to contribute to your projects. If you wish to add other individuals as authors to your papers, please discuss this with me early on and before discussing the situation with the potential coauthors.

You will learn to work effectively with others

  • Attend and actively participate in all lab meetings, as well as seminars that are part of your educational program. Participation in group meetings does not mean only presenting your own work but also providing support to others in the lab through shared insight. I expect graduate students to take on leadership roles in the lab. I expect graduate students in the lab to help create a climate of engagement and scientific curiosity.
  • Strive to be a good lab citizen. Be respectful to, tolerant of, and work collegially with all laboratory colleagues: respect individual differences in values, personalities, work styles, and theoretical perspectives.
  • Be a good collaborator. New collaborations should be discussed with me first, before they are entered. Occasionally, you will be asked to engage in collaborations within and beyond our lab group. Collaborations are more than just publishing papers together. They demand effective and frequent communication, mutual respect, trust, and shared goals. Effective collaboration is an extremely important component of the mission of our lab.

You will develop strong research skills

  • Develop your program of research. I expect you to hone and develop a “program of research” that is consistent with at least one arm of my lab’s overall research goals. This program of research should reflect your unique brand of science within the context of my broad laboratory goals. Developing a distinct (and obviously, exciting) program of research in graduate school is an important part of your training as a scientist-clinician.
  • Take advantage of your opportunity to work at a world-class university by developing and refining stellar research skills. I expect that you will learn how to plan, design, and conduct high-quality scientific research. Your development on this will come over time, and will come partly from me, partly from your coursework, and partly from your own hands-on experiences (i.e., trial and error). As a general rule, I expect you to do your research (e.g., how to run a particular analysis) before asking for my help.
  • Challenge yourself by presenting your work at meetings and seminars as early as you can and by preparing scientific articles that effectively present your work to others in the field. The “currency” in science is published papers: they drive a lot of what we do. And because our lab is supported by taxpayer dollars, we have an obligation to complete and disseminate our findings. I will push you to publish your research as you move through your training program, not only at the end. How many is up to you and dependent on your career aspirations.
  • Keep up with the literature so that you can have a hand in guiding your own research. Block at least 1 hour per week to peruse current tables of content for journals or do literature searches. Participate in journal clubs.
  • Maintain detailed, organized, and accurate records of your work. We will begin pre-registering our studies from this point forward in OSF, which means that all of your work should be meticulously uploaded and organized on a shared drive (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Drive, etc.) and also on OSF so that your work is transparent, and anyone can replicate your work. Be aware that all tangible research data are my property as the lab PI (and ultimately, the University’s). They cannot be shared or disseminated under any circumstances without my consent.
  • Acknowledge constructive criticism. The feedback you get from me, your colleagues, your committee members, and your course instructors is intended to improve your scientific work. Be aware that this level of feedback may occasionally come across as harsh and/or blunt (perhaps unintentionally so). I am also keenly aware that most PhD students starting out may have never encountered this type of feedback before in their lives, especially given their stellar performance as undergraduates and the fact that they have never had advisors who were so invested in them before. Perhaps it might feel personal to receive such direct (but hopefully constructive) criticism. I will always try to make sure to check in with you following feedback sessions to process your thoughts and feelings. The goal of feedback is never to hurt or to make things personal, but if it comes across that way, then we must address this head on.

What you should expect from me

  • I will lead by example and facilitate your training in complementary skills needed to be a successful scientist, such as oral and written communication, grant writing, lab management, mentoring, and scientific professionalism. I will encourage you to see opportunities in teaching, even if not required for your degree program. I will also strongly encourage you to gain practice in mentoring undergraduate students, and to seek formal training in this activity through the Delta program.
  • I will help you develop a distinct program of research to ensure that you are competitive for an academic position after you graduate.
  • I will be available for regular meetings and informal conversations. My busy schedule requires that we plan for meetings to discuss your research and any professional or personal concerns you have. Please have a meeting agenda prepared, with relevant items also prepared (e.g., as PowerPoints). Although I will try to be available as much as possible for “drop-in business,” keep in mind that I am often running to teach a class or to other campus meetings and will have limited time.
  • I will strive to be supportive, equitable, accessible, encouraging, and respectful. I will try my best to understand your unique situation, and mentor you accordingly. I am mindful that each student comes from a different background and has different professional goals. My idea of “excellence” may not be the same as yours. It will help if you keep me informed about your experiences and remember that graduate school is unlike a traditional job (i.e., don’t expect a Monday-Friday, 9-5 schedule as an academic) and comes with often very high expectations. I view my role as fostering your professional confidence and encouraging your critical thinking, skepticism, and creativity. If my attempts to do this are not effective for you, I am open to talking with you about other ways to achieve these goals.
  • I will help you navigate your graduate program of study. As stated previously, you are responsible for keeping up with deadlines and being knowledgeable about requirements for your specific program. However, I am available to help you interpret these requirements, select appropriate coursework, and select committee members for your oral exams.
  • I will discuss data ownership and authorship policies regarding papers with you. These can create unnecessary conflict within the lab and among collaborators. It is important that we communicate openly and regularly about them. Do not hesitate to voice concerns when you have them.
  • I will encourage you to attend scientific/professional meetings. Please use conferences as an opportunity to further your education, and not as a vacation. If you register for a conference, I expect you to attend the scientific sessions and participate in conference activities during the time you are there. In general, do not expect me to cover the cost of registration or conference travel. Travel fellowships are available through the Department of Psychology (Messerschmidt Funds) and the university. Many scientific organizations themselves (e.g., SRCD, APS) have travel awards available as well. I will help you identify and apply for these opportunities.
  •  I will be your advocate. If you have a problem, come and see me. I will do my best to help you solve it.
  • I am committed to mentoring you, even after you leave my lab. I am committed to your education and training while you are in my lab, and to advising and guiding your career development – to the degree you wish – long after you leave. I will provide honest letters of evaluation for you when you request them.

Yearly evaluation

Each year, I am required to submit a yearly progress report on my PhD students to the Department of Psychology. The purpose of these progress reports is for me and the department to decide whether you are making adequate progress on your degree, and whether any department-level interventions are needed to aid in your completion. In very rare instances, students may placed on “unsatisfactory progress” status and risk termination from the program. Prior to this report, we will sit down to discuss progress and goals, including (but not limited to) your program goals and your own research goals. At that time, you should be sure to tell me if you are unhappy with any aspect of your experience as a graduate student here. Remember that I am your advocate, as well as your adviser. I will be able to help you with any problems you have with other students, professors, or staff.

Similarly, we should discuss any concerns you have with respect to my role as your adviser. If you feel that you need more guidance, tell me. If you feel that I am interfering too much with your work, tell me. If you would like to meet with me more often, tell me. At the same time, I will tell you if I am satisfied with your progress, and if I think you are on track to graduate by your target date. It will be my responsibility to explain to you any deficiencies, so that you can take steps to fix them. This will be a good time for us to take care of any issues before they become major problems.

This contract was adapted from Trina McMahon, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Published in Pfund, C., Branchaw, J., and Handelsman, J. (2014). Entering Mentoring. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Company.

Updated 6/27/2023

The Social and Behavioral Development Lab is not currently looking to recruit new undergraduate RAs. We typically recruit new RAs into the lab during the Spring semester.

More information about participation in undergraduate research at UW-Madison can be found here.