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20 Questions: Jennie Kaufman Singer, PhD

Created 11.23.11 by Juliet Farmer
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Dr. Jennie Kaufman currently teaches criminal justice courses full time at California State University Sacramento (CSUS), but her interest in clinical psychology started when she was an English major at San Diego State University where she graduated Magna cum Laude. From there, she earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego, and her PhD in clinical psychology from the same school, where she graduated with honors.

Dr. Kaufman’s career has included service as a psychological assistant, staff psychologist, senior therapist, clinical psychologist and statistical research consultant, geriatric psychologist, and trauma psychologist. For the California Department of Corrections, she has served as an independent contractor and senior psychologist supervisor. In parole, she served as mental health program supervisor and clinical psychologist. She was also a consulting psychologist providing forensic assessments for Yolo County Public Defender’s Office, and she used to maintain a private practice in Woodland for individual, group, couples and family treatment for ages 11 and up.

Her current research includes working with the creators of Ascend, an alternative sentencing program that teaches life skills. She has also worked as a faculty researcher on specific projects commissioned by the California Sex Offender Management Board to deliver specific innovative research on sex offenders.

Dr. Kaufman is currently an assistant professor in the division of criminal justice at CSUS, where she has taught Research Methods in Criminal Justice, Crime and Punishment, Analyzing Career Criminals, Fundamentals of Corrections, and Advanced Seminar in Corrections. She is a member of the American Society of Criminology, American Psychological Association, Western Society of Criminology, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Golden Key National Honor Society.

When did you first decide to become a clinical psychologist? Why?

Both of my parents are psychologists. My mother did clinical work and both wrote IQ tests, so I grew up around it. Of course, I decided not to be a psychologist and was an English major for undergrad. But I took psychology classes as electives and loved them.

During undergrad, I was deciding on a career and what I wanted to do. I wanted to make talking to people part of my career, so I researched options, such as marriage and family therapist (MFT), school psychologist and counselor, but found I was most interested in mental health. I was attending San Diego State University and taking all the psychology classes I could. I ended up being just 3-6 units shy of a double major in English-Psychology.

How/why did you choose the graduate school you went to?

I stayed inSan Diego and went to the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) in San Diego, which is now part of Alliant International University. I was connected to the area, and I also wanted to go to an APA-accredited school. The only one at that time in the area was CSPP. My parents had also worked there as professors, so I was familiar with it.

It was the only school I applied to, which I do not recommend, and it was also an expensive private school. I took the GRE, but I did not take it seriously. I would recommend taking it seriously, especially the psychology section.  I had to write an essay, but I was good at that and liked it. I graduated San Diego State Magna Cum Laude, and I had close to a 4.0 in my psychology classes. I had great letters of recommendation, and I give a good interview. I was also lucky enough to do research prior, so I had a publication. I was a good applicant.

What surprised you the most about graduate school?

I didn’t like some of the classes. I had hoped I would like them more. I didn’t like the theory classes, because I don’t like the idea of one single theory.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)

Well, I absolutely would not go to private school again. It’s like buying a house but having no house to show for it. I graduated in 1995, and by 1999 I was drowning in intense debt—and I had a good job! Literally because of two people who decided to save me I have paid off my school debt.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, I would think about why you want to go into this field. If you’re just interested in helping people and working with people, I’d recommend becoming a social worker. I wanted to work in a clinical setting, and during my second year internship at a clinic, the director was a social worker. There are social workers in prisons, too. As long as you’re focused on assessment, clinical psychology is good. But if you want to work with families, get an MFT—you’ll make less but you’ll also have less debt. And there are jobs to get. It takes at least 10 years to gain the financial advantage of a PhD or Masters. But at this moment in time, because I’m a professor, I’m glad I got my PhD.

Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?

Sometimes–I think it’s hard on an emotional level to see clients all the time. You have to be in a very good place emotionally to help them and interact with them all day long. It takes an immense amount of effort. It’s very high anxiety and high energy. It’s draining five days a week, but it might be OK one day a week. Also, if you have clients, you have no flexibility to the day. As a mother of three, I need flexibility.

What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?

It’s rewarding to see clients make change—it’s energizing, you feel like you really made a difference in someone’s life. It’s also nice to connect with people on an intense level.

What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?

Again, it’s hard emotionally. And the lack of flexibility in your schedule.

Why did you decide to pursue an academic career, particularly in criminal justice?

I was working with the California Department of Corrections as a prison psychologist for years. I was in the parole unit working with parolees (looking back I should have stayed), and it was very interesting work with lots of variety. The chief psychiatrist came to me and said he wanted me to run the office, and I agreed. My old job was filled, and I ran the office for a few years—I was basically an office manager.

After a few years, I decided I wanted to be a clinical supervisor because I missed clinical work. Then I decided I wanted to go back to the parole unit and work part time, and that didn’t work out. So I worked as a contractor doing clinical work for a few years. At the time, I was also teaching criminal justice part time and running a private practice part time.

Eventually, I was presented with the opportunity to become a professor full time, and I chose professor because it’s flexible and a high quality-of-life career.

How much of your time is spent teaching/seeing patients/doing research? Can you change that mix if you want to?

About 65% teaching, 25% research, and 10% clinical. I took on an online class, so I’m teaching more than I need to be. I’ve also been doing more research for tenure and promotion. Clinical is flexible, too. For example, the summer before last I was 100 % clinical.

Describe a typical day at work.

Take the kids to school. Work online for about three hours—email students, grade, work on assignments, research, prepare for class. Monday and Wednesday I teach a corrections class, then I have office hours—more phone calls, see students. Repeat Monday and Wednesday—I teach the same class again later. Then home. Tuesdays are when I grade, research, do online work. I’m a faculty senator, so on Thursdays I have that plus research, etc.

My online class runs itself now, but that took abut three weeks of preparing and giving/recording all the lectures beforehand. Now every day I log on two to three times and answer emails and questions, grade, explain assignments, etc.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?

I work 50 hours a week and sleep six to seven hours per night. I take about two weeks of vacation per year.

Are you satisfied with your income?

Moderately. In the prison system I earned a very nice salary and took an enormous pay cut to teach full time. But I do make extra money teaching online.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?

I was in so much debt, even when I consolidated I had an 8.25 % interest rate.

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?

Stay in the parole unit.

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning graduate school?

People who did well had ways of making it better than I did. They were paralegals, nurses, or had some career going to earn a professional salary and take out less in the way of loans.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?

Everything is being cut. The health insurance industry is crazy. I tried to be in private practice, but it took all my time trying to bill. Then the claims were rejected anyway. Most people can’t afford mental healthcare without insurance. But if you work on a sliding scale, you can’t afford to live.

Where do you see clinical psychology in 10 years?

I think it’s going to morph out of the office and become more integral in daily life. I hope to see more psychology positions throughout every industry.

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?

As a professor, I do community service. Currently I’m running a single parent support group for divorced parents that started last spring. I also give free consultations to mothers who want resources for their kids, help with school issues, etc.

How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?

I have dogs and kids, so I spend free time with them. I also enjoy hiking and biking,

Anything else you’d care to add?

A lot of students don’t know their options and think there’s only one way to get their degree. I recommend not leaping into something so expensive. That being said, this is one of the neatest degrees to have, because there’s nothing you can’t do with it.

My final piece of advice is this: Make sure that you research all options for clinical service, such as the master’s level options like licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, and school counselor, before you make your decision. Each choice can be fulfilling in its own way, and the master’s level options take far less time and cost far less money. If you really want to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist because you want to include research, assessment, and potentially teaching as part of your career path, then I would then do all you can to get into a public university that might provide a stipend for doing research or teaching to offset your cost. Do not jump into a career as a clinical psychologist because you have not done all of your homework in exploring all possible ideas prior to getting into the massive debt incurred by attending a private school.

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