Alumni Spotlight - Carla Shaffer

A student standing next to a treeCarla is a 2013 graduate of the Clinical Psychology program in the College of Humanities and Sciences.  We asked Dr. Shaffer about her journey through graduate school.

Describe your career path and current occupation.

My first few years after graduating with my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology (Child/Adolescent focus) were marked with a mix of enjoyable experiences (e.g., Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the VCU Clark Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development, mentoring Latina undergraduates at the University of Richmond) and some, less pleasant activities (e.g., grueling hours preparing for the clinical psychology licensing exam). As with all of my years of education, those first few post-graduate years were critical to my development as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Currently, the majority of my career is split between running an independent private practice and serving as an adjunct faculty member with the VCU Department of Psychology, supervising doctoral-level graduate students within Integrated Primary Care. In addition, I seek out opportunities to do other things I enjoy, like collaborating with other group practices and promoting mental health access to the Latinx community.

How did you become interested in this field?

I have always loved being around children but my interest in Psychology began in my high school psychology class. I recall reading about Phineas Gage and Pavlov’s dogs and feeling an immediate fascination with how our minds worked and how that influenced behavior. During undergrad at VCU, I majored in Psychology and knew I wanted to work with children in the mental health field but the path was unclear. Then, during my Junior year of undergrad, I found myself enjoying every minute of a child psychology class taught by a dynamic professor, Dr. Michael Southam Gerow. He was an engaging instructor, a favorite of many students, and I jumped at the chance to volunteer as a research assistant in his lab. The opportunity Dr. Southam Gerow gave me to work in his lab set in motion events that would lead me to see graduate school as an option and become a Clinical Psychologist. For example, I learned about research and that I really enjoyed entering data (weird, I know). I also learned what graduate students were doing in their clinical training and I knew that I wanted to do that too. It’s been a long time coming but, “Thanks, MSG!”

What do you like best about the type of work you do?

Helping people gain insight and live with more intention.

What was most memorable about your experiences in your VCU graduate program?

The relationships I developed with my cohort and faculty members are among the most memorable experiences of graduate school. However, it is my relationship with my advisor and mentor, Dr. Rosalie Corona, that I treasure the most. Throughout graduate school, Dr. Corona role-modeled being a strong Latinx woman in academia while simultaneously balancing motherhood. Her support and trust in my ability to balance graduate school and start a family of my own was an inspiration to me when I needed it. She has been by my side through graduation, post-grad, and into my career. I am grateful to have learned so much from her as a student and I am even more fortunate to now consider her a colleague and friend.

What advice would you give current and prospective students about pursuing a graduate degree at VCU?

As if I haven’t stressed it enough, relationships matter. My advice to current and prospective students is to consider the relationships they are building with professors, mentors or advisors as they make progress towards their goals. Be intentional in fostering good relationships with faculty who want the best for you and don’t take them for granted. This can be as easy as saying “thank you”, valuing your time and the time of others, being responsive, and following through on your commitments. It's the little things that still go a long way towards building relationships. One day when you want a letter of recommendation, and trust me there will be a day when you need one, you’ll feel confident that someone who really knows you can speak highly of you.

Did you receive a graduate assistantship while completing your graduate degree at VCU?


Describe your experience and skills acquired during your assistantship.

I held a few assistantships throughout my graduate training ranging from teaching assistant to research assistant on various grants. My experiences taught me practical work skills like record-keeping and organization. I learned the value of professionalism and being open to feedback. In addition, as an overly ambitious graduate student, I thought I could handle all responsibilities and roles. Over time and by balancing my assistantships with other priorities, I learned about the importance of not over-committing and learning how to say “no” when necessary. The skills I acquired not only served me well through graduate school but remain essential skills in my current career. I thank the VCU graduate school for the opportunities I had while in the program and I value being a part of the experience for future graduates as well.