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Thanks to our new Mentoring/Advising Task Force, you now have a place to ask those burning career development questions and receive answers from seasoned professionals. Special thanks to this quarter’s mentors, Dr. Nora Johnson and Dr. Brenda Swartz who provide insightful guidance for that difficult question, what to do when your current career path is not leading to what you imagined? Read on to learn how to submit your own questions.


I just finished my first year as a research associate (and clinical psychologist) in a PM&R department. Unfortunately, it’s not what I imagined it to be; I’d rather be getting more clinical time with a secondary emphasis on research. What can I do?—Submitted by ACRM Early Career Member

Nora JohnsonRESPONSE from ACRM Mentor, Nora J. Johnson, MBA, MS, PsyD

Dr. Johnson is a Clinical Neuropsychologist, Clinical Practices of the University of Pennsylvania

Your dilemma is not uncommon. After all, when we first enter the work force, it’s hard to know what we want and how to achieve it. The good news is that your PM&R department ought to have clinical opportunities for you, so that switching your career focus may mean a three-pronged course of action:

  1. Informally ask a knowledgeable colleague or two in your department how a request to change work emphasis might be received. If they signal a go-ahead.
  2. Book time with your supervisor/manager(s) to request a change in your career track for more clinical work with a secondary emphasis on research. Enter this meeting with a well thought out plan of the hours you’d like to work in each area, why the research area won’t suffer with your reduced hours, and most importantly, how your change could benefit the department.
  3. Emerge from your negotiations with a detailed agreement about your new responsibilities, how it might positively or negatively impact your future in the department, and a flexible attitude.

If your request is denied, maintain a positive outlook, and gradually (and privately) begin an external search for a job more suited to your focus. The trick is two-pronged: always focus on your career 5 to 10 years into the future, projecting what steps you should take to obtain future goals, and always view your actions from the employer’s point of view.


Dr. Brenda SwartzRESPONSE from ACRM Mentor, Brenda Swartz, PsyD

Dr. Swartz is the Lead Neuropsychologist of Outpatient Neurological Rehabilitation; Director of the Post-Concussion /mTBI Symptom Management Program University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute; and Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Review your initial job description. How does it differentiate between clinical and research time (e.g., 70% research, 30% clinical)? It is important to decipher whether your expectations for the position are not being met, or if the department is not providing the types of experiences described in your job description. Also remember, if you are in a grant-funded position, expectations for the position are likely determined by the grant proposal, and this should be reviewed as well.

Once clarified, draft an average weekly schedule (e.g., allocating how much time is spent where, and where you may have some gaps to allow for more clinical time). Include: Are you meeting all of the research requirements for the position? How much time would be feasible for you to allocate to clinical work without fear of not meeting the research expectation? Review this with your immediate supervisor to determine if there is a workable solution for all (especially if the job description does include more clinical time than you are receiving). Good luck!

If you have a question you would like to submit for the Ask the Mentor column, or if you would like to serve as a mentor for the column, please email the co-chairs of the ACRM Mentoring Task Force, Brooks Wingo and Meghan Geiss