Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is growing by leaps and bounds every year. This means training programs are in greater demand than ever. With hundreds of Verified Course Sequences now available for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, knowing where to even begin can seem overwhelming.
One of the most important things about grad school, and picking a program, is your mentor. In particular, the match in interests between you and your mentor is essential. Closely aligned interests mean that he/she will be able to give you a rich learning experience in your coursework, field experience, and research.
This is especially the case when you are carrying out your Master’s thesis. The latter will have you spend 1-2 years deeply involved in the review of research literature on a particular topic, and carrying out research to extend that literature further. The thesis is a time of close involvement with your mentor.
Unlike your undergraduate days, graduate school is more like a job than school. Though most of your classes will have multiple textbooks and dive much deeper into the content than before, your classes will likely be in the evenings. You will also complete the Verified Course Sequence as outlined by the BACB. A uniThe majority of your time will be spent outside of the classroom in practicum and/or research
Though not all programs require a practicum, the BACB does require that BCBAs have supervision hours in order to become certified. What this means is that either through your program, or through an outside agency, you must find the time to gain supervised hours. In other words, you will be applying and using behavioral principles in real life as you learn about in them in the classroom.
In grad school, time management is key. You won’t have a lot of time outside of your program for other things. Most days will likely be spent gaining supervised hours, while evenings and weekends will be devoted to coursework and readings.
How one ABA agency supports students.
Because ABA is an in-demand field, some ABA agencies offer support and scholarships for staff who wish to pursue a masters in the field. I had the opportunity to talk with the team at Verbal Beginnings to hear about how they have created a supportive environment for students as they pursue their Master’s degree and BCBA credential. They noted that Verbal Beginnings is “in partnership with several research universities” which helps position them as a hub for ABA research. For students gaining their practicum hours at Verbal Beginnings, this affords a number of research opportunities and helps the agency stay on top of the latest developments in the field.
Additionally, Verbal Beginnings supports a cohort of students as they go through a hybrid online/onsite program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In describing how Verbal Beginnings has enriched their work environment to support the cohort, Ging noted “the staff get together to study after hours and complete assignments in a supportive environment””. As an organization, Verbal Beginnings likes to support their staff by posting creative learning supplements such as ABA vocabulary crossword puzzles.
For those seeking a work environment which supports their educational desires, and can also help them fulfill supervision hours, seeking an ABA agency which provides cohort opportunities, such as Verbal Beginnings, may be an appealing option.
No matter what program you choose, a good ABA program will include opportunities for research and supervision. And, mostly importantly, will stay up-to-date with the latest trends of this ever changing field.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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