Grad Story #29


Grad Story #29


Grant Williams

PhD, Counseling Psychology




Where are you from?

I’m originally from Kansas City. I’ve lived on both the Kansas and Missouri sides. I did my undergraduate and Master’s degrees at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.


Tell me about your Master’s degree.

My Master’s was a counseling program and I emphasized in Couples and Families counseling. It was more of a practitioner degree. I did a practicum and internship which really prepared me for the field. But one of the reasons I wanted to do the Ph.D. was to develop my research skills. My Master’s gave me a good foundation for being a good clinical worker in my counseling skills, but not research oriented.


What drew you to the Counseling Psychology program at UND?

Well there were a lot of things, actually. One of them was my advisor, Dr. Cindy Juntunen. She’s amazing and really active in the APA (American Psychology Association). Her interests and mine really coincided. I am really excited about vocational psychology and she is a big player in that field.

Also, I have some family history here in North Dakota. My mom stayed up here when my dad was in Vietnam. My grandfather actually taught Geology here and in Bismarck. He was a “wildcatter”, evidently, and was in the oil fields a lot. He said the problem at that time was they knew the oil was there they just couldn’t get to it.


What was your first winter like?

You know, my wife doesn’t like snow! And our last year in Kansas City we got more snow than here but it is usually gone within a day or two. But once it comes here in North Dakota it pretty much stays. That first winter I liked the snow. - I liked getting snowed in with my family - that was fun for me. I was offered admission to a school in Florida as well as UND, but I am actually glad that I came here. I tell everybody because if I were in Florida, I’d probably be learning how to scuba dive and sail and would be on the beach all the time. Here, I do a lot of studying and get a lot done.


Can you talk a little about your research?

I am researching ageism and how racism and ageism affect employment interviews. I am just getting ready to present my dissertation to my committee…fingers crossed. So that is really exciting. I am going to be looking at employment managers and polling them for information by giving them a couple of different scales to measure each construct. It’s a population that psychology as a whole doesn’t look at very often.


You are working on your dissertation proposal?

Yes, I’ve done a lot of the writing. You have to get your introduction and start on your methods before you do your proposal. Then, that’s where the committee takes a sledgehammer to it and tells you all the things that you need to work on. But also that your project is a good idea and that makes it stronger of course. It’s just a little nerve wracking. After that, I can start on the data collection.


Is everyone on your committee from Counseling Psychology or do you have people from different departments?

My department requires that there be one person from Psychology, not just Counseling Psychology. There also must be one member-at-large (from outside the discipline). My understanding is that they are there to make sure that everything is on the level. They may not understand the subject material, but they understand the procedures and make sure everything is going the way it should be.


When did you start at UND?

This is the end of my second year here and I will be done with the majority of my coursework in December, which is a really fast timetable. I am starting to feel the burn. It’s at the end of the semester when all the fun stuff starts with the writing. But the program is great for that and allowing me to push through rather quickly and to go at my own pace – (so long as they approve my dissertation!).


You have a graduate assistantship in Career Services here at UND, which sounds like great fit for your research.

Absolutely. I was really fortunate to be a graduate assistant there, the people are amazing and it’s a wonderful opportunity to help students. Which I really love doing. I think Career Service offices are the biggest secrets on campus, which is strange because they are so helpful! I mean a student can walk in and get expert help on how to find a job, making a resume and even get hooked up with an internship that could really help launch their careers. It’s an amazing resource for students and the people that work in the office are an amazing bunch of folks!


What kinds of opportunities have you experienced at UND since you arrived?

There are lots of opportunities to expand my professionalism and professional or clinical portfolio. But because of my family obligations I have to be selective of what I take on. My situation is a little different from some of the other students because I have a wife and two young children. I have a 9 month old and a 3 year old, so I have to be selective about what else I take on.


You speak about having a young family and a spouse. How do you find a balance?

It’s a great question. My program is amazing because they have allowed me to be what I need to be so long as I meet the requirements. And the requirements are intense because it is a doctoral program. But the faculty allows me to meet them in ways that I can. So I block off time. From 5pm-7pm is when the kids get home and its bath time. It’s where I need and want to be. I think there is a narrow age range when kids want you around and pretty soon that is gone. And you’ve got a little time to make a difference in their lives and that is really important to me. I just move heaven and earth to be there as much as I can during that time. And on the weekends as well and that means a lot of sleepless nights and missing naptimes. I study during their naptimes. And if it is really intense I may have to take a day to go to my office and study all day while my wife takes care of the kids. It’s tough, but that is what you have to do. Like I said that the program has been amazing to allow me the space to be there. For my family’s and my own sake I have to be at home from 5pm-7pm and I’m not sure a lot of programs would do that.


This is a very competitive program. Give me a piece of advice that you would offer to a prospective student for the Counseling Psychology program.

Absolutely, and becoming more so with North Dakota being the only state that is making money right now. The one piece of advice for someone in the program is that whatever you take on: follow through on it. It is really easy to be blinded by all the fun and amazing opportunities that get thrown at you and to say yes to lots of things, then suddenly you are underneath a mountain of stuff you need to do. Be selective about what you accept and when you accept it, make sure that you finish it and follow through. From my experience, professors and faculty will respect that. Even if you don’t take on everything, they will appreciate that you take things seriously.


You mentioned your advisor, Dr. Cindy Juntunen, can you speak about the importance of mentorship and the importance of having a good fit with faculty?

It’s been top notch in my experience. I’ve been very fortunate in my advisors. As I said before, Cindy is amazing, and I say all the time that it’s their world and I just live in in. But because of that, a big part of what I came here for is mentorship. That personality match is really important. Something a lot of people gave me advice on before I came was that you will not change grad school but grad school will change you. That is part of the mentorship process. Cindy has been amazing - she has been very accommodating with my children and my wife and in exchange I work my tail off for her. I think that is kind of the deal that we didn’t really discuss, but that is how it worked out for us.


Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

Currently the federal government will do federal loan reimbursements of $10,000 or $20,000 a year for a certain number of years every time you work for them, so I plan to repay my debt to society or UND doing that. Afterwards I would be really interested in teaching.


Have you had an opportunity teach while you have been here?

Yeah, its another great thing about this program. If you are interested in something, they’ll throw an opportunity or two your way. That is once again one of the difficulties because there are so many great opportunities and there is only so much time. I have an interest in teaching and so right away the first year I was teaching UND’s undergraduate career course for undecided students. It was two 8-week courses a semester for two semesters and I was a GTA through Career Services so I could use the office’s resources.


Anything I haven’t asked you that you want to share?

Before I came here I was working full-time job, started a private practice, and was writing for a newspaper, and teaching. So you know, UND forced me to slow down. The pace of life here really allowed me to slow down and focus on our family and what I am doing. It was difficult at first but now it’s really great. We went back to Kansas City, we couldn’t watch the news, we were so inoculated against the violence. We come back here and WalMart and Target are 15 minutes away. It’s a really nice city.

Another great thing about this program is its rural emphasis. It is something we don’t talk about very much. There is a great push in psychology to reach rural communities because there is a definite need. I cannot imagine a more rural place than around here. So it has been a great opportunity for me, coming from Kansas City, there is almost 3 times as many people in Kansas City as there are in the entire state of North Dakota. It has been an interesting transition and I have learned an immense amount. And this program has been great about focusing on its rural communities around us and learning about rural issues. And it follows that up with practicums and internships in the rural areas.

In our program we have an amazing school counselor program that is a distance program, and from what I know, that is hard to find. Dr Dory Walker does a great job at servicing those students, visiting the sites, and making it possible for there to be a counseling presence in some of these rural communities.


Susan Caraher


The Graduate School


15 May, 2012

Original Format





Susan Caraher, “Grad Story #29,” Grad Stories, accessed July 21, 2018,