Inspired by and drawn from just a fragment of the dynamic people in my life “Getting to Know A…” is my way of introducing you to a variety of professionals who are excelling in their various fields. Some follow a traditional path after finding their inspiration in unexpected places. Others carved out their own non-traditional careers. What they have in common is they are all incredibly passionate about what they do. My hope is something in these inspires you, the readers, as well.
Since the subjects of these pieces live far and wide, I had initially sent each of them a personalized questionnaire with the intention of drafting them into articles. Their answers were just so dang good there was no way I wanted to change them. I decided, with permission to leave them as is.
Tell me first what you do – the title and what you actually do.
I am a Doctoral Candidate in Counselling Psychology – this means I am a graduate student doing my PhD in Counselling Psychology. I am in my third year of a 4-5 year program. So far, I have finished my candidacy exams (which is why I am called a “candidate”), and I am currently working on my dissertation research.
My research is focused on excessive eating, Internet use, and gambling. Specifically, I am examining the micro practices, or small behaviors, and conversations with family members that keep excessive eating, Internet use, and gambling going (or help them stop).
What drew you to Psychology?
As are most stories of life, mine seems to have taken a winding route along my journey!
During my MSc in Health Promotion studies I was working on a project helping psychiatric patients quit smoking. I was awestruck by one man in particular. He had schizophrenia, smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day, was actively suffering from psychotic episodes, and experiencing wave-like cravings for hours (rather than the typical 30 minutes). Still, he quit smoking. When I asked him what he was planning to do with the money he saved, he said he was going to treat his family to dinner, and buy three VCRs! I think it was here that I decided that I wanted a career helping people, and became hopeful that almost anything is possible.
I worked in government role for awhile, teaching health professionals how to help their patients quit smoking. I really enjoyed this job, however I missed working with actual clients day to day, helping them get through difficult situations.
I came to research gambling and excessive behaviors through work I was a part of. It was there I became interested in how people talk about these behaviors. For example, how is gambling both an addiction and a fun activity people do in Las Vegas? How do gamblers talk about gambling? That was my MSc thesis topic.
Later, when I was working as a family therapist, I would often see families fight over family members’ over-engagement in things such as Internet use. I noticed parents arguing with teenagers about Internet use and video games, which just seemed to lead teenagers wanting to play more video games! I was intrigued, which led to my current research topic.
Is this what you originally went to university for? If not what was it for?
Not at all! Back to that winding road! I completed a BA in psychology. At the time I was working in nursing doing health research, which I really enjoyed, so I went and did an MSc in Health Promotion studies. When I decided I wanted to work clients in a clinical setting, I had to go back to school and complete another MSc, this time in Counselling Psychology, and then now a PhD. I must really love school!
Who were your biggest mentors/influences in your career?
I think there has been a mix of really inspiring clients who have helped me want to continue to work with clients who are struggling to overcome difficulties in their lives, and professional mentors and professors who have provided me with research opportunities leading to experiences, publications, and funding helping me to continue on with my studies.
From a personal perspective, how does how does your work inform your life outside the classroom/office?
My PhD research and therapy practice has changed my life immensely! My work with clients has changed my perspective on life, how I see my own problems and difficulties, as well as influencing the kind of person I want to be. The academic stuff has really provided me with new ways to see the world, to understand my experiences, and my relationships with others. I think I have created an image of the kind of person I want to be in all facets of my life.
What’s a pretty cool thing you get to do regularly that someone who ISN’T in your position would get to do?
I have had some pretty amazing travel opportunities with my research. The cool thing about conducting research is, beyond all the work, you get to share it with others at conferences. I have presented at conferences all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and this year I plan to go to Norway and Crete! These conferences are amazing places to meet people with similar and different passions for research and practice. There are lots of presentations where you learn new things, develop your ideas, and practice sharing your thoughts and theories. I have also met life-long friends at conferences. from Berlin and Puerto Rico. I am able to have a pretty diverse and flexible schedule since my office can often be anywhere. I can read for my dissertation or analyze my data at home in my yoga pants, or at a coffee shop. Other days I am conducting interviews on campus, or presenting at international conferences in a suit!
Finally, you can focus on, think about, and spend time doing something you love. Not many people see their job as something they feel passionately about or love to do every day. I am very grateful for being able to do exactly what I love to do!
Disclaimer: There are certainly crummy parts to my job such as boring readings, tedious transcribing, and unusual never-ending hours!
Does your life inform your work? If so, how?
Absolutely! I feel I am constantly evolving as a person, as a researcher, and as a therapist. Having dinner with a friend and talking about a movie or television show we recently watched often leads to ideas about research, or writing or new ways of thinking about human nature or interactions between people.
How do you separate your life from your work?
I think I’m pretty integrated. I strive to be consistent in my life as a student and as a person. I do find that I need to keep a good balance in my life. I make sure that I spend lots of time doing things I enjoy such as visiting friends and teaching fitness classes (something I do part-time)
What are the drawbacks, if any? What advice would you give someone considering this as a career?
Being a graduate student can be financially challenging so funding is helpful. It is important to be looking for, and working towards, scholarship opportunities and research jobs to help support your research, tuition, and living expenses. It is also important to create balance in your life, to make time for activities that keep you healthy and happy. Physical activity, lots of sleep, interacting with friends and family, volunteer wok, and outdoor activities re-energize you and make you a better student/researcher/therapist!