Friday, November 16, 2012

Career Paths IV - New Clinical Psychologist

  At the end of the undergrad education, the grad school, the post-doc/internship, and/or the residency/rotations, there is a job. This woman, a clinical psychologist, recently made it to that holy grail. So here are her thoughts on getting there, and on some the challenges along the way and at this new position. Thanks for sharing with me, awesome Dr. woman!

When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  An Olympic gymnast.

How did you decide to start on your current career? Are you happy with your current job in relation to what you hoped for?
  First of all, my current career title is (almost licensed) pediatric psychologist, which means I work with children and their families to improve their mental health and am especially interested in supporting children with chronic illnesses, such as cancer.
  But, you asked, “how did I get started?”  Well, I always loved kids, and I am also one of those strange people that loves being in a hospital.  I was a candy striper in high school and found it especially entertaining to carry around a box of bones while I studied for my high school anatomy exams.  At the age of 18, I had the rare opportunity to work in a women’s clinic.  I actually turned in my application with the hopes that maybe they would let me shuffle papers in the front office of the clinic and it would be more interesting than my other summer job of working at the mall.  Instead, they hired and trained me to counsel women prior to and during abortions.  It was amazing to be present in such a pivotal moment in women’s lives.
  I then went to college determined to become a physician, but I failed to even make it past the first two weeks of my introduction to chemistry course.  I can still remember sitting in my professor’s office bawling and saying that my future would be forever ruined if I could not pass her class.  She advised me to drop the course.  About a year later, I discovered psychology.
  Happiness is a whole other question all together.  I recently met a young woman who, in essence, said “why should I try to be happy when I need to focus on being successful?”  I wanted to cry.  She is only in high school.
  I can’t decide if I’m happy.  I’m one month into my first “real, adult” job.  My early career position as a pediatric psychologist in a leading children’s hospital.  The job I feel like I’ve dedicated the last 7-10 years of my life to achieve, and I am asking myself if this is really what I wanted.  I’m not sure 60-70 hours a week is really what I dreamed of.

Did/do you have to worry about when/if to have children?
   I worry about it all the time. I want children, and I plan on having children no questions asked.  However, I also dream of having children at the right time in my career – whenever the hell that is.  I am lucky to have found a partner during the year when I bucked tradition and actually took time off between residency and fellowship, but really in many ways, I do believe that was luck because I’m not sure when else I would have had time (and energy) to truly date.  If I had not found him, I would be terrified of that dreaded 35th birthday.  I’m still wondering how to get a proposal, wedding, and two kids in before it. 

What role does/did your spouse or partner, if you have one, play in your career development?
  As noted above, I feel very lucky to have found a partner that I hope to start a family with someday.  His support for my passion to work and help children and families is unwavering and greatly appreciated.  But, I know I can’t ask him to accept me coming home from work at 7 or 8 at night (sometimes with still more work to do) once we have children because I wouldn’t find it acceptable for him to do that either.  Being with him is helping redefine my priorities, but I still don’t know when I can make positive changes toward that elusive work/life balance.

Did you ever experience a ‘glass ceiling’ or discrimination as a woman? Are you willing to share your experience?
  I had a graduate school professor who was a chauvinistic ...(insert several other adjectives here).  He’s not really worth mentioning further.

What does ‘having it all’ mean to you personally? Do you feel like you can/have achieve(d) it?
  I think it’s pretty clear from my previous answers that I’m thinking about this almost daily as I approach my 30th birthday and realize what it really means to be an early career psychologist who also wants to have a family.  I’m not sure my mother’s insistence that women can “have it all” was such great advice given the pressure that it results in. In fact this article (Ed.'s note: see my discussion here) seems to resonate well with my current internal debates.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that I may want to only work this job until I start a family and then find something that allows me to work (gasp) part time.  But, I still go back and forth on it multiple times a day.
  My partner just walked in while I was writing this, and although I find some of his opinions to be a bit of a doom's day perspective, he makes several good points.  Mainly, that the systems in place don’t allow us to do it “all”.  It’s even hard to date, get married, whatever without long distance relationships and cross country moves, especially if you plan on pursuing a career that requires graduate school. His elaboration on this point is that we are taking the most talented women in America and making it impossible for them to procreate by not allowing women to build social networks and supportive relationships, which generally requires living in the same place for a while (I’ve moved across the country 4 times in the last 4 years.)  He would also add something about how we are genetically diminishing our pool of future brilliant women which will have a negative impact on the entire world in the future…but again that gets a little too conspiracy theory/dooms day for my tastes.  Or, it could just be his love for the movie Idiocracy.  Maybe he makes a good Darwinian point though?

How can we encourage women to pursue their dream jobs?
  I recently had a high school student come into my office as part of a mentoring program and ask questions about my educational background and what it’s like to be a successful career woman.  At the end of the interview, she wanted to know if there was anything else she should be aware of.  I told her she did not ask a single question during the interview about what it takes to have life outside of work or what the sacrifices of success might be.  I think as the next generation of mentors, we need to revamp our mothers’ feminist mottos of if you work hard enough, you can have it all…and start encouraging young women to ask, what parts of “all” are the most important to them.  In other words, I don’t think we should just focus on encouraging women to pursue their dream jobs, but their dream lives.

Here’s your chance to give a shout out to the teachers, mentors, and supporters in your life. Who played a pivotal role in your professional development?
  I had another chemistry professor who took me under her wing after that awful day of sobbing in her colleague’s office and modeled for me what it means to find your own path.  Although I heard others critique her lifestyle and question her passion for her field, I saw her develop an inspiring teaching style that resulted in national awards and simultaneously advocate for time off following the adoption of her children and changes in her work schedule so that she could spend more time every week and every day playing an active role in her children’s lives.  She not only taught me; she inspired me.

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