I had always prided myself on the fact that I lived in the present – not reflecting on the past or worrying about the future. But there comes a point where I had to ask the question that everyone asks – What did I want to be when I grow up? After fifteen or so years of facing (and avoiding) this question with a lack of an answer, I finally felt the price of my reluctance as I entered my senior year without any plans for post-graduation. My brother said that I could spend time exploring different fields, but that I should probably decide soon. My parents told me that they could see me as a doctor. My research mentor advised that I think about not what I want to do, but what I don’t want to do. The nice lady standing next to me in line at the DMV said that I should talk to a lot of people about their careers to get a sense of what to do.
Which is exactly what I did. In order to understand whether I wanted to do a certain career, I had to put myself in it. I joined a clinical psychology lab under Dr. Susan Girdler, where I helped assist in a project that looked at the correlation between menstruation cycles and levels of suicidal ideation in young teenagers. I worked on a research project co-investigated by Dr. Rodriguez-Romaguerra and Dr. Zannas, where I took over a project investigating COVID-19 biomarker stress on healthcare workers. I shadowed medical doctors in small clinics, observing the way they interacted with patients, their advice, and how much of a connection was made. I interned at KKJ Services and read psychological evaluations, which gave me insight into the intersection of life and mental illness. I interviewed multiple people working in healthcare consulting to figure out why PowerPoint skills are worth developing. After talking to so many people and experiencing different settings, I realized something. I had met passionate people, people who could spend hours on end talking about how much they love their jobs and what they do, but I had never felt that drive myself. I realized that my interests came from listening to other people, the stories that they had to offer, or how their opinions reflected their upbringings, shaped their behaviors, and how they interacted with their world. I gained my inspiration from people, which is why I knew that I wanted to choose a career in the clinical setting.
My soul searching continued by applying to the Gil Internship, where I wanted to experience the workplace setting of therapy. I chose to intern at 3-C Family Services under Dr. Lori Schweickert, a psychiatrist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. My task in the lab was to run in-person sessions of an ongoing research project involving the correlation between minors with ADHD/reading disabilities and their eye-tracking capabilities, which could provide insights into why children with ADHD are more likely to have a harder time reading and keeping track of words on a page. The sessions include walking the participant through a series of eye-tracking exams conducted through a virtual reality headset and letting them take surveys asking questions about their ADHD tendencies. I have also spent time scribing for Dr. Schweickert, where I can experience what an intake session is like and what the patient/practitioner relationship looks like. I can also detailed questions about how Dr. Schweickert makes the decisions that she does when prescribing medication based on the patient’s history. I have also created timelines of a person’s medication history to create a summary of their medications and the reasons they failed. I also learned about Individualized Education Programs from the educational consultant who works in the clinic and how to score an MMPI personality test. During my time, I worked on various lit searches for clinicians, including the effects of the antipsychotic drug Latuda on pregnant women, potential research on group therapy about reintegration into society from residential programs, a product called Mightier that is supposed to teach children how to regulate emotions, and an app called PEERS that teaches autistic young people social conventions.
My time at 3-C Family was incredibly eye-opening. First of all, it was already different breaking out of the college bubble and experiencing the workplace setting, something that I had never had exposure to before. I gained new knowledge on specific medications and their interactions with different populations and saw with my own eyes the differences between a variety of careers in the private practice setting. The value of working in person at 3-C Family did not come from the basic knowledge I gained, but from the conversations I had with the other clinicians in the office. I’ve had some great conversations on the value of pursuing a PsyD, the big differences between psychiatry and psychology, the differences of working in community mental health and private practice, the types of populations that people see, and more. While my primary mentor was a child and adult psychiatrist, I also made an effort to take advantage of being in a private practice setting and gain knowledge from psychologists with PhDs and PsyDs, therapists (LCMHCs), psychologists who did evaluative testing, and front desk staff. It was incredibly insightful to hear a range of perspectives on different issues, especially during case conferences when clinicians would ask for opinions about some tough cases. It also made me work on my networking skills, and reaching out to clinicians to talk about similar interests.
I really valued a space where people could talk and discuss their problems and gain insights from each other, and it made me reflect on what I wanted in a career as well. While I might not have locked down on a future path, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of private practice and hope that one day I could work in an environment like 3-C Family Services! I now am very invested in going down the path of psychiatry, as I liked the thought process behind learning about a person’s history and trying to determine which medications could address the biological problems that a client might have. As the semester is rapidly coming to an end, I am able to take some time to reflect on the valuable experiences I gained during this internship. I am equally grateful for the opportunities that the Gil Program gave me and appreciated meeting in a setting with other high-achieving students in the fields of neuroscience and psychology and learning about what they wanted to pursue as well. While I have not settled on a career, I have narrowed it down, and am excited to continue my journey of self-discovery!