When September Comes
Sometimes the most difficult things for me to write about on the blog are the most exciting things that are happening in my life. It feels overwhelming to try to sum up several years of hard work, excitement, sacrifices, learning, and disappointments in just a few paragraphs. But since April, I have been thinking about all of the things that will change when September comes, at times feeling relieved that it was a long way away, and at times, feeling like September would never arrive. But today is the 1st of September. And at the end of this month, I will become a Trainee Clinical Psychologist.
Now, that may not sound very exciting, but for me, the past few years have been largely focused on making a career change.
From early on in my PhD, I had some doubts about whether I wanted a purely academic/research career, and I spent a lot of time feeling very miserable and regretting spending so much time and energy working toward something I no longer wanted. I felt trapped, I felt disappointed, and I felt like a disappointment to the people who believed in me and helped me achieve what I thought was my dream. On top of this, I had moved far away from all of my family and friends to do the PhD research that I was convinced was the research I wanted to do forever, and I felt very selfish and very lonely. I still remember the relief I felt when I told my parents that I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish my PhD, and they told me that they would support me no matter what I chose. However, I decided to carry on, and although I’m glad I did, all of these doubts and regrets and guilt made it harder and harder for me to feel inspired to do my work, and it felt like the harder I tried, the harder it became for me to concentrate and do my work to the best of my ability. Luckily, I was able to keep doing enough so that my supervisors were satisfied with my performance, and I finished my write-up on time and somehow managed to do quite well. However, the whole time, I felt like a fraud and I felt like at any moment, someone would realise that I really didn’t know what I was doing.
In spite of having wonderful support from my family, lots of amazing friends, and Ben, the stress of dealing with this every day, and not managing the stress in a proactive way, led me to develop IBS, which was another source of stress as I went to doctors and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I had to totally change my diet, and I knew that I also needed to re-think my career.
In November 2010, I submitted my PhD, and felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
And in December, I had my viva (oral examination), and I passed. Another weight was lifted.
I was working to quite a tight deadline, as I needed to finish my PhD in order to get a new visa to stay in England. After my viva, we went back to the US for a wonderful Christmas break and celebrated with my family, and then as soon as my corrections were accepted, I got my final copy bound and submitted, and Ben and I went to my visa appointment in Liverpool, where we were incredibly relieved when I was given a visa to stay in the UK for two more years.
We were only away for one night, but we did a lot of thinking and talking, and once we knew that I could stay in England without my visa tied to my PhD (as it had been previously) or any particular job, we were finally able to think of life post-PhD. We decided that we both really needed some time to think about what we wanted to do for our careers, and we both really wanted to spend some time with my family in the US. We decided that Ben would hand in his notice for his job, we would hand in our notice for our sweet little house we were renting and move our things into Ben’s parents’ house (thank you Frank and Moi), and we would spend some time travelling and visiting my family in the US and doing some career research and job hunting from there.
We packed up our little home and closed the door for the last time…and set off on our next adventure, with a lot of enthusiasm and also a lot of fear about the challenges which lay ahead.
The next year was exciting, fun, stressful, scary, and very humbling in many different ways. We were so lucky to have time with my family and to do some amazing trips with them, but it wasn’t easy to go from having our own house to living with parents again, even though both Ben’s parents and my parents were amazing and did everything possible to make us feel at home. I missed being able to cook whatever we wanted for dinner when we wanted it and to put in a load of laundry when it was convenient for me.
And after initially looking at research jobs and having some success, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to apply for clinical psychology training. And in spite of having a PhD in psychology, I found myself applying for psychology jobs with salaries half the size of what I had been looking at…and not even getting interviews.
I applied and applied with no luck. I worked on my application and tried to get some volunteer experience. I hit a new low when I was turned down for volunteering positions because I had too much experience and when I wasn’t even short-listed for a clinical neuropsychology job because I already had a PhD, but was simultaneously being turned down for other jobs because I didn’t have enough experience.
And I hit my lowest low when I fought to get an interview after initially having my application disregarded for being a non-EU citizen (there was a mis-understanding about my visa status), and then was offered the job and accepted it, only to receive a phone call later to tell me that the offer had to be withdrawn because I didn’t have a UK driving license, even though I had made this clear in my application and interview and my potential supervisor was happy with this. I knew then that I really had to work toward getting my UK driving license, but didn’t feel that I had the time or money for lessons at the time.
I kept applying, and after spending countless hours applying and a small fortune on transport costs to get to interviews and being turned down each time, I went to my interview for my current job. I felt like the interview had gone really well, and I finally felt like I had a chance with this job…and after a terrible scare when I thought they didn’t mean to interview me, I received a phone call offering me the job when I was on the train home.
I was thrilled and relieved. Not only was I excited about the job, but I was also excited to have an income again and to get our own place. I was sad that we would have to leave Manchester and move to another new city, but it felt like a fresh start, and I am lucky to have a very supportive boyfriend, who moved with me and helped make our new place feel like a home.
At the same time that I was volunteering and applying for jobs, I had also been applying for the UK clinical psychology training courses, and soon after starting my job, I was offered interviews for two of the clinical psychology training programs that I had applied for. I was very happy and learning a lot in my new job, but I was very excited that I might be able to progress with my training and start the next phase the following September, and I knew how lucky I was to even make it to the interview stage. Several months of preparation and interviews came and went, and in the end, I was not offered a place on either of the training programs. Initially, I was happy with this, as I felt that I had a lot to learn in my job, but eventually, reality set in and I realised I would have to go through applications and interviews all over again with no guarantee that I would get a place the following year.
I worked hard to learn as much as I could both in and out of work, I took driving lessons and signed up to take my driving test…and thankfully, I managed to pass, partly thanks to a wonderful instructor.
And I applied for clinical psychology training programs again, feeling far more stressed about each stage this year than last.
I had an interview at Oxford, and was placed on a reserve list there. That felt like another major set-back, as I desperately wanted some reassurance that I would get a place somewhere this year, and I had put a huge amount of pressure on myself to get a place there so that Ben would have more work options when he finished his MBA, which he has been doing for the past year. When my Sheffield interview came, it felt like it might be my last chance, and after a bad experience of the Sheffield interview last year, I was a nervous wreck. I wore a different outfit from the year before, tried to be more casual and to relax, and I surprised myself by feeling like the interview went quite well.
The problem is, I knew how tough the competition was, and I knew that anyone who made it to the interview stage could be offered a place. I felt confident that I would either be offered a place or a reserve list place, but I desperately wanted it to be a place.
I can’t describe the relief I felt when I called the department first thing Monday morning, and after what felt like an eternity of busy signals while lots of us were getting through, I reached someone who told me that I had been offered a place! It felt even more real when my letter arrived the next day.
I went along to one more interview in Southampton, but really didn’t mind when I received an outright rejection from there. I finally (almost) knew that I was going to become a clinical psychologist. I say almost because until just a few weeks ago, there were still some questions surrounding my place, as my current visa expires halfway through the course, and I was concerned that this could cause problems. I was right, and it was very scary to think that there was some question about whether or not I was going to be able to start the course after all, but I have now received official confirmation that I can start….later this month!
It feels like I have had quite a few adventures recently. In about a couple of days, it will be my six year anniversary of living in England. In that time, I have met my other (better) half Ben, completed a PhD, made lots of wonderful friends, visited some amazing places, taken a year off and changed career directions, moved six times, and now, I am going to be starting the training program that I have been working toward for the past three years.
In a way, this feels like the end of a long, tiring journey, but in another way, this is only the beginning.
Four weeks from tomorrow, I will be starting in my new role, and after lots of ups and downs and hopes and fears and stress and excitement getting to this stage, I am looking forward to the next three years of training…which will, no doubt, be filled with more ups and downs and hopes and fears and stress and excitement. In four weeks, I will finally be a Trainee Clinical Psychologist, working in the NHS and starting my second doctorate – this time a professional doctorate rather than a PhD – in Clinical Psychology.
I know that the next three years will be challenging, emotional, exhausting, and overwhelming, and in some ways, I am terrified…but this is what I have wanted for a long time, and I am hoping to cherish the experience as much as I possibly can along the way.