I am teetering on the brink of the great unknown: life after traineeship.
Sure, I've faced major transitions before. The road to becoming a psychologist is paved with them. At times, we wearily refer to these transitions or milestones as "hoops" we have to jump through or "hurdles" we have to go over. However they are characterized, each transition point presents a unique set of challenges and calls upon us to make decisions that shape our lives and careers.
CONTEMPLATING GRADUATE SCHOOL
It starts before we even step foot in graduate school. Some begin the process from an undergraduate psychology program. Others return to pursue their doctorate after working with a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field. My journey, like many other "nontraditional students," was quite different. After many unsatisfying years as a certified public accountant, I chose to change professions, which required taking undergraduate courses to meet graduate school prerequisite requirements.
Regardless of their paths, every future graduate student initially faces a host of decisions about interests, program type and training model, and must consider how these things fit with our personal roles and family responsibilities, not to mention how we are going to pay for it all.
Once we have applied, been accepted and started our programs, we are confronted with countless other questions, such as: What courses should I take? Which practicum experiences should I pursue? What area do I want to do my research in? Who will my advisers and mentors be? Time limitations force us to set priorities and determine ways to balance academic obligations with family roles and self-care. In addition, pressure for early specialization leads many to narrow their interests and pursue in-depth coursework and training in a specific area. For those in professional psychology, this pressure continues to build as we research possible internship sites, choosing to apply to those that seem to best fit our career goals. Furthermore, going on internship often requires significant personal transitions by uprooting significant others and children to move to a new city or, for some couples, living apart for a year.
On internship itself, many trainees are expected to choose and cycle through rotations, resulting in even more transitions. During my VA internship, I completed four rotations and greatly appreciated the variety of learning experiences. However, I often found that as soon as I felt like I finally knew what I was doing on a rotation, it was time to switch! And before you even settle into your internship, you have to start thinking about and applying for your next position. Since most states unfortunately still require a certain number of supervised postdoctoral hours for licensure eligibility, I decided that the easiest way to meet that requirement was through a formal postdoctoral fellowship. This of course required more decisions about what area of specialty training to pursue and where to pursue it, given the daunting possibility of forcing my family to move yet again for a one-year commitment. And then there is graduation and the transition to being referred to as "doctor." While that one has arguably been my favorite, I still haven't quite gotten used to it.
TAKING THE LEAP
While there are myriad decisions as we move through training, we make those decisions within a structured training sequence in which the next "hoop" or "hurdle" is clearly delineated. On my chosen path, postdoctoral training marks the end of that sequence. Now, to my delight and dismay, the next step is largely undefined. As disconcerting as that may be, I take comfort in the wisdom I have gathered along the way. I've discovered that I know more than I generally give myself credit for and still have much more to learn. I've seen that solid education and training, good interpersonal skills and a little bit of dumb luck can open a lot of doors. Most comforting of all, I've learned that few choices are irreversible. At times, we have everything we need to make an informed decision. Most of the time, however, the best we can do is make a decision based on what we do know, close our eyes and take a leap. As for me, I'll be the one smiling and crossing my fingers on the way down.