Thursday, 6 October 2011

To PhD or not to PhD, that is the question

At 22, I'm quite young to be starting a PhD. I'm also quite young to be certain that this is, without a shadow of a doubt, what I want to do. How have I come to this decision, or this certainty, you might ask. Let's just say, I went from A to B with a detour around a whole lot of other letters.

When I left school at 17, my motivation for going to university was "Let's move out!" rather than "Let's get educated". I had decided to apply for Law, because I figured you earned a lot of money doing that, I could argue for a living and you had to memorise lots of things, which I happen to have a fortunate ability for. Like I said, clearly my motivations were pure and honest. However, meeting my boyfriend in January 2006 prior to my Higher exams that May, meant suddenly I had something much more exciting than revision to take up my time. (Or, someone, rather).

In the end, I got five highers, but of AABCC quality - not quite the AABB calibre required for a life as a Law student. Quickly getting over my heartbreak, I scoured the UCAS Clearing website for courses that still had places left. (I'm not sure if this is a uniquely Scottish facility, but it's basically like an "everything must go" sale, where you can reapply if you didn't get your first choice of course). I was happy to find that the University of Dundee still had places on several of their courses, so I picked Psychology. It was something I'd always had an interest in - you might be surprised at the number of Psychology textbooks I'd procured before even thinking about studying it at university - so I figured it was an ideal second choice.

I will happily tell anyone who asks, or who I can con into listening, that this is the best mistake I ever made. I immediately discovered Psychology to be a subject that I could find interesting, no matter the variation. Social, neuro, linguistics, developmental, comparative, clinical - all variations on a single theme; the human mind. It was intensely pleasing to read a journal paper and formulate an argument from it, simply to understand the content to the degree required to be able to do so.

As the years progressed, I began to wonder what I might do when my student life ended. There were two main contenders - a PhD, or a career in Clinical Psychology. Due to various reasons I won't go into, I couldn't apply for a PhD during my fourth and final year of undergraduate, which meant I still had another 6-12 months after graduation to decide which path was for me.

A few weeks after my graduation in June 2010, I took up a post as an Assistant Psychologist, which is a graduate level job required to gain experience before you can apply for a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. (This is a vastly complicated process, and for more information you should see the BPS website). It took little time for me to see that while I found the theory very interesting, the practicalities of life as a Clinical Psychologist were not for me.

I was very fortunate in having the chance to "try it out", as it were. If I hadn't done so, I couldn't possibly have embarked on my journey towards "Doctor Katy", as I am fond of saying, without doubting whether it were the right choice for me. Instead, I am one of the lucky few who has answered that "If only..."

In the end, my journey to decided to do a PhD was rather round the houses. Actually getting onto a PhD programme was another matter altogether, however, and that mini-adventure is something I'll write about soon. For now, adieu!

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