shape of things to come ([livejournal.com profile] theladyrose ponders her post-grad future

Dec. 10th, 2009 04:15 pm
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First of all, many happy returns to [livejournal.com profile] st_crispins on her rather belated birthday! I suspect I've missed a number of other birthdays, too, since I last posted a few months ago - hope they were all good ones :) Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit and [livejournal.com profile] agentxpndble

I do feel somewhat guilty about not posting in months - I've been wrangling with writing an entry for weeks but keep being tied up with more pressing matters with eminent deadlines. I've been keeping up with reading entries but rather lax in commenting :( It's strange to realize that in approximately a month's time I'll be a grad student, working on my master's in gerontology. Unlike many of my friends of a similar age, I have a year before I'm confronted with the financial realities of being an adult. In other news, it's been six years and nine days since my friend Cathy passed away, and it's the first time when I can honestly say I'm at peace with what happened to her.

Sometimes I wonder what her life would've been like if she had lived past her teens, but I recognize the futility of immersing myself in the potential energy left of a live left behind. All too often we mourn those who die young for who they could have become (or rather, who we wanted them to become), less so for who they actually were. Reminiscing about my friend is a shadow exercise in assessing my own life. Lately I've been wondering about all those other lives I've could've inhabited but have willingly relinquished to the tail ends of the probability curve. Back in high school, I was expected to go to Stanford, maybe an Ivy, and then go to law school because that's what relatively enculturated Asian/immigrant parents "strongly" recommend, outside of med school and engineering. Needless to say, I ended up at a university that used to be known for its football team but has the most badass gerontology department in the nation. (I can't believe I just juxtaposed "badass" and "gerontology" in all due seriousness.) Thankfully, my parents have been really supportive in letting me figure out my career. That, and they probably got tired of me babbling about constitutional issues at the dinner table when I was taking AP US History, in that pseudo precocious way that ambitious but not really brilliant high school students tend to talk.



Then, once I started college, I was hell bent on getting into a clinical psych PhD program. Spending enough time around actual clinical psych PhD students, however, has rubbed off enough secondary angst and anxiety about entering this profession - it is genuinely shocking how relatively little clinical training/supervision research oriented PhDs have even at well regarded programs. Many of the supervising professors actually dislike supervising grad students and very rarely see clients after receiving tenure; quite frankly, if you're not experiencing severe mental illness but still seek psychotherapy, you're probably best off seeing a LCSW whose had much more supervisory oversight and clinical experience rather than a freshly graduated PhD psychologist. (If you call yourself a clinical psychologist in the US, you legally are required to have at least a PhD. Beware those who call themselves therapists and don't provide credentials - a lot of them are master's students in related programs who don't necessarily have a clinical background.)

OK, that, and PHD comics and Thomas Pennebaker at the Chronicle of Higher Ed opened my eyes to the economic opportunity/sunk costs of spending 5-6 years toiling for a professor whose job security centers on publishing papers in prestigious journals read by fellow academics, rather than teaching/mentoring grad students. [livejournal.com profile] st_crispins has brought up the prospect of teaching at a smaller liberal arts college where the focus is actually on teaching, which does sound really enticing, but the difficulties of breaking into academia even after completing a doctorate/postdoc are increasingly daunting. Ideally I'd like to save enough money when I'm relatively young so that if I have to take some time off to care for my parents, I'll have a decent amount in my retirement account to buffer lost income. Thankfully, Dad's disability has been declining relatively slowly/stayed relatively stable these past two years, but part of me is always aware that I may have to return home at any moment in case something happens to him. I could see myself continuing education classes for professionals in gerontology or even being an instructor in a graduate certificate/community college program, but that's more of a long term prospect.

To be honest, I don't quite know what I'll be doing a year from now when I graduate with my master's. It's an embarrassment of opportunities when it comes to working in the field of aging - do I want to do research for the AARP (whose policies leave me somewhat ambivalent), or work as a geriatric care manager helping older adults and their families find ways of receiving in-home or institutional services that best fit their needs, or facilitate frail patients' transition into hospice care? Just because you're setting out on a path with certain defined milestones doesn't mean you actually know where you're going. Those are just some of the jobs I've been considering; hopefully, wherever I intern this summer will help steer me towards the right direction and preferably away from solely academic research. What I've found is that I need to know that whatever I'm doing will actually make a difference on individuals' daily lives. Lofty as that sounds (and heck, anyone can do this through volunteering), I'd like my career to mean more than making money. Perhaps five years from now I'll be laughing at my ridiculously liberal naïvité, but so be it. I've been fortunate enough to benefit from certain privileges - depressingly, graduating from college debt-free is a major privilege in this society - and I'd hate to not give back somehow and address systemic inequalities.

In sum, I'm actually quite content with my life as it is now and my imagined, prospective future. Sure, there have been a few matters here and there that have caused concern, but generally I'm thankful for the circumstances I've been given and for the people in my life who continue to inspire and support me in their various ways, big and small. For the first time since my teens, I haven't experienced the annual winter's melancholy (it's probably Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is still possible to experience even in California). I never realized the curious liberation of unexperienced emotions, of this newfound ability to focus on my goals and see what I've gained first and foremost, rather than regret what I've lost by my decisions and actions. I still have so much to learn, but my inner nerd is really excited about that challenge.



In other news, my "gentleman caller" as my mother refers to him, will be meeting my godparents over dinner in two weeks :) I suspect that extremely nerdy conversations will be taking place, given that Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" might as well have been written the gentleman caller, and my godfather (dad's old roommate) is rumored to have been complicit in some wicked MIT pranks back in his college days. The fiery readhead (FR for short), as [livejournal.com profile] dragonfly66 has nicknamed him, will be joining me the first few days of winter break after we're done with finals next Thursday. If any folks from the Bay Area are around the 17th to the 20th want to meet up with both of us, that'd be tremendously exciting!
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June 2010

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