Category Archives: Goals

The Five Year Plan

McLeod’s Daughters,¬†an Aussie TV show, follows a group of women as they negotiate the challenges of life and running a cattle station in the outback. It’s been a long-time since the show first aired, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.

Over the past few months as I’ve tried to map out where my career might be headed next, I’ve been reminded of Kate, one of the drovers on McLeod’s Daughters. Kate always had big ideas, tenacity and, a need to organise; she had a massive five year plan taped to her wall complete with short, medium and long-term goals!

Like Kate, I’ve always been a planner, at least when it comes to work or study. So I had a plan for how I would become a psychologist:

1) Get good enough grades in Year 12 to get into an Honours program,

2) Gain experience in the field to test out whether psychology was definitely the right fit and to give me a good chance of getting into a postgraduate program in psychology,

3) Seize every opportunity to develop my research, teaching and psychological practice skills and to develop an area of specialty

4) Walk out of uni being able to research, lecture and/or practice as a psychologist.

I first laid out these plans when I was 17, well at least points 1 and 4. Point 2 was added by the end of my first year of uni. And truth be told my pursuit of point 3 was a mixture of deliberate planning and happy accident. I soon noticed that the happy accidents led me to some really interesting places. And it’d be fair to say that my mantra became “this scares me and will be a logistical nightmare, but it’s really going to teach me a lot of things… Sign me up!”

It is very surreal to look back on all those plans and realise that I’ve more or less achieved them. Sure, some things changed as I went along, as they should with any good plan and the influence of serendipity, but now here I am – a psychologist and soon to be qualified academic. It honestly still doesn’t feel real typing that out.

Having reached the end-game of my decade long plan of becoming a psychologist I’ve had some time to think about where my journey might be headed next. At this stage, I have a broad strokes plan:

My main goal is to move towards working as a psychologist in private practice. There are pro’s and con’s to work in the public and private sector, but longer term I feel that private practice is the best fit for me. Chiefly because it will give me greater flexibility in how I operate as a psychologist and how I structure my work-life balance.

I also have a side project that’s important to me too. I’d like to get my research published and some of its more practical elements being used by other psychologists. Long-term that might even involve some consultancy work, outreach and policy development. Who knows? This particular scheme might well take a good ten years to come to fruition, but that’s okay.

I wonder in another five or ten years, which parts of this broad strokes plan will come to fruition, which will change, and how I’ll get there? In my next post I’ll flesh out the private practice plan and how that links in with my job search. Stay tuned ūüôā



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Filed under career, Early career, Goals, Reflections

What the heck is a post-doc?

Before I signed up for a PhD, I did my homework. I wrote three different PhD proposals for three different universities and chatted to PhD students and lecturers about the academic career path. Still, it wasn’t until half way through my first-year that post-docs crossed my radar. At first, post-docs were a mystical phenomenon. Something that people spoke of in awed and sometimes despairing tones. It wasn’t until I attended my first conference that it became clear I had it all wrong.¬† Post-docs were not the optional extra I’d thought they were, but for most aspiring academics of my generation, a necessary step in pursuing an academic career.

So what the heck is a post-doc?

Post-doc is shorthand for a post-doctoral position. Essentially, this is the first academic position you earn following the submission of your doctoral thesis/dissertation. Job descriptions vary, but generally, a post-doc is a short-term contract or scholarship completed by someone 0-5 years post their PhD. They tend to last two to three years and to be geared towards research though there are exceptions. A post-doc can sometimes be more teaching based, reflect a combination of teaching and research and in psychology at least, clinical work too.

So it’s like doing a second PhD?

Not really. As a post-doc you’ve made the jump to independent researcher. Sure, you’ll have a boss to report to, but the buck stops with you as you devise, manage, complete and publish research projects. Unlike a PhD when we tend to pitch a project and apply for a scholarship, most post-docs will do the reverse, accepting a position offered and funded by the university and often with a set project. In the US post-doc salaries range from approximately 39,000 – 51,000 USD, in the UK ¬£25,000 to ¬£40,000, and in Australia from $60,000 to $82,000. As always though, there are exceptions to the rule and some post-doc candidates will¬† create these jobs, winning grants and using this money to pitch a post-doc to a university that they would like to work from.

How do I get a post-doc?

Honestly, that’s something I’m still trying to work out. This post just reflects what I’ve worked out so far. From what I can tell, hunting for a post-doc is a highly competitive process with many people having to move state or even overseas to secure a position. What can give you the edge as an applicant also varies widely, though publications seem virtually essential. The other trick seems to be having an ear to the ground about what’s on offer. Post-docs typically aren’t advertised in the local paper but through specialist listings (which are often erratic) and word of mouth etc.

All I know is that I’ve decided that for me it’s challenge accepted. It may be near impossible, but I’m going to do my darndest to put myself in the best position I can to get a post-doc, because as much as I like clinical work, I really can’t picture myself not doing research too. Wish me luck.

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Filed under academic culture, Clinical Phd, Goals, PhD, postgraduate applications, Research

An adventure

Late last year I set a goal to attend a conference in 2013. I was aiming for a local conference but my supervisor suggested I try for an international one, the biggest in my field, with an abstract submission date a little over a week away! ¬†That was one frantic week as I learned how to ¬†squeeze my 11,967 word thesis (who’s counting?), ¬†into a 500 word correctly formatted abstract.

The next hurdle was working out how I would get to the conference if I was accepted. No one else in my cohort had been to an international conference, so I took to asking a few kind students further on in their PhD about what they knew and who might be ‘in the know.’ Eventually, I was granted permission to be absent from placement and coursework, should my poster be accepted and sorted out my funding.

Months passed. I honestly thought I had Buckley’s chance of being accepted (over 200 people weren’t because so many had applied). To my surprise I turned out to be one of the lucky ones who was accepted to present a poster at the conference. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to a conference, an international conference, and I was even going to be able to squeeze in a short visit to relatives overseas. I barely had time to process any of this though because the lead up to the conference was horrendous!¬†I was juggling placement, work as a research assistant, coursework, an assignment, conference prep and packing. This chaos as I tried to ‘land a few planes’ before I left as the Thesis Whisperer¬†would say,¬†was the inspiration for the fire-fighting duck¬†post from a few months ago.¬†The trip was well worth the chaotic lead up though and full of new experiences: my first time travelling by myself (though I was occasionally able to share the journey), in Europe and at a conference.

Being all alone in a non-English speaking country did not faze me. Aside from almost professing my love for a particular food instead of ordering it (do not trust Google Translate!!), I did quite well. My proudest achievement was ordering double-sided photocopying.  The only problem was that when I started picking a few useful phrases and colloquialisms and had learned how to say them without completely mangling them, people thought I was fluent! Whoops!! Far from it.

My limited knowledge of the language only got me so far though. For example, I had nothing to work with to tell a salesperson that I wasn’t interested in her hand creams, though my ignorance resulted in a free sample so all’s well that ended well.¬†I also realised that while my travel prep had involved making sure I knew the name of common landmarks, numbers and how to ask for directions I had overlooked ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry.’ ¬†I felt horribly rude not being able to apologise and so had to resort to facial expressions and mime. I’ve always admired people living in a country that does not speak their first language but I’ve even more respect for them now.










The town I stayed in was beautiful. I loved the mix of the old and the new, wandering down cobbled streets with a cathedral on one corner and Zara on the other! Trying the local fare was also an adventure, you were just as likely to be handed four beers and not the four plates you asked for!!¬†I’d love to go back one day, armed with a deeper understanding of the language.

The conference itself was awesome, in the literal sense; there were almost 2000 attendees from all over the world! It was fantastic to meet some really famous and  lovely researchers and PhD students who shared my research interests. People were genuinely interested in my research too taking hand-outs or requesting them when I soon ran out of them. It can be easy to forget that people other than yourself and your supervisor might be interested in your research too!

Meeting other PhD students was interesting too. They came from universities from the exotic to the well-known and from small research groups to large research groups with seemingly unlimited funding and samples. There were also cultural differences too, in the way people networked and ¬†in their lives back home. It opened my eyes to the competition but also to the opportunities, shared interests and collegiality within the global research network. Maybe I will consider at least applying for an international post-doc, who knows? I do know that I very much like my university ¬†though, and ideally, ¬†it’s where I’d like to end up.

My conference adventure left me with several gifts. First, a greater sense of confidence; if I can fend for myself in a foreign country and muddle through in a foreign language, I can do anything! Second, hope; academia is incredibly competitive but there are some amazing opportunities out there, including international conferences, if you can combine hard work with enough serendipity to secure them. Third, my adventure left me with a stronger sense of belonging; at the local level, I got to know our little research team better and at a broader level,  I feel more part of the research community and that I do have a role to play in it, however tiny.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!


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Filed under academic culture, Clinical Phd, communication, conferences, Goals, milestone, PhD, Reflections

2013 Hopes and dreams

Though the second year of my Clinical PhD is seven weeks away, my second year placement is just around the corner. So, I thought I’d post about the coming year now while I’m not juggling research, coursework and a placement.To put it mildly, 2013 is going to be a big year.

In semester one, I’ll attend classes, complete over 300 hours of placement and continue to conduct my research. By semester two I’ll have completed my first placement, begun a new class and be continuing on with my research. Barring extenuating circumstances, these are the things that will definitely happen, but what might happen? And what would I like to happen?

Sun Drenched

Sun Drenched (Photo credit: Digimist)

My ‘clinical’ hopes and dreams for 2013:

  • I hope that my first placement will be a great opportunity: a chance to put theory into practice; to learn from my supervisor, clients and fellow trainees; to improve and grow in confidence in my clinical skills; to help my clients bring about improvements in their lives; to learn more about where I’d like clinical psychology to take me, essentially to become a better trainee psychologist.
  • In 2013, I hope that my¬†coursework will provide me with a chance to engage: to apply what I’ve learned on placement and first year and vice versa, to learn more about CBT, other therapeutic approaches and presenting problems and the different avenues that psychology may take me, in other words, I want to consume and contribute knowledge.
  • I hope that this year I will continue to foster the friendships I have made with my fellow trainee psychologists.

My ‘research’ hopes and dreams for 2013

  • I’d like to develop my critique and analysis skills: to improve my reading muscle, learn new statistical techniques and become more confident in interpreting and appraising various statistical techniques and study designs.
  • I’d like to write:¬†regularly, the chapter for my first study, my case studies, 30, 000 words of my thesis.
  • I’d like to¬†finish (and in some cases start!):¬†collecting data for my first three studies
  • I’d like to¬†design: a better way to let potential participants know about upcoming research and the overarching study for my PhD.
  • And I hope that I will continue to foster the friendships I have made among my¬†fellow PhD students and the¬†faculty.
Balancing Act

Balancing Act (Photo credit: Digitalnative)

Clearly, I have a big year ahead. So my most important hope for 2013 is balance: to pull it all off and not lose myself or my social life in my to-do list!

It will be interesting to see if my hopes and dreams for 2013 come to fruition. Wish me luck!


Filed under Clinical Phd, Goals

Hiding behind cushions and writing letters

A haunted castle

A haunted castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I detest scary movies. I just can’t cope with the suspense, in fact I hide behind the nearest cushion when I watch them. Still, scary movies are a perfect metaphor for what it is like to be on the cusp of something big. When the protagonist walks into the basement (why is it always the basement, don’t these people watch scary movies?!)¬†you,¬†the viewer,¬†unlike the protagonist,¬†know that something big (and in this case, bad) is about to happen. Sometimes in life we are the naive protagonist, unaware of imminent events and their likely impact. At other times we are the viewers who realise that something big is happening.

Currently, I’m identifying with the viewers from my scary movie scenario. I get the feeling that I’m on the cusp of something big. Maybe many big things. It probably has a lot to do with starting my Clinical PhD and being a 20-something. ¬†In the past when I’ve felt I was on the cusp, I’ve written letters to my future self about my current experiences and hopes for the future.¬†While I will be writing a letter to Dr Honourable Mentions in her final year, I was inspired by this post¬†by Shara Yurkiewicz¬†to blog about my goals too.

Dear Honourable Mentions,

In 2012, one month into your Clinical PhD studies you had some hopes and dreams for your future self, the student about to graduate with a PhD in Clinical Psychology in 2015/2016.  You hoped that:

  • You would be as excited now as you were back then about it all: life, uni, your career, the future…
  • You would have been successful in managing the balance between research and practice, recognising the importance and enjoyment you get from each and having become what you always wanted to be: an academic and a psychologist.
  • You have been sharing this journey with great people and that you have regularly taken time out to have fun and seize the day

Moving on from these ‘big three’ over-arching goals to some that are more specific, you also hoped that:

  • You would have had the chance to publish some of your research
  • You seized the opportunity to travel overseas, meeting some of the people whose work you have read and cited
  • You have had the chance to present at a conference and hold your own
  • You have given a lecture and/or run a tutorial
  • You were able to master counselling, therapy and assessment skills – by¬†master, you mean being able to conduct a session with a client without feeling like you are learning to drive a manual for the first time. You haven’t actually seen any clients yet, but from all reports and from practising with your peers it’s obvious it’s going to take a little while before you can monitor all the things you need to be doing and¬†actively listen and respond to clients without feeling like this.
  • You have helped clients realise their own abilities and resources, in other words embraced non-directive/client-centred therapy
  • You feel that you are competent with a range of clients, e.g. people of varying ages with differing concerns
  • You have developed your own style as a clinician, based on all that you have learnt and with the flexibility to adapt to each client
And finally, my miscellaneous goals:
  • To finally have learned to play ALL of “The Heart Asks Pleasure First”
  • To have figured out how your acoustic guitar works – It’s one thing being able to read music, and quite another understanding the system underpinning which string corresponds to which note
  • To have had a snowball fight
  • To have been involved with some sort of social group e.g. sports, dance, performance etc.
  • To have participated in a flash mob – ¬†I did say these were miscellany

Best of luck with it all Honourable Mentions circa 2015/16. I know you can do it.¬†And remember, I’ll be back here to remind you that you can if you forget.


Filed under Clinical Phd, Goals, milestone, PhD, Reflections

The Finish Line Part 2: Binding, submission and postgraduate applications

Last minute hiccups are the last thing you want when finalising your thesis. Unfortunately I encountered my fair share. I had reached the stage where all I had left to do was to organise my contents page, appendices and print four copies of my thesis. Simple and stress free, right? Wrong! Microsoft Word 2007, a wireless printer and one particularly troublesome appendix refused to play ball. Thanks to some improvisation and my parents pitching in I managed to get it all sorted out and could have hugged the person who served me at Officeworks when they told me my theses would be bound within half an hour. All that was left to do was go home and tell all my friends the good news!

I walked into uni on the 20th of October grinning like a Cheshire cat. You could spot all the Honours students a mile away by our distinctive grins. I climbed the stairs to the School of Psychology with excitement, knocked on the Honours coordinator’s door and handed in my theses, I had done it! It felt amazing, I simply could not believe it. I found my supervisor to share the good news and the celebrations continued the next day as the Honours students and supervisors met at a local pub to let our hair down. When eleven o’clock came round that night it was clear that the last week had taken its toll on all the students. Most of us had left or were leaving in pursuit of some well earned shut-eye!

A fortnight has now passed but the satisfaction of having handed my thesis still hasn’t worn off. As always though there has been no rest for the wicked. My fellow students and I¬†immediately¬†entered the next stage of feverish preparation, applying for jobs and or postgraduate courses. I fell into the latter category having applied for eight postgraduate PhD, Clinical PhD and Clinical Masters programs. I found three potential supervisors, wrote two research proposals, produced countless synopses of why I wished to apply, detailed my work and voluntary experience and found some kind referees.

I have applied so widely because more than anything I want to continue my studies with psychology. Ideally, I would like to gain a position in a Clinical PhD program (at my current university) so that I can go onto to be involved in both research and practice. The competition is fierce though. On average there are a hundred applicants per course, thirty of these applicants are short-listed for an interview and only seven to ten people will receive an offer. It is a blessing in disguise that I  have an exam to prepare for and that shortly afterwards I will find out my Honours grade and whether I have made it to the interview stage.

My philosophy is to always do my best but expect nothing external to come from it. ¬†This way if anything does, it is a pleasant surprise. By the same token, if nothing arises, I can be satisfied with the knowledge that I have given my best and have no ‘if only’ regrets. I must admit though I am finding it hard to remain so pragmatic about my postgraduate application outcomes, I want that Clinical PhD so badly!! Regardless, if I am not successful I will seek feedback, work on the areas I need to and apply again. All I can do in the interim is throw my energies at the exam, pray and wait…

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Filed under Goals, Honours year, postgraduate applications, thesis