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Senior Sophie Reflects: Premed then… Community Psychology? Why, Part I

Posted by on Friday, December 21, 2018 in Grad School.

Vanderbilt has a community psychology program called Community, Research, & Action! Located right on Peabody campus.

If you haven’t met me before, I’m Sophie! I’m a premed math major with a minor in violin performance from Dallas, Texas. I’m currently in the application process to graduate schools in Community Psychology, and I hope to be a palliative care physician-scientist one day (let’s just throw med school in the mix, why don’t we? #30andbroke) Between struggling between studying wallpaper patterns in the math major and doing all the Christian ministry (University Catholic & Sigma Phi Lambda, the Christian sorority!), I’m currently studying for the MCAT and hopefully answering YOUR emails! So email away!

I’m not sure why I’m telling y’all this story, but I thought, maybe someone’s interested! Perhaps some lone reader follows my path of the unknown past-graduation with rapt attention. Why not, if only to introduce someone else to the amazing field of community psychology, the graduate version of the HOD major. It’s amazing!

The Long Story Short:

1. I always wanted to be a doctor. Like, from age three. I went through phases: a journalist, a doctor… actually that was it. Pretty consistent.
1.25. I did the whole thing. Valedictorian, science classes, research internships in high school, science fair, all that jazz. In addition to all of these random things, I have an Indian mother and three competitive younger siblings. Even if I sometimes lacked in motivation, someone else always had some left over.
1.5. Premed was difficult. But I persevered!!! Just Biochemistry left as of this writing. WOOHOO.
2. I discovered lab research was NOT for me. (This was a more of a continuous and recurring realization from middle school onwards, but it’s fine).
3. I discovered I really, really liked people-focused research, like the kind of research in the field of community psychology.
4. I went to Australia, and met a wonderful nurse-PhD who told me to follow all the dreams.
5. I applied to community psychology graduate school programs with about a 5% hope that everything would actually work out, having only self-studied Intro to Psychology and SPSS and having said a lot of prayers.
6. Am currently waiting.

The Long Story Long:

Why Community Psychology

I initially became interested in the field of Community Psychology after pursuing research with Professor Sarah Suiter at Vanderbilt, who received her degree in Vanderbilt’s version of the Community Psychology program called Community, Research, and Action and is now an assistant professor of the practice in the program there. Dr. Suiter conducts research on community health organizations; after discovering that lab research wasn’t a good fit for me after high school internships and a year of lab-based research in college, I found my home in this discipline.

Although I felt at once that the experience of doing research in community psychology was what I had been looking for all along, I waited a year into the research, until about April 2018, to see if this field was actually something I wanted to pursue further. At that point, I was working on four different projects, each which taught me a different aspect of mixed-methods/qualitative research. Despite the workload, I was really having fun with this people-focused research that taught me so much about how social systems affected the individual.

As a student in the spring of my junior year, it was too late to major in Human and Organizational Development (the undergraduate version of Vanderbilt’s graduate Community Psychology program) because of finishing up the math major, premed, liberal arts core, and violinist requirements to graduate. I also was attending Vanderbilt on a full-tuition four-year merit-based scholarship, and had already allocated the summer towards using the stipend given to me through that scholarship to look at hospice care in three different communities: London, Kolkata, and Sydney. Without much room to do anything differently, I decided to instead self-study for courses and learn about Community Psychology-related fields on my own, so I subscribed to publications from the Society for Community, Research, and Action and self-studied SPSS and the Introduction to Psychology class. As a math major, I felt that I had a relatively good understanding of numbers and statistics. This fall, I self-studied the introductory class to psychology and am taking the Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design class in the spring.

I have always wanted to be a physician, and I see pursuing community psychology as consistent with being the best physician-scientist I can be. Being a physician seems to have a lot to do with the inner workings of people, but it frustrated me how a medical education didn’t seem to account for how programs concerning people’s health (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) were implemented or could be changed. Through leading and directing organizations at Vanderbilt that focused on dining workers and other students such as Champions in Blue, the Scholars Council, Ascend, etc., I found that I had an intense motivation to begin programs that would reach out to people and a constant drive to see that these programs were done in the best way possible. I found that I wanted to pursue this interest in Community Psychology, which Professor Perkins at Vanderbilt, the director of the Community, Research, and Action Ph.D. program, described as “fundamentally concerned with the relationship between social systems and individual well-being in the community context. Thus, community psychologists grapple with an array of social and mental health problems and they do so through research and interventions in both public and private community settings” (Perkins, 2011). I felt that being a community psychologist would make me a physician-scientist that was concerned with people in both the inner and outer respects.

In April 2017, just before finishing my junior year, I met with Professor Suiter and Professor Douglas Perkins and discussed my goals in pursuing Community Psychology with the goal of being a physician-scientist. He affirmed that being a physician and a community psychologist fit together, especially with an increasing focus on community health in the community psychology field, an interest I found much investigated in the publications of the Society of Community, Research, and Action. One article I read recently in the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice was about the barriers and facilitators to allopathic and indigenous medicines for indigenous peoples — a more comprehensive and culturally competent view of medicine that I felt community psychologists brought to the field.

When I visited Sydney, Australia, to look at palliative care practices and the situation of patients with dementia, my amazing host, Dr. Annmarie Hosie, encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. She had finished hers (a Ph.D. in ICU delirium) five years ago, and told me how research had absolutely changed her life. So, I began looking at programs. In early October, I took the GRE, assembled my recommendation letters, and threw the applications to the wind, hoping against hope that something would work out.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about my interests in pursuing palliative care. For now, that’s all, folks!

Perkins, Douglas. (2011).An Introduction to Community Psychology. Retrieved from

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