Refining a long term passion in the academy

November 11, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Refining a long term passion in the academy


Michaela Tralli QC’12 and Jim Stellar


Michaela took a course I co-taught last spring.  We began to talk about how one finds one’s field and her field looks like it will be direct patient care in clinical psychology.  Often in this blog we write about how one discovers one’s passion through a combination of course work, internships (or some other form of experiential education), and mentoring.  But what about the people who came to college with a pretty good idea of what they want to do?  Where do those ideas develop and how does “other lobe of the brain” thinking apply to those cases?  Michaela may well be one, so let’s get her to tell us her history from the perspective of her long-term interest.


My interest in clinical psychology first developed when I was a young seventh grader.  To understand why my passion developed this young, it is important to know about my earlier education.  Growing up, I was not a great student.  I never got higher than mid-70’s except for a rare 80 here and there.  It was the same when I started middle school in seventh grade.  In most of my classes my grades were the usual.  I received mostly 70’s.  Maybe an 80 if I was lucky.  However, when I started health class, I grew so interested in everything we spoke about.  Whether it was drugs, physical or sexual abuse, family issues, or nutrition- I loved it all.  My passion for this information stuck out right away.  I studied hard for the class, not because I wanted a good grade (clearly that was not important to me), but because I LOVED what I was learning about.  The end of the semester came and I received a 100 for the class.  This was my first 100 that I remember receiving.  When I told my parents, they were ecstatic.  They praised me and told me how proud of me they were.  I felt great.  The love I had for this information, and the praise I received made me realize that I wanted to help people who were dealing with some of these issues, whether it was drug addiction, obesity, family life, and so forth. 


This story is terrific and I see myself in it.  So, let’s take the next step and talk about what happened when you got to college and how you ended up eventually in Psychology with a focus on being a one-on-one clinical practitioner.


When I first got to college, all I knew was that I wanted to help.  I started my education at Nassau Community College as a liberal arts major, since I was unsure of what field I wanted to work in.  Luckily, this major required that I take many credits worth of electives.  I took full advantage.  My courses ranged from nutrition to zoology, and everything in between.  For a while I thought about becoming a veterinarian so that I could even help animals.  However, by the time I graduated from Nassau, most of my credits were gained in nutrition classes, all of which I got straight A’s in.  This feeling of success was familiar.  I thought that nutrition was my calling.  I came into Queens College as a Dietetics major.  I loved most classes, and passed many with A’s.  It was the four credit sciences that gave me great trouble.  It took me two tries to pass basic chemistry, and when organic chemistry rolled around, that familiar feeling of failure hit.  I decided to seek the help of an advisor here at QC.  With her guidance, I realized that if I really wanted to be a nutritionist, I would find a way to pass organic chemistry.  After some thought, I discovered that I wanted something with more substance- something that I would be proud of, and that would enable me to encourage people who were suffering mentally to not give up on achieving the greatest life possible.  My advisor first suggested social work, and then she said- “clinical psychology.”  Clinical Psychology.  That was it. I questioned myself:  “How did I not think of this before?”


So it was an advisor who made the connection that clicked in your head, not an experience on an internship or something you did outside the academy.  We always say that internships and other forms of experiential education are a great supplement to a fine classical course-based education.  Your experience reminds us of the power of the classical education.  But, let’s pursue it a tad further.  Since that moment, you have obviously confirmed in your mind that this is the right course.  How did that happen…further course work, anything you experienced in the clinical psychology field?


It happened for me through personal experience with a social worker and a psychiatrist.  Over the past year, I had to begin therapy due to chronic severe panic attacks.   After a few months of seeing my therapist, I began to understand why these panic attacks occur.  I was getting better in that I understood the source of the pain, but I was still suffering tremendously.  Realizing this, my therapist worked together with a psychiatrist to get me on the right medication.  Understandably, I grew extremely close to these two women.  I started to realize how much they love their jobs.  They are passionate in what they do and they truly want to help.  My therapist even insists most weeks that she does not want to take my copay because she wants as little stress as possible in my life.  Seeing how happy they are when they help made me further realize that I want to be just as happy in my career.  It was then that I confirmed that this is the right course for me. 


Before we go into some analysis of what we just wrote (typical for this blog), I want to thank you for sharing your story with us.  It is compelling.  I understand now, for the first time, from where your self-confidence comes in your career choice.


What can we extract as a lesson from this conversation?  First, it is the power of teachers, there at the right moment in the classroom to spark an interest and change a life.  We must always remember that experiential education is the supplement to the facts and theories supplied by a classical education; and that this knowledge is given by people who have the power to touch us in what we might call the “other lobe of the brain.”  Next, it is the power of reinforcement.  The teachers who provide us with knowledge are, in fact, responsible for sparking an interest.  But without the reinforcement of others, that interest may never be pursued, and therefore, may never become a passion.  There is more, and it comes in this story through two therapists who modeled the behavior of loving one’s career that, like other forms of experiential education was transmitted personally, often without intention, seemingly as a side effect, but becoming a main effect, powerfully affecting the career.  Teaching by example, and reinforcing one’s success is just a piece to a much larger puzzle in expressing what is happening in experiential learning.

Broken heart syndrome – an example of cognitive-emotional integration and vagus nerve function

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