How has your Bowdoin education and experience helped you and informed the work that you do?
In the psychology courses that I took at Bowdoin, I was afforded numerous opportunities to engage in hands-on learning as a supplement to my classroom education. This not only helped me to engage with the material at a deeper level, but empowered me to pinpoint future career goals. For instance, in Professor Samuel Putnam’s Infant and Child Development course, students volunteered at a daycare center outside of the classroom, where we were able to interact with and observe children in different developmental stages. Similarly, as a component of Professor Julie Quimby’s Abnormal Psychology course, students volunteered at the Mid Coast Hospital in the inpatient psychiatric unit, where we were able to learn directly from patients about their diagnoses and from clinicians about providing mental health care. These out-of-classroom experiences helped to affirm my passion not only for academic psychology, but for direct patient care and working with both adult and child populations.
Bowdoin also offers ample opportunities for students to become involved in internships, fellowships, and research experiences. In the summer of my sophomore year, I was awarded a Community Matters in Maine Summer Fellowship, and was matched with an organization in Brunswick called the Independence Association. Through this fellowship, I worked in several different group homes and day programs with clients with developmental disabilities, and was also able to take a training course to become a certified Direct Support Professional. This fellowship was an amazing opportunity to work with patients with a wide variety of physical, behavioral, and mental health problems, and further reinforced my desire to pursue a career in clinical mental health post-graduation.
Has studying Psychology impacted your perspective (personally, professionally, or other)? If so, how?
I believe that studying clinical psychology has helped me to become a more perceptive and empathetic person, both inside and outside of clinical settings. With holistic communication, I have learned that it is extremely important to not only engage in active listening, but to pay close attention to subtle cues in nonverbal communication and behavior in order to fill in the gaps of what a person may not say out loud. I have learned to look beyond basic facial expressions to observe a person’s overall demeanor. This helps me to determine whether a smile is a true sign of happiness, or a mask of underlying pain, and if hyperactivity is a sign of energy and excitement, or a manifestation of underlying anxiety. I strongly believe that studying and working in the field of psychology has also made me a more patient and accepting person. When engaging in a difficult interaction with a person or a patient, I have learned to take a step a back, and to give people the benefit of the doubt when I find myself frustrated or offended. Rather than assuming that someone is mean-spirited or intentionally disagreeable, I now try to reflect on what challenging experiences a person might have had in the past to lead to inappropriate behaviors or aggressive interpersonal styles.
What are the one or two events, courses or people that stand out in your mind from your time at Bowdoin?
The experience that stands out the most for me about my time at Bowdoin was the process of completing my honors project in psychology, and the incredible resources and support that I received from Bowdoin, and specifically from Professor Samuel Putnam. At the end of my sophomore year, Professor Putnam helped me to develop a project that addressed my research interest in how cultural differences in early parent-child interactions, schooling approaches, and other social factors impact child temperament and behavior. The project incorporated my study abroad experience junior year in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I volunteered at the University of Copenhagen’s baby lab. I then replicated and expanded upon the Danish group’s methods with an American cohort during my senior year in order to draw cross-cultural comparisons. I saw first-hand that cross-cultural developmental research is extremely important to the field of psychology, since through studying social influences on child development, we can learn how to better promote the psychological wellbeing of individuals from diverse backgrounds, beginning at a young age. Professor Putnam helped me to obtain funding the summer of my junior year to conduct this research full-time, and also continued to support me post-graduation to analyze the data collected during the study. I was ultimately able to present two first-authored posters to the 2014 Berlin International Conference on Infants Studies, and to first-author a manuscript published in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology. These were incredible, unique research opportunities that are often only afforded to graduate students, and I can’t express my gratitude enough to Professor Putnam for mentoring me through these experiences.
Do you have any advice for current student at Bowdoin?
I think that the most amazing aspect of attending a small liberal arts school like Bowdoin is all of the educational resources and funding opportunities that are so readily available to students. The number of summer internships, research experiences, honors thesis opportunities, and volunteer placements is truly outstanding. Without competition from graduate students, undergraduates are able to develop close working relationships with professors and take on elaborate research projects. I would strongly encourage current students to take full advantage of these resources, since they not only made me a more competitive candidate for graduate school, but were extremely formative in shaping my future career trajectory.