Afshan Ladha looks back at her experiences as a first-year student at the Derner Institute.

Afshan-Ladha-MABy Afshan Ladha, M.A.

Sitting at orientation on the first day of my first year, I remember panicking, “Oh dear, what did I get myself into?” My fellow classmates, who have now become my friends and role models, seemed way more prepared. I felt my stories and experiences were mundane, and that I might not be able to contribute meaningfully to our cohort. So what did I do? The next day, as a show of camaraderie, I brought my power splitter to class, anticipating the need to fuel our power-hungry laptops. After a few jokes on splitting personality types, I was much more at ease.

I’ve always had the mindset that expectations are, more often than not, inaccurate and low expectations make for great experiences. When I began at Derner, I anticipated spending time adjusting to the culture by experiencing emotions simultaneously with my new cohort, and learning what I would need to know to be a great psychologist.

So were these expectations met? Well, I learned that you can never depend on finding a plastic fork in the lounge and that advanced doctoral students with their hard-earned wisdom can, indeed, be extremely helpful. Over time, I mastered a mix of emotions – the combination of anxiety, excitement, and fatigue. I’ll admit, I was expecting to finally learn the secret. Not the Oprah-endorsed one, but the secret formula for becoming a great clinician. I noticed fellow classmates inquiring about this elusive secret, often in discrete ways: “How do you know what to say?” There are no clear answers. The most common reply was: “It depends on the type of therapist you will be.”

A cop-out answer? Maybe. But it’s true, right? There will never be one correct answer, and I can take comfort in not having to memorize a therapy script. I can just be aware of my own feelings in a therapeutic setting and stay curious.

But there is more to Derner than clinical work. My first year was intense and offered a balance of class work, research, and clinical experience. That’s exactly what I was looking for when applying. Additionally, I’m most excited about starting the Teaching Fellowship this year. Knowledge without distribution can be isolating. Current professors at Derner and previous professors in my academic career have been positively impactful, most likely without knowing it. Continuing their legacy is my dream.

I often tell people that I’ve had my sights set on becoming a psychologist since fourth grade, when I walked around the playground in my sister’s blazer offering a sympathetic ear to my classmates. For this reason, getting accepted to my top choice doctoral program was more than an accomplishment; it was a goal that I was compelled to achieve. While my career goals have definitely changed since elementary school, completing my first year has motivated me more than ever to make it through the next four years.

But in a way, the first year still isn’t complete. In addition to some data analysis that I have yet to summarize, I still have to manage all the knowledge percolating from the whirlwind of the past year.

Published August 2014 in Day Residue the Derner Institute Doctoral Student Newsletter

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