Ethnic Studies (Educational Psychology Pre-Grad Intern) Senior
Dean Pham

Dean PhamI am extremely happy I chose to do participate in the Pre-Grad School Internship this semester. Since last semester, I had been thinking about graduate school in the field of education and that's the exact time I read a brochure on the internship program; the timing was perfect. Before this internship, I had been completely close-minded to anything else that was not medicine. I decided to see what else is out there and what other opportunities and career pathways are possible, beyond the realm of medicine. My goal for this semester was to see what graduate school entailed: the culture, students, faculty members, and lifestyles.

My graduate student mentor for the internship was Fidel Zapata. He is a second-year student in the College of Education, more specifically the Department of Educational Psychology. He is working on earning his M.Ed. in Counselor Education. When we first met, I found that Fidel and I had many interests in common: we both enjoyed generating degree plans for other students to help them map out a clear and concise plan at the undergraduate level to help them see what classes they need to take and when they should take them; we enjoyed the counseling aspect and interpersonal communication aspect of advising a student; we also liked the M.Ed. was flexible to potentially include an administrative aspect, which we both found to be important since we were both also interested in becoming administrators.

Toward the beginning of the semester, Fidel and I sat in on a Research Methods course taught by Dr. Kevin Cokley. This was my first glimpse at graduate school. I was immediately surprised by how small the cohort was. Granted, it was just in the College of Education; the classes may be even smaller or larger, depending on the program. The class I was sitting in had about thirteen students, with only two men, and one of the men happened to be Asian-American. Being an Asian-American Studies major, I thought about how the demographics drastically changed going from medicine to education: medicine is generally male-dominated and Asian-Americans are definitely not underrepresented, while education has very few men compared to women and Asian-Americans are not as visible.

The Research Methods course introduced me to the kinds of research available (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, lit review, etc.). For students in the Counselor Education program, their master's program requires each student to complete a master's report, which then culminates into a presentation to the rest of the cohort. At the time that I sat in, previous students who already completed their report and presentation came back as a student panel to explain the process, what they did, and passed down any unique and helpful tips to the first-year cohort. This is where I first learned about what kinds of topics those in the field of education completed research on: helicopter parents, children of incarcerated parents, body image, how courses should be structured if they're specifically for freshman students, etc. I realized that the research topics are wide and broad. The students in the cohort were also extremely helpful to one another. During class, each student went around and introduced the topic they were interested in exploring. Dr. Cokley would probe the student a little, but the other grad students would start shouting out potential ideas that their classmates could use as a stepping stone. This was really quite different from the hypercompetitive undergraduate students I've had the displeasure of being around.

Another aspect I enjoyed in the internship was the required faculty interview. I had the chance to interview Dr. Leslie Moore, a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology. This gave me a chance to see what life was like post-graduate school. In her case, she did not attend grad school immediately after completing her bachelor's degree for a variety of reasons. One of the most striking things she told me was that there are many pathways to get where you want to end up. For a long time, I had this unbending, unyielding image of my life: high school--college--medical and/or graduate school, with no breaks in-between. Of course there are a number of people who matriculate into grad school traditionally, but it seems to be more and more common for people to take a year or two post-undergrad to work and get some experience before returning back to school. There is no one way to become successful - every student has their own individual pathway.

I received so much from this internship, beyond the information my mentor gave me. I'm currently taking a course titled "Psychological Perspectives on Asian-American Identity," a course taught by a doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology program, the Ph.D. version of the M.Ed. Counselor Education program. Being in this internship of course compelled me to seek information from my instructor and learn how she arrived at the point in life she's at right now.

This internship symbolically opened the door for me to graduate school. A few years ago, I would have no trouble closing the door but now, I relish in the fact that it's wide open, and there are so many areas of study available to grad students in the 21st century. When I first started the internship, I had the expectation that I would only learn about the M.Ed. program here at UT but the opposite effect has been true: I started doing my own research in other programs beyond education. Additionally, I never thought I would consider a Ph.D. program until I started looking at various programs that I have become immensely interested in.

I've discovered that we as humans are dynamic, every-changing beings. As time changes, so do our own interests. I started out only interested and exposed to UT's M.Ed. program in Counselor Education and now, I'm looking at faculty research areas and interests at universities across the country in a variety of programs, from master's programs in Asian-American Studies to Ph.D. programs in the History of Science and Medicine. Through various correspondences with grad students and faculty members, the idea that was reiterated was the fact that I could do anything I want, I could fuse a number of ideas together. I just have to reach out and ask first.

I started the semester and internship completely adverse to the idea of research. I was turned off by how expensive it could be and how time-consuming it could be, especially if one is in a doctoral program. But then I learned that not all research is lit review, not all research consists of being in a laboratory completely isolated from human contact. Research can happen when you do field work, like interviewing someone.

I haven't quite made a definitive decision as to whether I'll apply to graduate school or medical yet. Maybe it's possible that I do both, or maybe I can do one first, and then come back to complete the other. I'll have to see where my interests are a year from now.