I FINALLY GOT ONTO THE DOCTORATE! TEARS, TRIBULATIONS AND TRIUMPHS.
By Noreen Dera
I’ve been fully engulfed in the throes of the doctorate, occasionally pondering on how I actually got here in the first place. Firstly, it feels insanely surreal to be in this privileged position of reflecting on my newfound status as a Trainee Clinical Psychologist. The birth of this platform was fuelled by anger about disparities of entering the Clinical Psychology sphere as a BAME individual. I was infuriated by the ‘less than’ narratives peddled in the media about belonging to this racial category and the insecurities it constantly force fed into people aspiring to enter the profession.
I was told that I was not ‘good enough’ to get on as I was just a Trainee, a familiar reverberation of the many times I’d been told I was not ‘good enough’ navigating white dominated spaces as a black female.
I applied for the doctorate for the first time in November 2016. This was shortly after completing a qualification in Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner training. At the time, applying for the doctorate felt like a tenable dream, a bottomless well of wishful thinking and a rite of passage as an Aspiring Clinical Psychologist. There was a scintilla of hope that I could do it and other conflicting part feeding me delectable lies about my incapability. Sadly, the latter part had a stronger grip after my referee at the time made a pessimistic comment which squashed the little confidence I held onto. In essence, I was told that I was not ‘good enough’ to get on as I was just a Trainee, a familiar reverberation of the many times I’d been told I was not ‘good enough’ navigating white dominated spaces as a black female. In fact, her cynicism was probably founded in some truth as I heard only 10 black people had got on the course the previous year. Her comment was delivered in a deceivingly benevolent manner to supposedly help me manage my expectations. It was soul-crushing to be limited by another person’s myopic view of my abilities and as you can guess, I internalised this view and hastily lauded this sentiment to douse the inferno raging inside me.
This brief interaction set the scene for the relationship that unfolded between myself and the application process. I’d tell my peers my application was nothing more than a ‘dry run’ and I hammered home that I had next to no chance of getting on so this kept me relatively tepid and cushioned from the prospect of failure. From this point forward, my lense was tainted by a dark hue. I lost confidence in the process and also in my own personal statement which I’d front-loaded with psychology ‘buzz words’ which would certainly serenade the ears of any notable admission tutor. I passed my personal statement from pillar to post, from Psychologists to Business Analysts to Career advisors – I was invested in creating the perfect magnum opus. With each correction and value judgement imposed by each rater, I lost my narrative. My personal statement became so mechanised to the point where I could not recognise myself.
Nonetheless, after three months of patiently waiting for news regarding interviews, I received an invite to complete Admission tests as I had met the minimum criteria for two reputable universities. I gleefully accepted the invites and slowly, my excitement for the course was re-ignited by a small flame. I spent many weeks and countless nights studiously buried in Research Methods & Statistics textbooks, watching Youtube videos on regression analyses and meticulously scoring myself on Multiple Choice Questions.
The pre-selection test days arrived in no time and I found myself on intercity travels over the course of two months to sit a wad of exams. I was welcomed by a sea of people neatly packaged into a large gymnasium into thousands of rows, anxiously awaiting to start the ‘make or break’ exam. The setup and fabric of the day exuded undergraduate vibes of sitting in finals wrapped in a ball of bellowing anxiety. It didn’t help that I had read countless threads on psychology forums, an abode for scaremongers of the worst kind which had basically advised me to give up before I’d even tried. My worst fear was indeed confirmed as a swift of air swept across my face as I opened the question booklet, laden with what felt like PhD level research questions which were clearly above my threshold. But, I valiantly faced each question with a meticulous manner while failing abysmally at balancing my time and desire for accuracy. I left feeling overwhelmed not only by the demands of the exams on my poor brain but also knowing that only 20% of the 500 attendees would be selected for shortlisting. I left feeling dejected and least hopeful about my chance of being selected for an interview.
Not to my surprise, I had no interviews in 2016. Not a single course centre invited me to the table to share my story of why I was greater than the exams portrayed me to be. The Clinical Psychology dream was once again quashed and on this occasion, my naysayers had won and perhaps confirmed their prejudices about my performance. The year that followed was spent engrossed in multiple projects in my work at the time, one of which felt purposeful – leading a project on increasing access to mental health services for young black men. This project tugged at my heartstrings and provided some closure which affirmed the common adage ‘everything happens for a reason’. I was finally enjoying being in a purpose-driven role, aligning with my values and mostly, serving my community while also getting paid to do so. That same year, I even began to consider a career as a CBT therapist or working in the Digital Therapy industry after leading the set up of an online therapy pathway in a large IAPT service and going on to lecture trainees at UCL. I even had a short spell of a Youtube Career, co-founding Breaking Mad, not long before.
Something felt different this time; I was relaxed, peaceful and compassionate towards myself given the journey I’d embarked on to be in this position.
I was at the height of my career, with a widened lens on the jagged road to success, exploring all possibilities in the world of Psychology, with Clinical Psychology being at parity with them all. Unsurprisingly, when the Clearing House applications re-opened for 2018, I decided to submit an application while simultaneously working on my CBT pre-training portfolio. Each option was rendered to be of equal value and so a diligent approach was applied accordingly. I poignantly remember pulling up a word document and literally writing, in my own words, in a true felt sense why I wanted to do the doctorate. No part of the form was adulterated by external raters, aside from the final version which was reviewed by my partner, a medical doctor who also held the dual role of an ‘authenticity’ checker. This time around, I surrendered my application in faith that I’d somehow captured my truth in short of 3,000 characters but feeling immensely proud that I’d maintained my integrity throughout, telling tales of being displaced from my birth country due to economic failures and my desire for a socially just world. Something felt different this time; I was relaxed, peaceful and compassionate towards myself given the journey I’d embarked on to be in this position.
In short, changing the relationship I had with the application process consequentially allowed me to focus on what mattered to me most and placate the unrelenting anxiety and internal pressure that came with the application process. Previous years were characterised by a feeling of ineptitude and inferiority which became my nemeses. This new found relationship inspired a sense of feeling ‘more than enough’ regardless of my success in gaining the coveted clinical psychology place. I stopped seeing myself as another statistic but as an individual with valid dreams. This energy clearly scintillated in the eyes of admission tutors at Herts and so I was invited for an interview.
My first ever interview!
On the 27th of April 2018, my 26th birthday, a case of serendipity ensued. I received a phone call from my interviewer at the University of Hertfordshire with the best, unrivalled birthday gift one could ask for. I had secured 1 of 16 places out of a whopping 600 applicants across the country! Overwhelmed by an explosion of emotions, I could not contain my excitement on the phone and burst into an inconsolable crying fit ascending into hysterical laughter and then lastly a silence to actually digest the incoming news and verbally accept the offer.
The arguably ‘young’, Black African woman, from rural Zimbabwe had worthily gained her spot en voyage to her dream profession. It was a instagrammable moment of ‘mama I made it!’
Writing this reflection has brought many thoughts to the fore about the throes of pursuing a notoriously difficult, white-dominated profession to enter as a BAME individual. Securing the place was one hurdle to jump over but I’m well aware that a mountainous Kilimanjaro expedition awaits me. While I am the only Black person on the course, I feel privileged to be in a position to begin to shift some of the limiting narratives about people of colour and engage in transformative discourses geared at the sort. Having finally gained my seat at the table, I will hope to amplify my voice on matters close to my heart (Black Mental Health, social justice issues) and carve out my own legacy as a future Clinical Psychologist, rising above her circumstances and above all odds, remaining tenacious in my resolve to succeed!
So if you are in the process of applying, considering to apply or due to have interviews, I’d say go for it so a diverse many of us can sit at the same table one day and share our stories far and wide.
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