Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Results Day Through the Eyes of a Psychology Honours Student

The Psych Honours bush telegraph was working overtime the night before the results were released. Some of us, myself included, were not entirely certain whether the results were being released the next day. Thanks to an appeal on Facebook to anyone with reliable information it was confirmed. My countdown of the days to go had dwindled to the mere hours remaining.

I was, and am, proud of all that I have learned at uni this year but I was still unsure as to what my final grade would be. I chose to go into uni to find out. I did have the option of ringing up but I wanted to get my results in person; the prospect of listening to the engaged tone or Mazurka on repeat was not inviting. More importantly, it just wouldn't have felt right to be told over the phone. After a session on the piano to relax I began my drive to uni. Even though I had left late on purpose, to my dismay I still managed to arrive at uni half an hour before the results were due to be released! That was a first, being disgruntled by a 'dream run' into uni.

When I made my way to the psychology department the corridors were eerily quiet. I began to wonder if I had gotten the day and time mixed up after all. I spied some signs of life further up the corridor and stopped to talk to a fellow Honours student and a faculty member. The student had just received their results, and the faculty member knew mine, but I didn't!! The student very kindly waited outside the co-ordinator's office for me for moral support as I knocked on the door and walked in. I was praying for an 85 (a first), or a high second class honours to give me a fighting chance of getting an interview for a postgraduate program but I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. My overall grade and my mark for my thesis were both 91. I remember repeatedly saying 'wow!' I think I was in shock, I was even trembling slightly. As I walked back down the corridor to chat with the student and some faculty members, it began to sink in, I had gotten a first, a first higher than what I could have imagined in my wildest daydreams. I was ridiculously happy.

Having shared my good news with my supervisor, who of course already knew, I visited a couple of  people on campus who wanted to know how I had fared and then began the drive home, smiling all the way. I tried, but mostly failed, to adopt a neutral expression as I walked in the front door to tell my parents the news. I didn't leave them waiting very long. They were ecstatic and very proud. Not long after I arrived home, a text message arrived from my friend. Sadly, we hadn't been able to find out our results together, but to my delight I discovered that she had done brilliantly.

The texts flew back and forth to family overseas that night and to the people closer to home who had followed my journey this year. I went out to dinner with my family to celebrate. Finding out my year 12 results was a great experience, but learning of my Honours' result was something else entirely.

91 is now my favourite number.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Tantalising Days

I've sat my final exam and I'm now on holidays. It hasn't sunk in yet that my course is finished, it's surreal. I've been enjoying my holidays though. I went to a wedding yesterday and to the beach today with some friends. It was nice to just relax though I'm currently sporting a red nose because I got sunburned, again! Evidently, I'm channelling Rudolph and getting into the Christmas cheer early.

In ten days I will find out my Honours result. I'm feeling a mixture of emotions, just thinking about finding out is a little overwhelming. I want to know how I've done but at the same time so much hinges on this result... If you can remember what it was like waiting on your year 12 results, you'll have an inkling of what it's like for me at the moment. I can either ring up or go in person to uni to find out but I plan to go in. It would feel too weird to find out my final result over the phone.

I'm also awaiting word as to whether I've gained an interview for the postgraduate courses I applied for. I've heard back from one university already. I wasn't successful in gaining an interview. Each uni looks for slightly different qualities though, so hopefully one of my other applications will be successful. I'm trying to remain both upbeat and realistic. If I don't get in anywhere I'll work on what I need to, to strengthen my application for next year. Until then, I'll be counting down the days until the 30th and watching the postbox like a hawk. I could hear back from the other universities about whether I have gained an interview any time between now and about the first week in December.

Watch this space.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Finish Line: Part 2

Last minute hiccups are the last thing you want when finalising your thesis. Unfortunately I encountered my fair share. I had reached the stage where all I had left to do was to organise my contents page, appendices and print four copies of my thesis. Simple and stress free, right? Wrong! Microsoft Word 2007, a wireless printer and one particularly troublesome appendix refused to play ball. Thanks to some improvisation and my parents pitching in I managed to get it all sorted out and could have hugged the person who served me at Officeworks when they told me my theses would be bound within half an hour. All that was left to do was go home and tell all my friends the good news!

I walked into uni on the 20th of October grinning like a Cheshire cat. You could spot all the Honours students a mile away by our distinctive grins. I climbed the stairs to the School of Psychology with excitement, knocked on the Honours coordinator's door and handed in my theses, I had done it! It felt amazing, I simply could not believe it. I found my supervisor to share the good news and the celebrations continued the next day as the Honours students and supervisors met at a local pub to let our hair down. When eleven o'clock came round that night it was clear that the last week had taken its toll on all the students. Most of us had left or were leaving in pursuit of some well earned shut-eye!

A fortnight has now passed but the satisfaction of having handed my thesis still hasn't worn off. As always though there has been no rest for the wicked. My fellow students and I immediately entered the next stage of feverish preparation, applying for jobs and or postgraduate courses. I fell into the latter category having applied for eight postgraduate PhD, Clinical PhD and Clinical Masters programs. I found three potential supervisors, wrote two research proposals, produced countless synopses of why I wished to apply, detailed my work and voluntary experience and found some kind referees.

I have applied so widely because more than anything I want to continue my studies with psychology. Ideally, I would like to gain a position in a Clinical PhD program (at my current university) so that I can go onto to be involved in both research and practice. The competition is fierce though. On average there are a hundred applicants per course, thirty of these applicants are short-listed for an interview and only seven to ten people will receive an offer. It is a blessing in disguise that I  have an exam to prepare for and that shortly afterwards I will find out my Honours grade and whether I have made it to the interview stage.

My philosophy is to always do my best but expect nothing external to come from it.  This way if anything does, it is a pleasant surprise. By the same token, if nothing arises, I can be satisfied with the knowledge that I have given my best and have no 'if only' regrets. I must admit though I am finding it hard to remain so pragmatic about my postgraduate application outcomes, I want that Clinical PhD so badly!! Regardless, if I am not successful I will seek feedback, work on the areas I need to and apply again. All I can do in the interim is throw my energies at the exam, pray and wait...  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Finish Line: Part 1

When faced with the looming deadline for your thesis, there are two things you can do: panic or get on with it. Realistically, you'll probably end up doing both. I know I did...

The weeks leading up to my thesis submission deadline were certainly 'character building'. First, I realised I had miscalculated one of my variables. You're probably wondering how anyone could miss something so crucial. I think I had just gotten too caught up in it all. I chose the 'get on with it' option in this scenario, it would have been a waste of time to panic or dwell on how I had neglected to notice my mistake, but I do realise now that I need to remember to step away from my thesis/study from time to time so that I can see it with a clear head.

I was far less cool, calm and collected when I faced my second character building exercise. This came in the form of discovering I needed to restructure my hypotheses, condensing three into two. My initial reaction was to PANIC! My stress levels went from 0 to 60 in the space of a few seconds. In fact, it all happened that quickly I didn't realise how panicked I was until someone pointed it out to me. Why was I so stressed? Well, the hypotheses shape the structure of the results and discussion so I had to tweak these too. In the end, this did not turn out to be the nightmare I had envisaged and it was definitely worth it. What did I learn? Things are rarely as bad as you think they are. Oh and, keep an eye on your stress levels and manage them before they peak [in a perfect world should be the caveat here...I vividly remember my mind going completely blank at one point due to stress, which is not something that has ever happened to me before. And no, this has not deterred me in the slightest from applying for postgrad. The rewards far outweigh everything else in my opinion].

Finally, writing my discussion was the clear winner in terms of the challenges I faced in those last few weeks. Just imagine the pressure (self-imposed as always) to do my study justice, draw all the themes together, interpret my results and come to a conclusion, without being able to show my supervisor a draft.  To say I agonised over my discussion would be fairly accurate.  I looked at past theses for guidance about structure. This was largely fruitless. I soon came to the realisation that there is no right way. I still think my structure is rather unorthodox but it does tell a story. Tell a story, tell a story, tell a story... that was the refrain constantly echoing in my head while writing the discussion, along with every piece of advice my supervisor had ever given me and my highschool English teacher's catchphrase 'you've got to dazzle dazzle' the markers! Last but not least I gained some much needed perspective from my Mum, who remarked that I had written every other piece of work in my university career by myself so why was I doubting myself now? Armed with all this, I did simply get on with it. In fact, I continued writing my discussion through an earthquake!

As Arthur Golden said "a mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory." This certainly held true for me in the weeks and days leading up to my thesis submission. Once I dealt with the doubt or stress, I was able to tackle things head on and realise that my doubt was unjustified. And as to victory? I do feel victorious, after eight months of hard work I produced an 11, 967 word Honours' thesis, but more importantly I have learned so much this year and loved the journey. What more can I ask of myself, having given my all? It is in the hands of the markers now. Wish me luck.