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TrishaK1997

Changing career plans. How to tell parents? Advice appreciated

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Okay, so in like 11th grade I was exploring careers and found out about occupational therapy. It seemed like a good job to me, get to work with kids, make good money, only a master's degree required (versus Phd). My passion was in psychology but my mom told me that the world didn't need any more psychologists and the idea of getting a PhD was so terrifying to me. I'm from a small town and all my friends just wanted to be moms and I knew if I got my PhD I wouldn't be able to start a family until I was almost 30 or later. 

So for college I only applied to accelerated OT programs or schools that at least had a masters program in OT. I ended up going to BU because their grad program is number one for OT. However, I'm a junior now and am very confident that I don't want to be an OT. The work involved just doesn't appeal to me and all the OTs I've met seem exhausted and sort of miserable. I shadowed an OT and didn't like it. 

However, I work in a psychology research lab (ASD research specifically) and have really become really well acquainted with the psych faculty at BU. I really enjoy research and have been told I have great potential. I want to continue to work in research and to eventually get my PhD in developmental psychology or clinical psychology. When I think about that prospect, I feel genuinely excited about my future. With OT I don't. Plus PhDs are funded, so I won't be paying off loans for the next 20 years of my life.

I'm home for spring break and my parents are asking me what OT schools I'm thinking of applying to and I just keep walking away or saying I don't want to talk about it. Regardless of what my parents say, I'm definitely not going to OT school, but I just feel so so nervous to tell them. How should I go about this? What sort of responses should I expect back? Please, any advice to help soothe my anxiety...It's not like all my life my parents wanted me to be an OT, I mean I technically set this expectation, but it's become an expectation nonetheless. 

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No one can tell you how your parents will respond, as that's entirely dependant on their personalities. Based on your mother's comment of the world doesn't need anymore psychologists, she may not understand the extent of what psychologists can do. You just have to come out and tell them. They'll figure it out soon enough when you start applying for programs. My advice would be to just outline to them exactly what you wrote in this post:  OT doesn't excite you, you've been working in a psych research lab, and you want to switch trajectories. After all, that's part of what undergrad is all about. 

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I would ask them to make a list of pros and cons of both. You do the same, they read yours and you read theirs. When people write down their thoughts it makes the problem more manageable. One thing you don't want to do is go to grad school for other people. It's hard psychologically and not being passionate about what you're doing may influence you to drop out. Then you and your parents lose. At the end of the day it's your life. I'd ask your parents to do more research on psychology because their remarks seem to undermine how dynamic the field is.

I would strongly suggest you research industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology. It's one of the fastest growing fields and takes aspects from clinical psych as well as OT. It would allow you to follow your passion as well as keep your parents at bay.

Or you could just threaten your parents by saying, "when you get older, I'm putting you in a home." Works for me.

Best,

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45 minutes ago, Left Skew said:

I would ask them to make a list of pros and cons of both. You do the same, they read yours and you read theirs. When people write down their thoughts it makes the problem more manageable. One thing you don't want to do is go to grad school for other people. It's hard psychologically and not being passionate about what you're doing may influence you to drop out. Then you and your parents lose. At the end of the day it's your life. I'd ask your parents to do more research on psychology because their remarks seem to undermine how dynamic the field is.

I would strongly suggest you research industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology. It's one of the fastest growing fields and takes aspects from clinical psych as well as OT. It would allow you to follow your passion as well as keep your parents at bay.

Or you could just threaten your parents by saying, "when you get older, I'm putting you in a home." Works for me.

Best,

Not really interested in I/O psychology. Honestly I'm working in Autism research right now and would be content doing that for a while if not forever.

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2 hours ago, Left Skew said:

I would ask them to make a list of pros and cons of both.

This could be useful if it helps OP address their parents' concerns, but personally I would be carefull that this strategy doesn't give the impression that the issue is still up for discussion. (Parents: "But look how many cons there are! And you have cons listed too! So I think we agree this is a bad idea.")   

OP, if you've decided, then tell them your decision. You could also hedge a bit: "I think I like psychology so I'm going to test it out by working for a professor this year, but regardless I definitely know I don't like OT because of x, y, and z."

If we take  your mom's comment about the world having too many psychologists at its surface meaning -- i.e., concern about your job prospects, then point her to this: "Employment of psychologists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those who have a doctoral degree in an applied specialty."

That said.... you said you're from a small town. I'm from a small town. May I suggest a few other things that might be going on:

(a) Your parents are concerned that if you get a clinical psychology PhD you'll move to a city and they'll never/rarely see you. 

(b) That "the world has enough psychologists" line could be a manifestation of the attitude some people have about 'everything being a disease or an illness nowadays, and giving kids coddling and pills instead of just discipline' and they blame modern psychology for 'slapping a diagnosis' on conduct problems. Do your parents express other types of republican talking points/culture war ideas?

(c) They want that more traditional life of marriage and kids for you. Sometimes there is a stigma against "over" educated women and fear that they won't be able to catch a man if they know too much. (I'm assuming you're a woman because of the references to your friends.)

But those last three are wild speculation. You're in a better position to judge. And regardless, I think it should be presented as a decision, not a discussion, because you're a grownup. To smooth over the relationship, however, it could be worth thinking about what's really going on for them.

 

 

Edited by lewin
typo

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OP, you're an adult. You get to live your own life and make your own decisions. Your parents don't get to make your decisions for you and they won't live your life for you. It seems to me that you came into your BA wanting a certain career, and having pursued some education and practical training in it, you've discovered it's not what you want. You've also discovered a new passion. Tell your parents that. A PhD would be funded, as you say, so you won't go into debt. And you'll have career options in and outside of academia. You don't have to justify yourself to them, but it's good to have answers to some question they may ask (what kind of jobs, how much do they pay, how long is the training, what schools are you considering). You may also want to think about what you want to tell them as far as personal questions go (when you might start a family, where you might live, etc). Understand their concerns for you and that they want what's best for you, but stand your ground that it's your life and your decision to make. Also keep in mind that while this decision has been brewing for a while inside your head, it's going to come as a surprise to them. Give them the space to digest what you're telling them. 

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I had a similar experience when discussing my aspirations for graduate school in clinical psychology. Coming from a culture and background where the work of a psychologist and mental health professionals is largely misunderstood and unclear, it was a challenge to present the case that I would want to pursue a career that is in that direction. 

Depending on how your parents react and how involved they are in what they think is suitable for you, I would sit down with them (perhaps choose the parent that would be more accepting of such drastic changes), and let them know. Explain what you want to do between now and the end of your undergraduate studies, and clarify how you will get to your end goal of a PhD in psychology. Creating a plan and outlining it to them will reassure them that this isn't an impulsive decision and that you've carefully thought this through. I would also find resources that are easy to digest and present it to them so they understand what psychology is, why it is still a VERY much relevant area of study (unlike what is described in the media sometimes), so that they are more informed that you aren't going into a profession that will be a dead end. You should also explain why being in school longer will benefit you more (if they are worried about finances, for example, tell them about funding and that you will be paid to be in school essentially).

OP, you know what you want after gaining more experiences in your undergraduate studies. In Grade 11, you might have been impressionable and at the time OT made sense. Now it doesn't, and that's okay. Ultimately, your parents will be concerned that you will struggle during your 20s and early 30s with instability and not having a career. That's what parents do. They want you to succeed. If you are able to create a plan to show them that you have thought this through, they will understand. It may take a bit of convincing, as mine certainly did, but seeing you succeed will be enough evidence for them to know you did the right thing.

Good luck!

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Dear TrishaK,

Don't apply to OT school. It is way too costly if you do not want to go. Just be honest and tell your parents that you are deciding to go in a different direction with your career. And make sure to tell them how excited you are about research! But also, psychology and getting a phD is extremely competitive. It may be funded but it can also be expensive since you will have to live without income for years. Don't glamorize the dream of being a phD and doing research just because you are in a place of uncertainty with what you thought was certain. 

So cool that you want to do ASD research! I work with ASD populations as a teacher :) if you still have connections with OTs, make sure to shadow OTs in schools that work with ASD populations - it's a lot of fun and the OTs I've met in schools absolutely love it. 

You're young - don't slam the door shut on opportunities. Take time and figure it out !

Good luck! 

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This thread is old but there may be others interested in this, and plus I had already started a response ;D

I would not ask your parents to make a list of pros and cons or sit down with them for a session to "inform them" of your decision. Both of those options imply that 1) this is a Big Deal and 2) that they somehow have some kind of say or input, or that this is up for discussion.

The next time your parents ask you about what OT schools you're planning to apply to, you can respond "Oh, none! I've actually decided that I don't want to be an occupational therapist anymore. I'm planning on getting my PhD in psychology and becoming a research psychologist."

  • If they respond "What are you going to do with that?" or "Are there even any jobs in that field," calmly respond "There are actually lots of opportunities for psychologists in research - I could work at a university, a government agency, a think tank, in consulting work, or at lots of different companies who hire user experience or market researchers. I've put a lot of thought into this and have gotten some experience with research at my school."
  • If they respond "The world doesn't need more psychologists," you can respond "The field of psychology is actually growing faster than average. I think that you may believe that because of some outmoded ideas about what exactly psychologists do. Although we'll always need more mental health counselors and therapists, not all psychologists do that kind of work - I'm planning to be a researcher." Actually, some psychologists work with OTs to help people mentally/psychologically cope with their potential disabilities/health conditions.

Don't feel pressured to have worked out all of the details right at this moment. A lot of parents that I've interacted with - who have seniors in HS or college students - seem to be under this illusion that their young adult children need to have every step of their future career planned out, when they never would've held themselves to that same standard at the same age (and their career paths probably didn't follow that standard, either). I wouldn't feel pressured to create a plan and explain it to your parents, or present them with resources to help them understand the field. It's their responsibility to work through their anxiety about letting their child be an adult. If you have plans you can apprise your parents of them if you choose; if you have resources you think will be helpful, you can send those too. But you don't have to - you don't have to "convince" your parents of your career plans unless you're planning on asking them to support you financially during your graduate school years. Even if you are making impulsive decisions, that's fine too - it's your adult life with which to make impulsive decisions.

My parents also had some questions about my career path (I am a research psychologist myself) when I was in college and grad school - particularly my dad, who every break would try to convince me to drop out of my doctoral program and go into some other field he'd heard made a lot of money last week. I indulged them to a certain extent by offering answers to the ones similar to those above, but after they crossed a certain threshold, I firmly but gently ended the conversation with some version of "I know you're concerned, but this is my decision. I've put a lot of thought into this and this is what I want to do." Eventually they learned to stop asking and trust that they raised me to be an adult who makes well-considered decisions, even if they were different from the choices they'd make.

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