1. What motivated you to pursue clinical psychology?
It was a combination of personal and professional experiences what made me choose this career. From a personal perspective, coming from Mexico where most people live in poverty definitely influenced my decision. Growing up I witnessed how systemic barriers and chronic stressors contribute to persistent disparities among impoverished families. I just wanted to change that; do something about it! I thought that clinical psychology would provide me with the opportunity to achieve social justice and equality for all families.
After having chosen psychology, I would say that my participation in a community-based program in rural Mexico was another breaking point in my professional development. Working as a community mental health provider made me realize the positive impact that community-based programs can have on the well-being of underserved families. From that moment on, I knew what type of work I wanted to do: Research that addresses the multilevel barriers that prevent Latino families from accessing mental health services.
2. What is your favorite part of research/CALMA?
My favorite thing is definitely the type of work that we do in the CALMA lab. I am fortunate to be part of a lab where we conduct research that has immediate benefits for the community. We are very community-focused and you always feel that your research is making a difference in the lives of underserved Latino families.
3. What advice would you give to undergraduate students hoping to pursue graduate school in clinical psychology?
Since grad school in Clinical Psychology is such a big commitment (it’s very difficult to get into a program and it takes around 4-6 years to complete the degree; the workload and pace are intense; once you obtain your degree you may not score you dream job right off the bat), I recommend that undergraduate students think about what they really want to do with this degree.
Most of the time people tell me that they want to do some type of clinical work–working as a counselor or therapists. Well, in that case you don’t really need a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology! That type of work can be done with a Master’s in Counseling or Social Work. Those are very good degrees and you can finish your studies in 2 years and start working immediately.
Another thing that I often hear from students is that they aren’t sure if they like research. Well, that’s kind of easy to know. Did you like your undergrad research methods or research oriented class? Do you like or at least find it interesting to read research articles? Do you like to write about those articles? If you answer no to any of these questions, you may want to consider other options. Get more research experience as an RA or similar positions and see if you like it. Not liking research is completely fine! That just means that you probably don’t want to get a Ph.D. then since even the most clinically-oriented Ph.D. programs have a strong research component.
In short, you don’t need to be a “doctor” to do super cool work and be happy with what you do!
4. What are some aspirations you hope to accomplish after you complete grad school?
Whatever I do after completing my degree will be related to improving the lives of people in underserved communities. I see different ways that I can do this. For instance, I hope to focus my research on how to improve psychological treatments for Latino families, but more importantly I want to make those interventions available for underserved families through community-based programs.
Another of my goals is to mentor traditionally underrepresented students to achieve advanced degrees. I recognize the importance of having mentors who can support and guide you during your career. This is especially true, when you are a first-generation college student, have scarce financial resources, have to deal with immigration-related issues, or are part of an ethnic minority group. I think that I’m in a privileged position to be a mentor for these types of students because I have faced all these difficulties myself. I really hope to be good a mentor for others throughout grad school and beyond.
5. What is one way that your research/grad school has changed you?
I don’t think that grad school has changed me a lot. It has just reaffirmed my priorities in life. I highly value the type of work that I do, which means that I normally spend extra hours working on my projects. However, I also value my personal life and not academic-related activities. I think grad school is forcing me to try to keep a balance in my life. It’s a work in progress.
In terms of my research, I am more convinced than ever of the importance of conducting research to address mental health disparities present in Latino communities. I hope my own work will help achieve social justice and equality for all families.