Help me save the upcoming interview for a Master's degree
February 4, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Grad School Interview filter : How can I properly explain that I switched majors just a year short of graduating (due to embarassing personal reasons- details inside)?

I decided to forsake my training as a grad student in developmental psychology last year after realizing that I was too expressive/outgoing to be able to properly listen, and simply too young at that point in my life, to face these things as a professional (24/F). Also, I had been in depression for 2 years, and simply chose to start anew in a field which interests me just as much, and seems less emotional : Speech therapy and psycholinguistics.

As I have done well on certain exams last year, I missed one of them, which I plan on passing next june, in order to "finish up" the schoolyear I did as a master's student in Psych, though without properly graduating the Master's degree (I had one year left).

After studying psycholinguistics enthusiastically in undergrad this semester (as it was a prerequisite), I applied for a Master's degree in Speech therapy, and am now preparing for the interview.

Amongst many questions, I know there is a possibility that someone may ask for the reason why I didn't finish even the schoolyear I had started (courses go by blocks, which have to be taken within a certain level or year of training), and I am certain that I will be asked why I chose to change majors.

It is clear to me that speech therapy simply looks :
more diverse,
less emotional,
more "medical" in certain aspects,
that I enjoy linguistics,
and that I will get to express myself a lot more, in a useful manner through this field (plus research opportunities seem amazing)
........................but will it justify my academic past ?

Question : what valid reasons could I present, that wouldn't actually dismiss psychology, or alter the vision the interviewing team will have of my stability / personality ? Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's not about "I left psychology," It's about "I realized that I'd rather do psycholinguistics." You don't need to focus on your problems with what you left if you can explain what you love about the field you're going into, and you'd need to be able to do that anyway.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:52 AM on February 4, 2010 [12 favorites]

I don't know that your past needs much more justification beyond what you've stated above. If asked, I would say that I chose not to finish my master's degree in developmental psych because you realized that it was not a good fit for your personality and academic interests, and that speech therapy and psycholinguistics was better-suited to you (and vice versa). If you are asked about the missed exam, I would say that you missed it due to a personal problem. I would also say that you are making it up in order to get full credit for the year of the program which you did complete. I might not mention the depression part.

Also, I would really take time for some self-reflection and be sure that speech therapy is really the right fit for you. Have you talked to any practicing speech therapists and seen what their job actually entails? I am neither a psychologist nor a speech therapist, but it seems to me that anyone who is involved in direct contact with clients needs to have good listening skills. It also seems to me that speech therapy might be an intensely emotional field; after all, you will be interacting with people who either have lifelong speech impediments (which are probably a huge source of frustration and negative emotions for them), or who have suffered a stroke or brain injury or some other horrible trauma that is unimaginably dreadful for them and their families.
posted by kataclysm at 11:00 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tomorrowful has it. This is not a unique situation. I worked for a long while in the arts before I became a lawyer. When people asked why I changed, I just said something along the lines of I realized that this is what I wanted to be doing.

This is essentially job interview 101. Why did I leave my last job? Right answer: I had built up my skillset to the point where I outgrew the position; I loved the job, but it was time to move on. Wrong answer: I hated everyone I worked with, and the job was totally wrong for my "out there" personality / love of troll dolls etc." Just follow the same soft-shoe bullshit plan for grad school interviews.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

To me (NB: a psycholinguist), it doesn't sound like a totally crazy leap. You had an interest in helping people before by listening to them. Through your training in that, you found your calling in doing that a different way.

Don't sweat it. Best of luck, and feel free to memail me about the experiences I've seen of friends in the devpsych/clinpsych/speech world.
posted by knile at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2010

nthing Tomorrowful. Psych-->Psycholinguisitcs is a totally logical progression, and I don't think anyone would care at all what reasons you had for leaving psych so long as your reasons for entering psycholinguistics are well elucidated.

Whatever you do, don't mention "realizing that I was too expressive/outgoing to be able to properly listen." You gotta listen in every field, and I'd imagine psycholinguistics more than most...
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2010

I am a speech-language pathologist and teach at a large graduate program.

I can tell you that we do not care very much about our prospective students' previous academic background. It is not unusual for folks with backgrounds in, say, dance or French literature to perform extremely well in our program (upon completing the prerequisites to catch up, of course). So, a jump from psychology to speech-language pathology is not at all unusual and is unlikely to raise any red flags.

But you know what does raise a large red flag? This:

"[...] last year after realizing that I was too expressive/outgoing to be able to properly listen, and simply too young at that point in my life, to face these things as a professional (24/F)."

Your graduate program in speech-language pathology will expect you to be able to "properly listen" and face many human tragedies as a mature professional. Speech-language pathologists of today have vastly different responsibilities than "speech therapists" or "speech teachers" from the 1950s and 1960s. It's not all bubbles and picture cards and stickers while you miraculously fix a lisp. In fact, your day is much more likely to involve premature infants with nasogastric feeding tubes, adults whose lives have been disrupted in devastating ways by strokes or traumatic head injuries, non-verbal children on the autism spectrum... and their loved ones, who often require intensive support and counseling.

I am not trying to discourage you from pursuing a career in speech-language pathology. It is a wonderful field and I can't imagine doing anything else. But please know that an ability to listen to and counsel individuals who are often in fairly raw shape is an absolute requirement.
posted by onepot at 5:03 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
kataclysm : Yes, I took all of the last 2 years to ponder my choice, and got out of depression short of a year and a half ago. In the meantime I met different speech therapists, and did observations of actual sessions as well before making my decision. In grad school for Psych, I did also do well on an internship, in which I spent my time with brain-injured people (testing). It worked well, but I simply wanted to be more into action, when it comes to helping out, than into the listening part.

solipsophistocracy and onepot : Thank you so much for your insight. I think I wasn't clear enough in explaining my reasons : the reason I decided not to pursue a career as a psychologist was that at that moment, being depressed made me realize that taking a lot more time to mature would be good, in terms of properly doing counselling. On the other hand, I absolutely felt right and enthusiastic about the guidelines and methodology of therapeutic sessions in speech therapy. In fact I do know how to listen, because I did my internships and finished them well, simply, focusing on the psychological acceptance / processes didn't feel adequate at the actual time of my life i am in.

regarding the type of people I will spend time with, I also am at peace, as I will be focused on therapy, on things less abstract than emotions and thoughts. I know this is very concise and probably reductive, but I hope it makes sense.. I just finished the interview, which went pretty well.

Thank you very much.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:02 AM on February 5, 2010

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