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Reflection: The experience of being a first year doctoral student at MSP

Being a first year doctoral student at MSP provided me with significant personal and professional growth that I never anticipated. The first day of class was anxiety provoking as it was saturated with anticipation of how the program worked and who would be a part of my incoming class.  As though our anxiety was not heightened enough, we were bombarded with requirements, explanations of assignments, and seemingly impossible reading lists in each of our four classes. It felt as though I was being thrown into this intense program so fast with no time to become acclimated. The thought that I was unable to handle this commitment crossed my mind quite a few times. Honestly, this anxiety maintained for the majority of my first semester.

Alicia Width, MA
Alicia presents her poster at the spring Research Symposium.

However, I steadily gained more confidence in myself once I started speaking to professors one on one about any questions or concerns, utilizing my classmates for support, and receiving advice from cohorts ahead of me. In the beginning, it felt as though it was an impossible task, but I pushed through and learned the beauty within this opportunity.

Throughout the three semesters, I made many sacrifices such as staying up all night writing ten or twenty page papers and declining enticing plans from friends and family for school. Although this was difficult at the time, and maybe to some not even worth it, I gained so much from this first year that made it all seem worthwhile. First, I have learned better organizational skills. This extends farther than with my schoolwork and paperwork, but with my time as well. I understand my process to successfully complete assignments and deadlines, which is invaluable in a program such as this.

Additionally, this year pushed me to accept my imperfections. I have always been the type of student who strives for the best, and may even push myself too hard to achieve “perfection.” However, the first year as a doctoral student allowed me to give myself permission to not be perfect. Instead, I allowed myself to be happy with the effort I put in and, ultimately, myself. The wonderful field of clinical psychology contains a vast amount of information; therefore, it was a pivotal moment in my success and happiness within the program that I realized I did not have to know everything.

If I were to give advice to future MSP first year doctoral students, I would stress that as long as they put in the work and time, fully utilize their current and previous cohorts, and maintain a healthy balance between school and self-care, each person has the ability to succeed. As any other higher education program, the first year of doctoral school has the possibility of producing negative self-thought. However, MSP is unique in the fact that is provides such of an immense amount of support that it allows students to grow from the self-doubt to self-acceptance. The relationships with professors and other students are integral parts of success in this program, which makes difficult times much more manageable.

After successfully surviving my first year, I can say with full confidence that it is worth it. The self-growth I acquired is truly worth all the stress, tears, and self-doubt. I am a stronger person, both academically and emotionally, and I feel more confident in abilities to succeed more than ever. Overall, the first year gave me more than I could have ever anticipated, including lifelong friendships, academic confidence, stress coping skills, and the self-acceptance to allow for imperfection.  

Alicia Width, PsyDAlicia Width, MA will be starting her second year in the MSP doctoral program this fall.