Graduate Student Corner - Williams
Agency and Communion in Professional Identity
University at Buffalo
When Sindes asked me to write a piece for the graduate student corner, I thought that it might be nice to write about the role SITAR and interpersonal theory have played in my professional life. Despite this goal, I ended up tumbling down a rabbit hole of more general self-reflection on my professional identity. Now you get to read about it.
I am currently a fifth year doctoral student working with Dr. Len Simms in Buffalo, where we study quantitatively informed models of personality and psychopathology. Len is a wonderfully autonomy-granting advisor and has pushed me to pursue ideas and projects that are new to our lab and that are not necessarily his area of expertise. The good thing about this is that it forces you to grapple with the direction of your personal research program and professional identity. The bad thing about this is that it forces you to grapple with the direction of your personal research program and professional identity.
In reflecting on how I have approached the freedom to choose my own professional path, I realize that at times I have made conscious decisions about my direction and other times I have made decisions without realizing it. One of the latter decisions was to join Dr. Chris Hopwood’s lab as a sophomore during my undergraduate years at Michigan State University. I had no idea what I was doing. At the time, my interest in research was vague and more along the lines of “I want to see what this is like.” Interpersonal circles sounded nice, so I applied to be a research assistant in the Hopwood lab. In working with Chris, and his (then) graduate student Kate Thomas, I was surprised by my passion for psychological research and interpersonal theory, as well as by how warm and collegial an academic environment could be.
After I transitioned to graduate school and began working with Len, I was soon told that I was the resident “interpersonal theory expert” (after Aidan Wright left, of course). This concerned me, because, as a first year graduate student, I felt like an expert in absolutely nothing. My lack of expertise, and many other factors, motivated me to decide early on that I would attend several conferences each year. Choosing which conferences and conference sessions to attend has always been difficult for me, but has often forced me to consider my development as a researcher and clinician. Sometimes this has been driven by a desire to become acquainted with new ideas and people, but equally important to me has been reconnecting with old friends. A year ago, this meant forgoing a few staple conferences so that I could attend a meeting focused on emerging personality research methods in Belgium. This allowed me to meet a European researcher who had integrated personality questionnaire and social cognitive task data in exciting ways, which I also hope to do in the future. In contrast, I have also been late to a few poster sessions because I was catching up with friends at the hotel bar. Although I am generally mindful of these decisions, what I did not fully grasp until writing this piece is that these choices in large part constitute my professional identity; they reflect what I value as a professional and likely shape how other professionals view me.
Even with this realization, it is unlikely that I could articulate the totality of what all these decisions mean. Nonetheless, deciding to attend SITAR is an important strand of my professional identity. Interpersonal theory, since undergraduate, has animated much of my thinking about my research and clinical work, to the point where faculty and students in my program just accept that I will explain things by drawing circles. SITAR meetings have taught me to draw better circles, as well as encouraged me to share my own. In short, I am looking forward to Montreal!