I’ve reached a special time in my career. My instinct, in every conversation, is to announce, “Hi, I’m Christine. And I just…finished…my…MASTERS!” Queue the applause, balloons, confetti, and trumpet playing kittens. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited.
But there’s one question that pops the celebratory balloons and makes the trumpet fanfare sound more like a scratched record: “So, do you have a job lined up?”
I crossed paths with a seasoned clinician a few weeks ago, and he asked me this very question. “Well,” I told him proudly, “I’m applying for PhD programs.” For me, merely making the decision to embark on a degree in Counselor Education was a bigger accomplishment than landing the best job on the market. It had taken a lot of personal work to arrive at the conclusion that yes, I was capable of a PhD and more importantly, I was the only person stopping myself from pursuing one. My new clinician friend was less impressed.
“So,” he said. “You’re going to become a researcher?” Indeed. That was the plan. He continued, “So you’re going to write all those articles that we don’t read anyway?” The “game over” buzzer from the Price Is Right blared in my head. I smiled, felt my cheeks burn, and ran to my laptop to scour job boards.
I realize I’m an outlier. It’s a rarity that I meet another Masters student who is as excited about research as I am. Most of us enter the field because we want to be practitioners, and Masters level programs tend to emphasize this aspect of our development (and rightly so). Practicing ethics, however, is essential to being an effective clinician. But regardless of how we feel about reading articles or conducting studies, research and ethics go hand in hand. It’s our duty to ensure that we serve our clients through techniques that grounded in science rather than intuition.
Through group and individual interviews, Jorgensen and Duncan (2015) studied twelve Masters students to better understand the concept of “research identity.” Three categories emerged from their data, including what the authors call the stagnation, negotiation, and stabilization stages. These phases of identity development fall on a continuum from extrinsically motivated research consumer to active producer of researcher. A few qualities of each phase, as indicated by the study, include:
Stagnation: Student dislikes and avoids research. Conceptualizes counselors as practitioners rather than researchers. Sees research as science and math. Doesn’t prioritize research. Has low self-efficacy in conducting research.
Negotiation: Student becomes involved with research, maybe as a co-presenter. More likely to read articles. Sees the merit of research for some but not all counselors. Ambivalent rather than outwardly disliking or enjoying research. Still views self as mainly a practitioner, but research is now being integrated into that identity.
Stabilization: Student has positive attitudes towards research and views it as necessary. Actively consumes and produces research. Mentors others regarding research. Prioritizes research and has high research self-efficacy. Has integrated both researcher and practitioner into their professional identity.
While these were developed based on students’ responses, my gut tells me these categories are not exclusive to counselor trainees.
As 2017 wraps up, I realize that identity has been a major theme for me. This year, I’ve added wife, 30-something-year-old, feminist, artist, and Masters recipient (final grades permitting) to my ever-evolving list of what makes me me. And as for my professional identity, I’ve come to embrace the role of researcher. I’m no whiz at selecting methodologies, crunching statistics, or arriving at ground breaking implications. But as counselors, we don’t have to be an expert to have a research identity. In my opinion, a positive attitude towards research and a commitment to staying abreast of current literature can be just as powerful as a long list of publications.
Jorgensen, M. F., & Duncan, K. (2015). A phenomenological investigation of master's-level counselor research identity development stages. The Professional Counselor, 5(3), 327-340. doi:http://bluehawk.monmouth.edu:2081/10.15241/mfj.5.3.327
Christine Hennigan Paone is a counselor in training at Monmouth University as well as an aspiring counselor educator. Her research interests include creativity in counseling, multicultural career counseling, and pedagogy.