We interviewed counselor education MA student Gautham Krishnan about his path to the Department of Educational Psychology and his experiences in the program.
What are your research interests?
I’m interested in how gender fluidity affects current research that is gender centric. Another area of interest is how multilingualism affects the auditory hallucinations experienced in mental disorders like schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder.
How did your path lead to the Department of Educational Psychology and your particular major?
Professionally, Indians have been known to gravitate to certain fields which are considered more lucrative and “safer” like engineering and medicine. So as a young confused adult when I was given the choice of choosing a major for my undergraduate program, I chose computer science (specializing in bioinformatics). I immediately realized that I wasn’t cut out for that but got through four years because I had no choice. I was always interested in psychology, but never considered it as a viable career. A lot of that stems from the stigma around therapy and psychology, so it never occurred to me that this is something I could pursue professionally. I started reading up more about different career options related to this. I decided to apply for a master’s in counseling psychology. I came upon the program offered at the University of Minnesota, applied for it and was fortunate enough to get in.
I would like to share an anecdote regarding this. My parents were skeptical of my decision, not because of the stigma, but because I didn’t have any background in psychology, and I’d be leaving behind the blooming IT industry in India. Needing divine reassurance, they consulted an astrologer to see if I’m meant to do this and it was “written in the stars.” The astrologer’s exact words to me were, “You will be working around people who are suffering.” After that, my parents have been nothing but supportive, which is both funny and tragic because the astrologer didn’t even want to convince my parents that I should go for psychology and was still able to do it so effortlessly.
What surprised you along the way?
I was pleasantly surprised at the age diversity within my cohort. It is also made me apprehensive because so many of them had already accomplished so much in life, while I just wasted an entire summer watching Netflix. There is an abundance of on campus student employment opportunities in the U.S. Securing my first job at the University has helped me become more financially responsible. Part time employment for students is not encouraged in India unless you have to work towards providing for your family. Parents are expected to pay for everything and in return children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age.
What is something you’ve most enjoyed about your experience?
I have had a lot of new experiences ever since I came here. I’ve met some of the nicest people through the program. They’ve helped me realize my self-worth, identify toxic relations and learn how to whisper. Yes, whisper. My theory is that, due to the demographic and the area of land [in India], there is a certain threshold of sound that is constant unlike here [Minnesota] where it can get so eerily quiet.
What is most exciting about your work?
I believe that humans love finding connections, whether it be with living or non-living things. I connect with people by listening to their stories and I believe that I can provide a support system that can help them grow. I get my feeling of importance from this.
How would you describe the student experience, and what does that mean to you?
My student experience in India and over here has been very different. Professors in India have authority over the students that they don’t shy away from using. Most of the teachers are underpaid so they don’t have the motivation to teach. Students would have to depend on additional coaching class to help cope with the coursework. After spending about 12 hours a day in high school and coaching class, I was still expected to study when I returned home. A common phrase used by parents in India is, “Study for now and then you get to have all the fun later!”
The stress and pressure are so immense that about every hour one student commits suicide in India. In the U.S., the professors I have come across have been so kind and humble. They treat students as equals, motivating us to ask more questions and also learn the subject. I wanted to put in more effort because I didn’t want to disappoint my professors.
What has been most challenging?
Career counseling is not well developed in India, so when I made the choice of choosing counseling psychology as a career choice, I didn’t have any help. I always questioned my decision, whether I’d be good at it or if I would even enjoy it. I’m glad that I went through with this because today I do feel like I’m meant to do this. I feel good about myself and the interested in the work I’m doing. I don’t recall feeling like this back in undergrad.
How have your professors helped you along the way?
The professors have been nothing but helpful. Ever since I can remember, in India I would sit at the back of the class and try to get through the classes without interacting with the professors. I started doing the same even after coming here. I would be self-conscious whenever it was my turn to speak and would avoid speaking but they helped me out of my comfort zone and I find it easier to share things with the cohort. I still have a long way to go but I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.
What would you like prospective students to know?
I was really clueless about the courses when I got here, and I got through a year of this program. You’re going to face different challenges than me, but I want you to believe in yourself. Be open to people and to new experiences.
How has your cohort helped you along the way?
I was initially worried because I was the only student from India, but today, I feel like I have just been lucky. My cohort helped me get out of my comfort zone and made me feel so loved. I believe that I would have stayed friends with only Indians if I wasn’t part of this cohort.
What are you looking forward to with graduation?
I’m looking forward to graduation because this will be the first graduation that I am able to attend, hopefully. The idea of celebration itself sounds fun, and I am looking forward to working and getting my license.
How do you plan to use what you are learning/your degree?
India is seeing a shift in the field of psychology. Slowly the stigma of therapy and mental health is going away and people are more open to the idea of therapy. I want to be part of that movement and help establish counseling that adheres to their needs and concerns.
Why did you chose the counselor education program at the University of Minnesota?
This University was one of my top choices because of the ranking of the program, the University and the research done by the faculty.