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Inside CCRC: Farzana Matin on Why Higher Education Means Opportunity

Farzana Matin, Research Intern

Farzana Matin recently graduated from Hunter College with degrees in clinical psychology and sociology and a minor in human rights. As a CCRC summer intern, Matin is working with a team studying directed self placement as part of the CCRC-led Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness. In this Q&A, learn more about Matin, her interest in mental health, her undergraduate experience, and what she’s learned during her time at CCRC.

This conversation was condensed and edited.

Content warning: This blog post covers topics related to mental health and self harm.

Laila Dola: Tell me about yourself.

Farzana Matin: I am 22 years old and I graduated from Hunter College last May. Currently, I am taking a gap year before pursuing my graduate degree. My goal is to complete my master’s, then go into research and complete a PhD.

As part of the directed self placement team at CCRC, Dr. Elizabeth Kopko is mentoring me as I get hands-on research experience. Simultaneously, I am trying to gain more clinical experience by training to be a volunteer at Crisis Text Line.

Dola: What are some of your responsibilities as an intern at CCRC?

Matin: I am doing a literature review. I am also doing website reviews, shadowing meetings, and helping the researchers with anything they need. I'm especially with the development of interview materials because the researchers will soon start interviewing the community colleges to obtain more qualitative data. Then I will slowly start transitioning from observing some of the interviews to potentially conducting some myself.

For the website reviews, I note down resources that specific community colleges are providing students with during the placement process and whether or not they are letting students play a more active role in their placement determinations. The literature review is mostly looking at information related to that topic through newspapers, articles, and research journals.

Dola: What is your experience with working in the mental health sector?

Matin: I previously worked at the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), which was clinical psychology based, and I interacted with individuals affected by mental health conditions regularly. It helped me get a perspective on how it feels when you study mental illness all the time. Crisis Text Line is more about individuals in crisis, and it is not limited to those who are suicidal. It broadens to anyone who is overwhelmed or is feeling anxiety. My responsibility is to deescalate the situation. At NAMI, I used to receive people’s calls and provide them with resources. At Crisis Text Line, judging by the training, I will have to help them calm down, whether it's someone who's self-harming, trying to commit suicide, or just angry about something that happened during their day.

Dola: Does working in such an intense situation ever affect your own mental health?

Matin: I've heard many people use the term “vicarious trauma.” If you hear multiple patients telling you about their pain and traumatic experiences every day, what would you do as an individual who is bottling up everyone’s pain? I want to see whether I am able to handle the pressure that comes with working in the mental health field because my ultimate goal is to hopefully be a clinical psychologist or a general psychologist.

My experience with NAMI was very overwhelming because I would get around 20-30 calls every day within a four-hour shift. And I didn't expect that. I was a resource specialist and provided callers with appropriate resources. Sometimes I felt emotionally exhausted. At Crisis Text Line, one in four people mentions suicide; hopefully, my experience from NAMI will help me navigate their crisis better.

Dola: Tell me about your interest in pursuing a graduate degree.

Matin: I am South Asian. I was raised in Bangladesh, where women have less access to higher education than women in America. And every woman I have seen pursuing higher education in my family or in my community takes great pride in it. Furthermore, when I was young, I heard about how my mom raised two kids—my two older siblings—while completing her master's in psychology. My aunts are also PhD holders. And that pushed me toward higher education and built my interest in the field of psychology. At the moment, my intended concentration is in clinical psychology.

Dola: What does higher education mean to you?

Matin: Higher education means opportunity. Not just job opportunities or social mobility, but it also gives someone an opportunity to experience personal growth. Going to Hunter College and getting my bachelor's degree has given me a perspective on how the four-year bachelor’s program molds you into an autonomous person. You start to get a clearer image of yourself and the career path you want to go into.

Dola: Did you like your experience at Hunter College?

Matin: The first few weeks at Hunter, I went to my classes and exited only to sit under the Hunter north building staircase and watch Grey's Anatomy for three hours. I didn't go talk to anyone. But in my sophomore year, I started making friends and it was a completely new scenario.

One thing I wish was different is advising. Because Hunter is overpopulated, there were a lot of students and not enough advisors. When I was in need of guidance, my advisor was either booked or not available according to my schedule. So I wish there was someone who mentored me and provided me opportunities or told me about different things.

Dola: What is something you will take away from this internship?

Matin: This internship has allowed me to get a glimpse of what it's like for researchers working on a project. It is a tedious job but very fulfilling.

The future makes me nervous, but I am also excited. One thing other researchers here have told me is that they changed their major multiple times. And that it's okay to be worried because it is a long educational process, and eventually you will figure out where your interest truly lies.

The mentorship that I have received at CCRC will remain with me for years to come.

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