Ask Dr. P. | My parents disagree with my major and career plans

Ask Dr. P.


My parents want me to be a doctor but I have no interest in the medical field. What should I do?


Your parents have their dreams for you, and you have your own. Sometimes both sets of dreams coincide or overlap, but more frequently, they go off in separate directions. Their dreams for you may be the result of unfilled desires they had for themselves and/or their hopes that you will have a rewarding and prestigious occupation. Or they may truly believe that you would be happiest in the medical field rather than somewhere else. Regardless of their motives, you can’t live your life constantly trying to meet their expectations.

While you are a product of your parents’ or caretakers’ upbringing, you are a unique person with values, interests, and aptitudes of your own. Your unique characteristics were acquired biologically (you are not a biological carbon copy of either parent), in schools, and in partnership with your peers, among other places. You are different from your caretakers and often these differences are substantial, that is, they affect the kind of career you would be ideally suited for.


What can you do about career conflicts with your parents/caregivers?



One of the first things you can do is get some career counseling at your college or university to discover what your career-related interests are. The information you will learn about yourself will be helpful in talking with your parents about your choices of a college major and/or career.

Generally, as part of career counseling, you will take at least one paper-and-pencil test. The most frequently-used career test is the Strong Interest Inventory, which is composed of 291 questions, and takes about 35 to 40 minutes to complete. Following the scoring, you will receive a profile that compares your answers with successful people in over 260 occupations. That way you will have an opportunity to see how your interests fit in with theirs.


The Strong Inventory assesses which of these career types you most resemble.

Doers are active, hands-on, adventurous people who like to be outdoors. Civil engineers, veterinarians, and firefighters fall into this category.

Thinkers, on the other hand, are analytical, theoretical, and inquisitive people interested in research. As you might expect, scientists, professors, and police detectives are among the Thinkers.

Creators have a strong need to express themselves in some way and are often found in the Arts, e.g. actors, artists, musicians, and architects. They are artistic, imaginative, and free-spirited.

Helpers are caring, supportive, and collaborative people who gravitate to people-oriented professions, such as teaching, medicine, psychology, and social work.

Persuaders are influential, ambitious, and enterprising people who run business organizations (lawyers, school principals, and police officers are also in this category).

Organizers are usually the behind-the-scenes workers who handle all the details. They are practical, orderly, and efficient, such as accountants, computer programmers, bankers, and librarians. Ordinarily, Organizers prefer to stay out of the limelight.



The next thing you can do is talk with your parents about your career interests. Schedule a time and place away from your house, such as a restaurant or park, where reason and calm can prevail. If you are correct about having no interest in the medical field, your Career Profile from the testing will be useful ammunition in defending your position. As you talk with them, it will be helpful to have an alternate career or two in mind. That way they will be reassured that you are behaving in a reasonable and mature way about your future.

In any event, you can use this opportunity to talk with your parents or caretakers about yourself and what your interests and values are. Be prepared to handle any objections they might raise about your preferred path (e.g., you won’t make a lot of money or you won’t have any job security). Parents tend to worry about their children’s safety and financial security before they think about job satisfaction, especially if they themselves had a rough time making it, that is, they didn’t have a lot of money and worked hard for the little they had.

While there is no guarantee that your first discussion with them will be successful, it will at least open the door to future talks, provided the first meeting didn’t generate a lot of bitterness. Remember that your parents had very different experiences than you have had, and as a result, see the world much differently than you do!

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince them of your perspective. And that is okay, just as long as you try to maintain respect and affection for them while pursuing your own dreams!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | How to Increase Your Confidence

Ask Dr. P.


I feel like everyone else is smarter than I am. What can I do to feel more confident?


Lack of self-confidence, or low self-esteem, is a concept that is used to account for almost everything in the psychological realm--from a common bout of nerves to a very serious episode of psychosis. Everyone seems to agree that you can't have too much self-confidence and that too little of it isn't a good thing. Even the super-cocky and self-righteous narcissists are believed to be suffering from low self-esteem underneath their bravado.


What is self-esteem?

Valuing or caring about yourself and believing in your worth as a person define self-esteem. If you are high in self-esteem, you feel self-confident and proud of some aspects of yourself, whether your appearance, personality, sense of humor, generosity, intelligence, or some other trait. On the other hand, if you are low in self-esteem, you are quite self-critical and prone to downplay your positive qualities, exaggerate your negative ones, and create in your own mind a very distorted self-portrait.


How realistic is your feeling that everyone else is smarter than you are?

It’s probably not realistic at all.

For one thing, intelligence is not a unitary trait but a combination of many individual factors, such as verbal, numerical, spatial, visual-motor, memory, and abstract abilities, among others. This means you could be very smart in one or more of these areas and even below average in others. Since you’re already in college, the chance of you being “below-average” in all of these abilities is very, very small. Realistically, as a college student, the worst you can be is below average in one or two of the skills related to academic success. If so, then you may need tutoring in those areas where you lag behind, but it does not mean that you are not as smart overall as the person sitting next to you in class.


Ask yourself why you’re so self-critical

Most of the time, self-criticism comes from highly-critical parents or caretakers, whose judgments of you were quite flawed. In other words, their perceptions of you (e.g., that you’re dumb) may have little to do with you objectively, and more to do with their own frustrations about how little they accomplished in life.

Unfortunately, you became the object of their anger, a position that you didn’t volunteer for and didn’t deserve, but what happened is that you internalized their criticisms (which is how your "inner critic" was formed) and you became your own worst enemy. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” What she was trying to say is that you don't have to accept comments from others that make you feel bad about yourself.

Low self-esteem can also come from unfair comparisons with another person in the family. Sometimes, a very gifted sibling becomes the basis of comparison. A brother or sister with unusual talent in math or music, for example, may be the one in the family who got most of the attention growing up. And you were left feeling “not as good as” the person who got all the attention, even though you have talents of your own.


What can you do about feelings of low self-esteem?

1. Disagree with your inner critic

If you find yourself thinking that you’re not very smart, disagree with those thoughts by saying to yourself “That’s not true!,” and replace your inner critic with positive thoughts, such as “I’m smart in these areas----” or something similar. Do not let your mind go down negative pathways. Instead follow up with something positive about yourself that you know is true.

2.  Love yourself!

Even though the phrase sounds like a cliché, loving and caring about yourself are very important components of self-esteem. Loving yourself means valuing your accomplishments, enjoying your successes, and taking good care of yourself. Even the biblical injunction, “Love your neighbor AS yourself,” commands you to love yourself along with your neighbor. It doesn’t say “instead of yourself.”

3. Think about what you have accomplished

What strengths do these accomplishments demonstrate?

If you did a great science project last semester, that probably means that you have an aptitude for science. If you went out of your way for a friend recently, that suggests you care strongly about others, and are probably suited for a career in one of the helping professions. In other words, identify your strengths and keep them in the forefront of your mind, especially when you doubt yourself.

4. Visualize your success

Think about yourself as an intelligent person succeeding academically and/or professionally. Visualizing yourself succeeding often helps you overcome the obstacles you believe are in your path.


Like everyone else in this world, you are unique —there is no one quite like you, so learning to value your specialness is necessary to succeed in this crazy world of ours!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Work-Life Balance

Ask Dr. P.


How can I balance school with a social life?


A personal/social life is a necessity, not a luxury. While getting good grades is vital to your academic success, taking care of the rest of you is essential to your overall well-being and happiness. Running at full speed for long periods of time creates stress, but slowing down at times to enjoy the people and activities around you is the best antidote to burnout and depression.

Some time management and study skill principles can be very useful in juggling your school and personal worlds:


Schedule breaks

The most productive people around you know how to fit a myriad of rewarding activities into their busy schedules, and they do so by scheduling their lives to some degree. From my own personal experience, I know the value of a semi-scheduled life. When I was at my busiest with deadlines galore, I was able to survive with some life-sustaining breaks in the work routine. At the very least, I managed to save Saturdays for exercise and social activities, such as playing tennis and outings with friends in the evenings. Without those welcome breaks, I would never have made it through challenging times.


Study two hours for every hour in class

With respect to your academic world, the basic rule of two hours of study time for every class hour is still a good one. That means if you have 15 hours of classes, you should plan on an additional 30 hours of study time per week. Try to schedule study time for the same class at the same time each week so that you can develop habits around studying (habits are much easier to deal with because you’re on automatic pilot and don’t have to wrestle with yourself about when to study). It’s a wise idea to schedule about 2 hours to work on writing a paper, about one hour for reading a chapter, and much shorter periods (15- 20 minutes) for memorizing material.


Memory aids: meaningfulness, organization, and repetition

Keep in mind that you can remember better the material you are learning if the information is meaningful, organized, and repeated. To make it meaningful, you need to try and understand what you are studying and relate it to material you’ve already learned. Organization also helps; creating an outline or numbering some of the items will aid in retention. Because of all the memorizing involved in anatomy courses, medical students often rely on rhymes and other memory devices to make it easier to remember all parts of the human body.



In addition, remember that sleep is a key component of memory. Sleep is a critical element in the coding of material from short-term memory into long-term storage in your brain. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll lose it, that is, you’re more likely to forget what you studied so hard to learn.


Effective reading

In reading a chapter, the Survey Q3R method can be very helpful.

SURVEY relates to looking over the chapter (what are the headings?; are there questions at the end?) to see how the chapter is organized.

Q deals with QUESTIONS, that is, asking yourself questions about the material so that you get more involved in the information.

The first R relates to READ, that is, reading the chapter to answer your own questions, the second R deals with RESTATE or rephrasing the answers in your own words, and the third R means REVIEW.

All of these steps are designed to increase your learning of the chapter materials. If you like to highlight with a yellow marker, don’t do a lot of highlighting because it will make it harder for anything to stand out.


Organized writing

Before starting to write a paper, the best thing to do is create an outline and jot down points you want to include under the appropriate headings. That way, you will have an organizational scheme beforehand to aid you in writing a logical and coherent paper rather than a rambling one.


Personal/social time

If you figure that you have 168 hours in a week (24 hours/day), 49 of which you devote to sleep (7 hours/night), 45 to classroom attendance and studying (15 credit hours + 2 hours study time per credit hour), and 42 hours to meals, showers, laundry, and walking to and from classes, that leaves 32 hours for your personal/social life, which can be divided into a few large chunks and some smaller ones.

You can figure out your schedule any way you choose, as long as you utilize the 32 hours or thereabouts for your personal and social needs. For example, Saturdays could be your break day away from schoolwork, in which you fit in your exercising and time to socialize with friends. Or, you may prefer to take a few afternoons or evenings away from the hard work of studying. If you don’t like to over-schedule yourself, you may want to consider giving yourself periods of “free time,” that you use in whichever way the spirit moves you.

If you need to have a part-time job, the allotted time for your social life, unfortunately, will be reduced. Nevertheless, use whatever time is available to socialize and/or engage in non-school related activities.

Remember that taking time to pursue whatever restores your energy and motivation is absolutely necessary for your mental health!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Feeling ashamed of your background

Ask Dr. P.


I’m the first in my family to go to college. Why do I sometimes feel ashamed of my background?


If you're the first in your family to go to college and you grew up in a household that is financially poor and/or has low levels of education, feeling ashamed of your background is quite understandable and common.

In working hard to fit into a world that is very different from the one you grew up in, varied aspects of your background can be a source of conflict or shame. You may, at times, feel ashamed of the way your family/caregivers speak, their poor grammar or vocabulary, the topics they talk about, their manner of dress, or what you consider to be their overall lack of sophistication. Your brother’s loudness may seem gross and boisterous to you and your sister’s clothes may appear flashy and in poor taste. Furthermore, your neighborhood may be located on the “wrong side of the tracks” or your religion may be different from the campus norm.

While you are in the process of changing and adapting to a college environment, your family and caregivers have probably stayed the same. Thus, you are becoming different from them - a different person with different interests and values - a reality that often feels like betrayal to them. As you struggle trying to fit into both worlds, people back home are trying to understand what happened to the son or daughter, brother or sister, they knew some time ago.


What can you do about feelings of shame?



First of all, accept your feelings for what they are – a means of establishing your independence and becoming your own person. Undoubtedly your feelings will change over time, but the more you deliberately try to get rid of feelings, including shame, the more likely they are to stick around. Self-acceptance and deeper understanding of the world and people around you are the best ways of changing and moving on.



One thing that you can do is to try and see the strengths of your family and caregivers. Maybe your mother was hard working and your father very conscientious. Maybe your primary caregiver was the life of the party or your aunt was very religious. Or, maybe the people around you were very family-oriented and self-sacrificing. In my case, my mother was very warm and affectionate but quite passive and helpless. My father, on the other hand, was an angry alcoholic, but he was quite intelligent and competent in many ways. Neither parent was all-bad. I was fortunate because I got some of their best qualities and few of their worst.

In the process of growing up with your family and/or caregivers, you became someone who has some wonderful qualities. Ask yourself where these characteristics came from?

Some of your positive personality or character traits undoubtedly came from influential people in your life, and for that, you can be thankful.

As for those positive qualities that you developed on your own, you can justifiably feel proud of yourself.



Next, consider the values of the two worlds in which you now live (college and home). Which values within these two worlds are positive?

In the college environment, the positive values are many. Among them: love of learning, a determined quest for truth, disciplined scholarship, acceptance of diversity, team spirit, and friendship. However, some negative values also reside in the world of college, often manifested more by peers than professors. Materialism, making money, “looking cool” through excessive drinking and sexual exploitation, inordinate competitiveness, and a phony sophistication that devalues honesty, often run rampant on college campuses today.

In contrast, your family and/or caregivers may be good people characterized by moral integrity, kindness, and good will, even if they lack the kind of worldliness that you now admire. If, on the other hand, your family has few redeeming qualities, then it is up to you to establish your own values based on your experiences, mentors, the best your college has to offer, and your own religious or spiritual beliefs. Here, your college chaplain or cleric can be helpful in establishing or reinforcing the kind of values by which you want to live your life.

It is important to become your own person and not a caricature of collegial or familial qualities.

I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Useful Strategies for Dealing with Depression

Ask Dr. P.


What can I do about my depression?


About depression

In contrast to anxiety’s excessive energy, depression leaves you depleted and lacking motivation. Often you don’t want to do anything, especially your schoolwork, when you’re depressed. You may feel like sleeping or watching TV for hours on end. Nothing seems worthwhile and you want to give up on yourself and your plans to complete college.

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by many of the following symptoms: feelings of sadness, crying for no apparent reason, poor appetite or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, poor concentration or difficulty making decisions, feelings of hopelessness, diminished interest (or pleasure) in most activities, and/or suicidal thoughts.

Depression can come on suddenly or lurk in the background for months before becoming apparent. It has been reported that 33% of college students had felt so depressed some time in the last 12 months that it was difficult to function. When depression occurs in college, it is often in response to a big disappointment, such as a poor grade on a test or a break-up with a romantic partner. The trigger, or the disappointment, can unleash a whole host of negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, such as “I knew I wasn’t smart enough for college” or “I knew I wasn’t attractive enough or lovable enough to have a lasting relationship.” Self-disparaging thoughts and feelings like these create a vicious cycle, that is, more negative thoughts lead to more depression, which, in turn, leads to more negative self-evaluations.


What can you do when you’re feeling “down”?



One of the most important things you can do is reach out to others, that is, friends and family, and talk with people you trust about how you feel. Even if you don’t want to talk to anyone, do it anyway, but make sure they are trusting individuals who have your back.

Don’t isolate yourself! Being in contact with others reminds you that you are a valued member of this world and that others care about you.

Besides that, wise friends or family members can offer useful advice about how to handle the problem you are experiencing.



Make sure you do at least a couple of things each day that give you a feeling of accomplishment. The tasks you perform can be anything, big or small, that lead to a feeling of mastery. The tasks can be ordinary ones, such as doing a crossword puzzle or an easy homework exercise for your Algebra class. They can also be more challenging, if you find such activities to be a source of motivation for you.

Overall, you need to remind yourself that you are a competent person capable of many things.


Bring back pleasure into your life.

Too often, people lose their zest for life when they are doing little besides hard work.

If you are burned out, re-introduce some of the things in life you used to enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an ice cream cone in your favorite flavor, a funny video, or a game of ping pong, as long as you find it gratifying or fun in some way. Doing things that bring a smile to your face or cause you to burst out in peals of laughter is always good for you, but especially when you are down.



While there are many explanations as to the cause of depression, including family history, one non-genetic viewpoint is that depression is anger turned inward. That is, instead of feeling angry toward the individual(s) or cause(s) where it belongs, you turn that anger toward yourself. Often you can’t directly confront the person you’re angry with, but what you can do is write about it. In a journal, ask yourself, “Am I angry with someone?” If so, write about that anger there. On a positive note, getting in touch with your anger can be energizing and motivating.

As one elderly gentleman recovering from a period of depression once said,

“Madness is better than sadness because when you’re mad you can do something; when you’re sad, you don’t feel like doing anything at all.”

And, he was right.



Lastly, but most importantly, seek out help from the university counseling center when your depression persists for more than a week. There, you can talk with a counselor about what is bothering you and get appropriate help in the form of talk therapy and/or medication.

Sometimes, depression is caused by high levels of chronic stress.

So, reducing anxiety becomes an important part of treatment. Whatever the recommendations, you will feel better that you have someone in your corner (the counselor), who will be there with you as you get back to feeling like yourself.


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday