Hi psychology students! This is the first entry of the Psychology Monthly Alumni Blog Series presented to you through the joint ventures of the Department of Psychology and the Psychology Students’ Association. Like its namesake suggests, each month an alumnus/alumna from the undergraduate psychology program here at U of T will be interviewed in order to share their experiences in undergrad and how it helped to develop an understanding of their career. The goal of this blog series is to eventually showcase a wide variety of careers and journeys to help current students find what is right for them.
The first feature in the blog series is Queenie Wu. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science with High Distinction in psychology & human biology and then proceeded to a Master’s in physical therapy. She currently works as a Pelvic Health & Orthopaedic Physiotherapist. She also serves as a mentor, laboratory facilitator, clinical instructor, and lecturer with the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Toronto.
The following text has been loosely paraphrased so that it would be easier to read for viewers while maintaining the core of the interview.
Q: There is an evident intersection of your fields of study in your work, but how do you feel that your undergraduate education prepared you for your career?
A: At first I didn’t think my background in psychology would be too relevant when I started my Master’s in Physical Therapy but I quickly realized that psychology comes into play everyday in my work as a physiotherapist. There’s a lot of social and positive psychology involved. It starts from the first impression that I make when I meet my clients and continues with my role in guiding and motivating my clients towards a healthier lifestyle, ensuring clients are committed to their treatment plan and home exercises as well as promoting healthy habit changes to prevent injury and illness. I pay close attention to client motivations, beliefs, attitudes and goals to determine how I can best communicate with my clients and educate them.
Abundant evidence shows a strong connection between the mind and body — thoughts, emotions and stress often manifest in different ways on our physical bodies, so I need to consider both the mind and body in order to help my clients feel better. For instance, we often hold our stress in our neck and shoulders which may contribute to neck and shoulder tension or pain.
Q: You touched upon this a bit already, but what skills and mindsets did you develop during your undergrad and which of those do you think are the most useful to you currently?
A: I feel like the psychology of learning and social psych are the most relevant to me currently. Through the psychology of learning, I understand that there are different learning styles. I always try to identify a client’s preferred learning style and then cater my approach in educating and treating them. Through social psych, there are concepts like persuasion, attitudes and motivation that are important in my work. These are not explicit connections, so you really don’t start realizing how you can apply the principles you learn in class. When studying in undergrad, I think it is so important to find or even imagine real life applications for learning because it really helps concepts stick and allows you to use what you memorize more organically when you are writing an exam.
Q: Did you always know this is what you wanted to do or did your fields of study help you discover this career path?
A: I really didn’t know until the end of my third year in undergrad. I remember when I was in first year biology class in con hall and the professor asked who wanted to be a doctor, I didn’t raise my hand because I really had no idea what job I wanted. However, I always valued helping and educating others. When one of my family members developed a condition with her knee, I saw the significant impact of her illness on her quality of life. Through physiotherapy, she improved physically and was able to manage her pain very well. More importantly, she was able to return to her usual social and daily activities and showed huge improvements in her social and emotional wellbeing. I thought that physiotherapy seemed like a very meaningful career so I took my remaining prerequisites in fourth year, did a lot of volunteering and applied for my Master’s. When I started my clinical internships in grad school and worked with more clients, I noticed how my knowledge in psychology was quite useful in my line work as many principles I learned were applicable.
Q: You were really involved in undergrad academics, such as being a research assistant. Would you recommend students who want to follow in your footsteps take a similar path?
A: I think it’s important to create your own path and try your own stuff when opportunities pop up. As I talk to my own mentors and more people, I realized that no one’s path is ever a straight line. When you’re passionate about something, start in that direction. If things don’t work out, it’s also great because now you can explore a different path and make time for something else. If opportunities don’t come up, you should take the initiative to reach out to people and seek out opportunities or networking events! If you want to pursue academia, it’s important to get research experience because you need to see what you want to study, who you want to work with, find a supervisor, or even experience it to see if you’d like it. For me, I realized that I love working with people, which helped me settle upon physiotherapy.
Q: How about non-academic experiences like co-curriculars? What was your experience with them?
A: I was involved with the peer tutoring club, science rendezvous — I always had an education tendency. I also volunteered in healthcare settings like clinics and hospitals, which was useful for skill development and experience gathering. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so it was important to keep doors open. During my Masters, I spent a lot more time de-stressing and focusing on self-care through activities like meditation, yoga, weight training and cardio exercises. I heavily advocate for this because of the susceptibility of stress in students. Much like how we charge our phones, we need to recharge our bodies. Exercise and movement provides more energy to study too!
Q: Your mission statement on LinkedIn is that you want to “shar[e] excitement and joy in life with others and get them back to doing what is meaningful to them”. How important is it to understand and embody one’s own reason for doing what they do?
A: Everything you do kind of ends up surrounding your purpose. The more I followed mine, the more doors opened up. I used to be very shy and even had stage fright. This is completely opposite to all the human interaction and speaking events I participate in now! Eventually I guess my passion triumphed over my shyness because the more speaking events I did, the more I enjoyed it. My passion for education and mentorship is also the reason why I immediately applied for my lecturer status-only appointment after graduation as well as my other roles. I had a few great mentors in my masters, and it’s really calming to have someone to fill in the unknowns, provide emotional support, or even help with networking, so I want to give back to others.
Q: If you had to give advice to yourself when you were in undergrad, what would you share? What about for students in general?
A: I would tell myself to definitely study hard but work out more! Don’t be so stubborn because there are many paths out there. If you don’t know what’s out there, go to career fairs, speak to people in different professions and read blogs like this one! If one thing doesn’t work out, look from a different angle and try something else. Even after graduation, it often doesn’t end there. I see many people who go back to school for something else, end up working in a completely different field from what they were trained for. It’s only late if you never try, so take all the opportunities you can. Even for me, I am constantly taking courses, attending webinars and conferences to continue my learning.
If you want to learn more about the wealth of knowledge Queenie provides about self-care and physiotherapy, you can follow her on Facebook/instagram (@queeniephysio), her website (https://queeniephysio.com/) or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to book an appointment or consultation for physiotherapy with her.
She’s also starting a Youtube channel in January 2020 (the channel name will also be queeniephysio) where she will make video content on self-care, stress management and wellness to prevent tension and injury in the body.