Right now it has been one day since the last rejection letter, I'm on about 6 hours of sleep, and I am stone-cold sober (much to my dismay). This is just to let you know what you're dealing with here.
Today I attended the practice presentation of the talk my grad student mentor and I will be giving at a pretty big conference next weekend. I witnessed her cry in Rockstar Professor's (her advisor) office after said talk. My heart broke for her. I tend to get motivated by criticism - she had to shake it off first, which is totally fine. The question posed to her by a faculty member in the department that upset her the most was basically a variation of "What is the point?"
I'm driving home from the MRU campus (which gives me about an hour of reflection, uninterrupted excepting occasional 'get the fuck out my way' outbursts that I am prone to) and I am asking myself the exact same question.
What IS the point?
Why do I want to be a social psychologist? So I can change aspects of the world in ways that I believe would be beneficial to society. How do I plan to do that? With research, of course.
But then I asked myself when the last time was that psychology actually changed something about the world in a positive way? I have not yet come up with an answer to that question.
We have studies that show the mere presence of an IMAGE of a gun is enough to increase aggression in humans. But guns are still everywhere - in life and on television. We have studies (like Zimbardo's) that show how a breakdown in authority and depersonalization can lead human beings to do horrific things. We still had Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. We have studies that show how objectification of women in the media leads to lower self-esteem and even weight problems in women. Vogue still plasters their pages with these women and we see them all over the tv and in movies. We know that racism can be drastically reduced by using Jigsaw Classroom methodologies and various other techniques that psychologists have come up. But these programs barely have a presence in our culture and education system. Things are being studied and answers obtained - but they're not being put to use.
So what HAS psychology brought to the world? Well, torture for one thing, aka "interrogation techniques." We know how to fuck with people's heads. Water-boarding is NOT physical torture - it is psychological. We know how to manipulate juries to get the verdict we want through everything from gender of experts, clothing, eye contact, etc. And advertising, referred to as the "dark side" of social psychology, has created a rampant consumerist culture where people have been fooled into believing that advertising doesn't affect them all the while driving off to Wal-Mart to buy some Glade scented oil candles because "dammit, if the house smells like clean linen, THEN I'll find true happiness!"
We have therapies, but many of them don't work. We have drugs for every mental condition you can possibly dream up:
"Don't feel like socializing? You're not an introvert, you're depressed! Here, have some Paxil. Try to ignore the constant dizziness. Oh, and by the way, suicide is a possible side effect so I recommend staying away from tall buildings and train tracks in case you get the urge."
There are a LOT of fantastic researchers out there in all sub-fields of psychology who are doing wonderful research that has value to society and answers hard questions - but it doesn't seem to be affecting positive CHANGE. Social psychologists are basically spending their lives trying to undo everything that Freud did, hoping that (like Freud) one person's influence will be enough to change how the world views humanity. It's no wonder that psychology came about as an extension of philosophy.
Do I want to spend the rest of my life feeling frustrated because I have answers to some of society's problems but goddammit why won't anyone listen?
Isn't it like perpetually being the parent to a teenager?
I won't be the one to find a cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS, or Alzheimer's. I won't even be the one providing counseling to those patients and their families. No, I will be the one who figures out how to create better work-life balance for families, gender neutral norms for societies, etc., and hoping that someone, somewhere is paying attention.
If all I wanted was to have my name cited in a textbook, I would be all set. But if I could be the person who directly lead to a federally mandated paid parental leave policy in this country - I would do it anonymously if it was required in order for that to happen.
I love my field, I really do. I'm just starting to feel as though I'm not worthy to take it where it was meant to go all along. I'm no Freud. I'm not even a Zimbardo, Milgram, Gilligan, or Darley. I'm not even my arch-nemesis David Buss.
I really believed I might be able to accomplish things that would change society for the better. I believed it was my purpose. Call it delusions of grandeur if you will, but I think we all take this path with the hope that we will do something important and believing that it's possible.
So WTF is my purpose, then? Why was I led to this field just to be turned away at the gates for not having a ticket to get in? And if that wasn't a ticket in my pocket, WTF was it? Lint? An old receipt for a bottle of Bombay Sapphire?