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Neuropsychologist warns it’s a Hard Road, but Worth It

Published on November 01, 2016

Neuropsychologist warns it’s a Hard Road, but Worth It

Eighteen successful alumni of the Psychology Department visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 27 to advise and network with current students. After a keynote address from Neuropsychologist Daniel Heyanka ’04, the students rotated among the Betty R. Tipton Room, hearing about a variety careers in the field of psychology.

Heyanka, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist at the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System in Florida. His journey began in 2000 as a psychology major at Eastern expecting to become an elementary school psychologist.

“That’s the total opposite of what I do now,” said Heyanka, who works with military veterans, young and old, in the VA setting. “I work with patients who have brain damage. We test different regions of the brain to pinpoint deficits, to determine where damage may or may not be. These evaluations show us where the patient is and what they can expect moving forward.”

Heyanka assured the students that opportunities in the field of psychology are plentiful. “Forensic, teaching, research, hospitals, rehabilitation, private practice; there are so many avenues to go down.”

He also warned students of the amount of schooling needed. Heyanka’s path involved getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees before going on to a doctoral program. “I learned to be a professional student,” he said. “The more advanced your degree, the more flexibility you’ll have and the more you’ll be able to do. It’s a long, exhausting road, but worth it when you get there.”

Because of the investments of time and money, he emphasized having a plan and being sure it’s indeed what you want to do. “When I was as far as my master’s, I was naïve of the career opportunities. I ended up being one of the few people to have a master’s when I got into my Ph.D. program,” he said, reflecting on the convoluted path he took, which he encouraged students not to follow.

“Being in the field, it’s important that you genuinely enjoy what you do,” he said. “Otherwise the patient and family will pick up on it.” Heyanka joked that the only negative about his job is the morning commute.

Heyanka was frank regarding the reality of finding a job in the field. “At end of the day, applicants are a piece of paper. You need to set yourself apart from your peers. At some point, grades don’t matter. What did you do from a clinical standpoint? What did you do for research?” He told the students, “Get as much experience here as you can.”

After Heyanka’s talk, the 35 psychology students in attendance rotated among 11 tables, each staffed by alumni with different specialties in the field of psychology. The alumni spoke on school psychology and counseling, industrial organization, clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, research, behavior analysis and more. They work in nonprofit and community-based organizations, hospitals, schools and universities.

At the research table, sophomore Sarah Diaz said: “This event has really shown me how many options there are in this field. I know how important undergraduate research is to the graduate school process, so I’m thankful that there are former Eastern students who are willing to come back and talk about their jobs in the research area of psychology.”

At the industrial organization table, sophomore Erica Mchugh said: “This event was so informative. I learned a lot about what graduate programs are looking for and now I can start to focus on those things to make me a better candidate.”

Speaking to alumni who volunteered to participate in the event, Carlos Escoto, psychology professor at Eastern, said, “It is my greatest joy to see you go on to what you now do. It’s why I do what I do. You all make me very happy and proud.”

To the students, reiterating Heyanka’s message, Escoto added, “You need to figure out where you want to go. That’s the purpose of this event.”

Written by Michael Rouleau