Dr Stella Chan

“I couldn’t wait to start my research career as I simply love the process of thinking”

– Personal and professional mentors have offered me support through obstacles

Dr Stella Chan

Academic Clinical Psychologist

I always begin my story by telling people that I grew up in a fire station because my father was a fireman; somehow it matters very much to my sense of identity. I have never wanted to be a fireman though, but I have inherited my father’s perseverance to pursue knowledge (if he has a question in mind, he won’t let go until he has found the answer). This, in combination with the influence of my mother’s warm and caring nature, has paved my way to become an academic clinical psychologist.

I had a happy childhood, but I went through a dark time in my late teens. Whether it was an episode of depression or not I’ll probably never know, but this experience was instrumental in prompting me to choose psychology as an undergraduate. I have witnessed first-hand how powerful emotions could be, and how little control we have of them.

When I finished my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to win a full scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. It was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for a fireman’s daughter to study abroad and gain a postgraduate degree.

However, being a non-EU citizen, I was not qualified to apply for the doctoral training in clinical psychology. One of my undergraduate professors said to me “You can be a guardian angel to look after knowledge”.  With this inspirational advice, I came to Britain first completing a MSc then a DPhil (PhD). You will not be surprised to know that my thesis was on “Vulnerability to Depression and Emotional Processing”, a tribute to my parents’ influence and my own suffering. When I finished my DPhil, I couldn’t wait to start my research career as I simply love the process of thinking.

But I felt I needed some clinical experiences to set research questions that really matter in real life.

Thanks to my foresight in falling in love with a UK citizen and marrying him, I was then qualified to apply for clinical psychology training; I was rejected by three programmes but luckily accepted by one. Three years later, I qualified and immediately returned to academia and continued my research on adolescent depression. As my career progressed, I developed more confidence in experimenting with new ideas; Project Soothe, for example, was born out of my father’s hobby in photography and inspired by a physics project my husband (a physicist) told me about.

Looking back at my career path, there were plenty of obstacles – geographical, financial, nationality and so on – I could not have overcome half of them without many who have supported me professionally and personally.

I will finish this short reflection piece by saying that, cheesy as it might sound, I have never had a day when I am not grateful for the privilege of being able to be “a guardian angel of knowledge”.

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