In the realm of extreme career changes, Richie Clark’s is right up there. Consider butcher to psychologist. There’s certainly no clear pathway between the two, so three years ago Richie summoned the courage to forge his own.
The Bendigo student is now half way to achieving his goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. “It’s been a good change, that’s for sure,” he says on transitioning from the meat room to the lecture theatre. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made, hands down. But I’ve really tested myself.”
The 26-year-old grew up in the tiny goldfields township of Talbot, population 300. He completed high school at Maryborough Education Centre, before moving to Bendigo to find work.
“I ended up getting a part-time job at Woollies,” Richie says. “And then I heard about a butcher’s apprenticeship being offered. I started doing that and I really enjoyed it. Going from a general job in the supermarket to the team environment of the meat room was really good. There was a sense of achievement at the end of the day. Being a butcher taught me how to work hard. They’re very hard-working people. I had a sense of camaraderie and I enjoyed my apprenticeship a lot.”
Richie learnt fast and became a qualified butcher after just three years, instead of the usual four, but he didn’t settle into the role. “When I finished I realised I wanted to do something else. I could see the repetitive nature of the job ahead of me and I didn’t really want that.”
He toyed with the idea of doing a different trade, or even going into business with a mate, but he also had a growing desire to work with people. To help others.
“I came to La Trobe and enrolled in the social work course. I studied that for a year, but I found it was more focussed on global aspects. It was more about societal change and politics and I felt like I wanted to help people on an individual basis,” he says.
“I emailed the coordinator of the psychology course, Pauleen Bennett, and she was really helpful. I just felt that if I could help people individually, that would then spread to have a positive effect on families and communities.”
Richie is speaking from personal experience. “My mum suffers from psychosis and bi-polar disorder,” he says. “I don’t think that was a driving force for me to study psychology, but studying has helped me to understand how things work – although there’s so much we don’t know.
“It’s helped me understand a little bit more about how people react to things, and why, and I’m not so quick to judge them now. I look at the world differently.”
Richie has started working on some group research with other students, and it’s given him a taste of what more he can now achieve in life. “When I started studying I just wanted to keep up with the pack,” he says. “Initially I struggled to get back into education. I wasn’t a very good student at high school. I struggled a fair bit with the assignments.”
He credits personal perseverance, good feedback from lecturers and the support of fellow students for getting him through the first years. He is now seeing his grades increase from mid-60s to the mid-70s needed to qualify for post-graduate study.
“Now I want to do research,” he says. “I want to create my own legacy, find out something we don’t know yet. We know that certain spots in the brain light up when we do different actions or have different thoughts, but we really don’t understand the mechanisms involved. I want to contribute to the field. That’s my dream.”