Q&A with Ninoska Peterson

Ninoska Peterson

The Gator Career Consultant Q&A Series aims to create a diverse collection of career experiences through highlighting University of Florida (UF) alumni.

Ninoska Peterson graduated from UF with a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. She is a health psychologist in the Department of General Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In her role, she evaluates patients seeking bariatric surgery, prepares them before surgery, and sees them after if they have adjustment issues.

The UF Career Connections Center spoke with Peterson on her experiences at the university and her career journey as a clinical psychologist.

Can you share your experiences with involvement at UF?

During my time as an undergraduate, I was involved in a couple of different research labs for the Department of Psychology and in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I also worked in a research lab in the College of Health and Human Performance, and that was more of an exercise psychology lab. Hence, my transition from psychology to exercise. It was actually fun.

I also did some volunteer work with Shands Hospital. I remember it was playing with kids in the waiting room,probably for pediatrics. And then, when I started my Ph.D., we actually worked with a lot of undergraduate students in our lab. At that time, I was a peer mentor. In my master’s, we also got to teach different sport and exercise classes for undergrads.

What did you learn about yourself from those experiences?

I liked the interaction with people, whether it is patients that we were working with or in the context of teaching, research or mentoring. I wasn’t the person that just wanted to sit in front of the computer and do data entry and write. That was a piece that I enjoyed, but I actually liked the interactions.

How did you learn about the different opportunities?

In our undergraduate classes in psychology, it was something that was mentioned. Also, I think that was a part of the UF career center where you could also look up the different opportunities that you can do, whether it was work-study or an opportunity to volunteer to get the kind of experience under your belt that you don’t just get from sitting in a class and reading a book.

How did you develop professionally from those experiences?

The networking piece is something I really liked. It gave me a chance to meet graduate students when I was an undergrad working in the lab. It was reaching out to people that happened to take me under their wing and talked to me about, “Hey, here are some other opportunities that maybe you haven’t heard about.”

Especially in psychology, people don’t even know all the different things you can do. I didn’t really know about health psychology and all the different aspects of that. Working in different labs helped me learn about that. I worked in the exercise science lab in Health and Human Performance, which I ended up doing my master’s in. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It was just meeting different people and then being able to go to conferences and present posters to meet more people and get different opportunities with that.

Is there something that you know now about your career path that you wish you knew while you were a student?

It’s not a straight line. I think we always come in with our goals. Thinking, “This is what I want to accomplish.” People kind of tell you that. I finished my undergraduate degree in four years, and when I started, I thought I was going to go to medical school, and that didn’t happen.

I always stuck with psychology, but I did veer off into exercise science, and I’m kind of going back to psychology. But everything I’ve done really helped me with my career today. So I can look back and say it wasn’t necessarily a waste of time, even though it wasn’t straight line doing a bachelor’s, doing a master’s, and doing a Ph.D. It kind of went off a little bit, and it came back to where it was supposed to be.

What is one thing that you have accomplished in your career that you’re really proud of?

I’m doing what I set out to do. I’m working at the number two hospital in the nation, which is amazing. I never thought I would see myself in Ohio. I’m from South Florida, and I lived in Gainesville for a really long time with all my degrees. I moved to Virginia, and now, all of a sudden I’m in Ohio. Never say never, and stay open.

What are two things that you would tell current students to do now to prepare for their future careers?

Reach out, ask questions and talk to people. I met with professors. I talked to graduate students and people who were in the field. So ask questions, and be curious. And again, be open to new experiences. It may just teach you what you don’t want to do, which I think is just as important as learning what you want to do and what you enjoy.

Want to share your experience with other Gators? The Career Connections Center is recruiting Gator Career Consultants.

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