Any efficient career adviser will tell you that any graduate employer, or even those reviewing postgraduate study applications, will seek an overview of your relevant experience that you have engaged in throughout the course of your undergraduate degree. However, psychology students in particular find themselves receiving mixed messages from career advisers, lecturers or academic advisers.
These mixed messages all boil down to a few key misconceptions: ‘It’s extremely competitive to become a chartered psychologist’, ‘It is impossible to find directly relevant experience to become a psychologist’, and this list could go on for a long while…
I contend that it is the responsibility of higher education institutions across the UK to take hold of this discourse and work with their local communities and governments to make opportunities available for psychology students.
The everyday psychology student will most likely roll their eyes at the thought of research due to the contentions surrounding the difficulty of both research methods and statistics involve in studying psychology. You will find modules like these in most, if not all, BPS-accredited psychology degrees.
However, most students will not be aware of the practicalities of conducting research beyond the lecture theatre or beyond being sat in front of a computer scratching their heads at the puzzling first-encounter with SPSS or other statistical package. Students need to get that hands-on experience of conducting research, and most students will not experience this until they complete a final year research project (or dissertation) – and even these projects may be very daunting due to their obvious links with their academic performance and their grades.
The research experience allows psychology students to actually see just how fascinating psychological research can be. Everyone (hopefully) knows how broad of a discipline psychology is – the possibilities of research areas are vast. The ability to take the knowledge taken from lectures beyond that lecture theatre is a rewarding experience. It is no longer material that you just need for an exam, but something that you can finally put to use. Take for instance the self-determination theory, if we are just revising in order to do an exam, we do this for extrinsic motivations, and therefore may struggle to remain motivated. However, if we are passionate about a subject and know that we can utilise such knowledge, one will be more intrinsically motivated and work harder towards their end goal.
The best part here is that UK universities are extremely research-intensive. The majority of universities have a section on their relative websites about their Research Excellence Framework scores to demonstrate their ability in conducting high-impact research. It is obvious, by this, that UK Universities are well within their capabilities to provide research experience to their psychology students.
You may be wondering why on earth such experience is even important. For example, if you are an aspiring clinical psychologist, you may be thinking ‘research experience won’t help me get the right graduate positions’. I would argue that you are quite wrong. Beyond being a clinical psychologist by practice, there is nothing stopping you from working with researchers in universities who are the ones at the forefront of the cutting-edge research in clinical psychology. If that isn’t relevant experience, then I couldn’t possibly suggest something else – of course there are other settings, such as in healthcare, but if you are struggling to access such opportunities, what is stopping you from gaining experience in a research setting? It is still as relevant as anything else. Same goes for organisational psychology, sports psychology, or health psychology.
I think one major takeaway message for students, in any discipline at that, is to remember one key thing. Employers would much rather see a graduate with experience and a 2:1 as opposed to a student with a first – and nothing else.
Do all that is possible if you are student reading this. If you are an academic, make some research opportunities available for your students. If you are a practitioner, reach out to your local universities in the city in which you are based and try and make some experience or shadowing available for students.
It is important to remember that students are the power of tomorrow, give them the tools to make a successful future for everyone. Remember – the future of the discipline you love so much is in their hands.
Callum Mogridge is a third-year psychology student at the University of Manchester. He leads peer support on the degree programme and has incorporated professional development into the scheme that he leads to benefit his peer mentors and other psychology students. He is currently volunteering as a Research Assistant on a project regarding sexual evolution. His academic interests revolve around organisational psychology, especially the effects of workplace stress on psychological and physical health. You can connect with him on Twitter @callum_mogridge