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We all know from our experiences in further education (such as A Levels) that psychology, at a degree-level, has a supposedly ‘dire’ amount of research methods and statistics. I know that this is a concern for many university applicants.
Recently, I was working with my faculty at the University of Manchester calling those who were holding an offer to study the BSc psychology programme at Manchester. The purpose of the calls was to ask these offer-holders if they had any questions for us, as students.
You would not believe (or maybe you can) the number of offer-holders who were worried about doing statistics; with one offer-holder telling me that the thought of learning about it was anxiety-provoking.
Most researchers will probably ask: ‘What’s all the fuss about?’ But for the student, the fuss is pretty much about everything. I reflect on my own experience from sixth form. I remember having to sift through four sides of A4 sheets of paper with a grid full of p-values based on t-statistics – I look back now and wonder why. It is time-consuming and doesn’t make much sense. Sixth form does not teach you the ins-and-outs SPSS.
In college, statistics is neither very well applied, nor taught very well. It isn’t exactly the teacher’s fault – they’re a psychology teacher, not a statistics expert. And I know some PhD students and lecturers who still get in a bit of a muddled state when thinking about it.
So, something has to give, right? Although evidence is lacking, I do worry that many bright and capable psychologists and researchers of the future are opting to avoid psychology because of their further education experiences.
I’ve done extensive work in peer support and widening participation over the last couple of years, and it is quite upsetting to imagine students are missing out on the wonderful discipline that is psychology.
So, I have a personal message for any sixth form students reading this, or even pre-final year students in psychology: At a degree-level, statistics are applied to real-life research. It isn’t that boring topic no one wants to do. I have never been the best at statistics, but I have found that it just takes that one piece of research to make things click.
I’ve found that over the last couple of months I’ve become quite proficient in statistical analyses, and this is a result of my final-year dissertation project. When you’re handling your own data, everything seems much simpler than it did before. I never considered myself to be a ‘researchy’ or ‘statsy’ person, yet here I am doing it with no problem.
I’ve held two research assistant posts over the last year that are based on experimental paradigms and using quantitative statistical analyses. I’m also taking the lead on an exciting research project starting this summer, which will, inevitably, mean analysing huge data. Once upon a time, this would’ve bothered me. But it doesn’t faze me at all.
I’m about to start studying for my MSc in Organisational Psychology this September with the University of Manchester’s Alliance Manchester Business School, where, again, I’ll have to complete a research project. I’ll then be going onto (hopefully) completing a PhD, which is a research-based doctorate-level qualification.
Back when I was in college, I would never have imagined myself wanting to pursue a career that involves statistics.
So, to those of who are looking at studying psychology at university: Do not rule it out based on research methods and statistics. Give it a chance; you wouldn’t want to miss out on everything that psychology has to offer just because of one bumpy ride.
Ask yourself this: If you flew somewhere and experienced some turbulence, would you never fly abroad on holiday again? I think we all know what the answer to that would be.
Callum Mogridge is an undergraduate psychology student at the University of Manchester. He leads the peer support on the degree programme.
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