By Jenna Condie
Whether you’ve just done your A levels, an Access course, or you’ve been out of formal education for a few years, studying psychology at undergraduate level involves adapting to new places, new people, new teachers and new situations. The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is currently trying to identify ways to make university a less daunting, more enjoyable experience for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) undergraduates.
For that to happen, those teaching psychology across the different education systems need to get better at talking to one another. HE lecturers don’t necessarily know what is taught at GCSE, A Level, and on Access Courses, and in turn, what their new students expect of psychology. Students come to undergraduate psychology from diverse educational backgrounds. Furthermore, there are a number of A Level exam boards (e.g. OCR, Pearson, AQA) with different syllabi. Even if HE lecturers were familiar with all syllabi, 40% of psychology undergraduates haven’t studied psychology before (HEA, 2013). So how can you create first year modules that don’t confuse some students and bore others?
Similarly, how can school and college teachers prepare students for undergraduate psychology when universities have greater freedom over what to teach and how to assess students? How can they prepare students for the kinds of learning activities they will experience at university (e.g. carrying out a research project) when there is seemingly less and less opportunity to deviate from an overloaded curriculum?
Transition issues were the focus of a recent event ‘Tackling Transition in Psychology’ organised by the HEA at the University of Manchester. Teachers from schools, colleges and universities, as well as current psychology undergraduates came together to discuss transition – what it is like, what are the differences and similarities between the two education systems, and what can we do about it? A key message was that although some things are beyond our control, we do have some power to make changes and have a positive impact.
In groups, we came up with a few ideas of how we can work together to help students with transitions to university study. For example, after AS students have sat their exams, there is a 3-4 week opportunity of time to teach content and run events that might be beneficial for university study. Our ideas were that research methods and statistics training could be co-delivered by FE and HE lecturers, we could host joint conferences where students present their work, and run ‘taster’ events for students to experience university lab facilities. Other ideas centred on creating opportunities to participate in current research projects to give insight into undergraduate dissertation projects and what psychology looks like when it is applied.
One particular aspect of interest to me is the role that social media and digital technologies can play in adapting to university study – we could connect psychology students in schools, colleges and universities via social networking platforms, and create opportunities for school and college students to join online undergraduate psychology teaching sessions via Blackboard Collaborate.
Last year Psychology at Salford ran an Open Lecture Series where psychology students from local schools, colleges and sixth forms joined our undergraduates in their first year psychology lectures. This was a real success and students found the experience really worthwhile. The challenge becomes keeping these initiatives going and investing time in creating and maintaining meaningful partnerships between local psychology departments.
Although it seems that there is a long way to go to address issues of transition, student retention and success, we can act now. Attending the event and being a part of the solutions-focused conversation it created feels like a positive step forward to me. The HEA will produce a report at the end of the year on transition issues based upon the findings of their transition workshop series.
If you have any ideas around how to support students with transitions to undergraduate psychology, please leave a comment below.
By John Hudson
Do you ever feel that you’re just not a ‘statistics person’? Well, you’re not alone because research suggests that the vast majority of students in psychology-based degrees feel exactly the same (Onwuegbuzie & Wilson, 2003). Maybe there’s some comfort in that; I certainly remember feeling that way as an undergraduate, but just what is a ‘statistics person’ anyway? Are some people born with a ’magical’ ability to comprehend statistics? Now there are many things that are passed on via our genes, but if you can show me evidence that some newborns enter this world with an appreciation of skew and kurtosis, or a working knowledge of SPSS, I will give you my collection of S-Club-7 singles (*my lawyers have asked me to make it clear that this is a joke and that I will not, under any circumstances, be giving these away – but you knew that). Sure, a decent level of cognitive ability will help when thinking is required – and some of this is indeed genetic – but, if you are accepted onto an undergraduate degree you really do have more than enough basic intelligence to handle everything that a stats/research methods course will throw at you. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t feel confusing or intimidating sometimes, so maybe you still don’t believe there’s much you can do if you are not one of those ‘stats’ people.
In fact, research from Carol Dweck suggests that this belief alone may be one of the main things holding us back. Professor Dweck theorises that people tend to hold one of two contrasting mindsets regarding ‘the fixedness or malleability of personal characteristics’. On the one hand, people with a ‘fixed’ mindset see personal characteristics such as intelligence, maths ability, or even shyness, as fixed traits, while people with a ‘growth’ mindset believe these can be developed through additional effort or strategy (there is a nice overview of ‘mindset’ herewhich goes into more detail).
I have to confess that before I became aware of Dweck’s theory, I think I probably had a fixed mindset; it wasn’t something I ever actually thought about, because we are often not consciously aware of these beliefs. But they can still be highly influential; especially in the way we perceive and respond to learning situations. There is now ample evidence to suggest that people with a growth mindset tend to show greater improvement in learning situations than those with a fixed mindset (e.g. Blackwell et al, 2007). This makes sense, because even though learning new things can be very rewarding it can also be difficult at times – that is part of the process. Because it can be so challenging we often need a lot of persistence to keep going, especially when things get harder or we feel like we’re not getting anywhere. The theory suggests that with a fixed mindset – being more likely to view ability as something that cannot really be changed too much – there is less point in pushing yourself to improve because it feels like it’s not going to make that much difference. In contrast, someone with a growth mindset has more incentive to keep trying and practicing, because – for them – there is some light at the end of the tunnel; they believe that their efforts can make a difference, even if things are getting difficult. It is a little more complex than that, of course, but you get the idea.
So far, all I’ve told you is that having a growth mindset seems to be helpful, while a fixed mindset is not. Which means, now all you have to do is change your ‘mindset’ and away you go? Well, yes – if you can. But although beliefs can be highly tenacious, there is actually a lot of evidence indicating that many of those abilities commonly viewed as innate can indeed be developed, regardless of your mindset. Long-term practice of a skill is associated with physical changes in your brain; in fact research has actually suggested that in some circumstance, detectable changes may begin to manifest themselves in as little as one week (May et al, 2007). Nonetheless, the real benefits come from sustained effort, over a period of time, as demonstrated in relation to skills such as meditation (Hölzel et al, 2011), juggling (Driemeyer et al, 2008), and taxi-drivers’ ability to navigate London’s complex road network (Maguire et al, 2000), among many others. In other words, these abilities are not fixed. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of people saying that they’re not very ‘artistic’ – artistic ability might seem like one of those things some people are just born with, but I followed an inspirational thread on an online forum that shows what practice can do – this person committed to drawing and posting one picture a day and, over a period of years (that’s right, it didn’t happen overnight!), they went from relative beginner, to producing some amazing work (the original thread is here).
You could say the transformation is incredible – except it’s not really a ‘transformation’, it’s a progression. That’s the whole point. But I’m not really writing this for people who want an easy ride, I’m writing it for those who might feel that they just aren’t cut out for ‘stats’ (or anything else, for that matter); people who might feel that they could never learn a particular skill or ability. But you really can. However, that example was about drawing and painting, which is not the same as stats, is it? Well, as it happens…
Although improvements in artistic ability are much easier to see, the principle is the same. Sigmundsson and colleagues’ (2013) study indicates that practice is also what really counts when it comes to maths-related skills, not so much what you were born with. Meanwhile, Aydin et al (2007) showed a strong relationship between the length of time spent as a mathematician and specific brain-related changes (Aydin et al, 2007). So, – as if I haven’t got you excited enough about this already – budding statisticians among you can look forward to “an increase in gray matter density in the right inferior parietal lobule” (Aydin et al, 2007). Now if that is not something to get you rushing for your stats lecture notes, I don’t know what is.
There you go – the more you practice, the stronger and more efficient these pathways in your brain become; but at first, it probably doesn’t feel like it! If you’re learning something new, there probably aren’t too many of these paths/connections in the first place, which is why it might feel so hard; but these will develop as you study/practice. I always think of learning a new skill being similar to hacking a path through thick jungle; it can feel like a staggering amount of effort, yet all you’ve really done is make the tiniest of gaps in the ‘undergrowth’ – a path that is still a struggle to get through. That can feel quite demotivating, but if you keep going, slowly your efforts will make the path wider, and easier to get navigate, until eventually – after a lot of work – you’ll have built a nice wide motorway that can take you from A to B in no time at all. In other words, what previously took you a lot of effort, now feels fairly easy. But remember, it doesn’t happen overnight – the frustration and confusion you might experience in learning are like the pain you might experience in the gym if you were trying to build up your strength or stamina: a necessary part of the process.
This is great news because it means that a decent understanding of maths and stats – or almost anything else – is with our grasp if we juststick with it and keep practicing. That’s not to say that some of us might take longer than others, but we can do it. However, there is a downside, because once we know this it means we can’t rely on the ‘I’m just not a maths/stats person’ excuse anymore!
So, although there isn’t a magic wand that can instantly transform your mindset (if you needed to), being aware of your own mindset, and your capacity to learn new skills, can be an important first step.
One of our psychology lecturers, Michael Richards, was awarded a public engagement grant from the British Psychological Society in 2013. In collaboration with All FM radio station and Manchester Metropolitan University, Michael will use this grant to produce 8 radio shows that embrace different psychologies including forensic, health and clinical psychology. Michael will collaborate with a group of men labelled with learning difficulties from Manchester, to help connect the community with psychology. The shows will bring psychology to a wider audience in an accessible and fun way. The shows will contain music, interviews and discussions about the main issues, positives and negatives that accompany the range of psychologies we learn on BPS courses. Below are the dates of the shows, which will take place every two weeks at 2pm and will be broadcast on All FM.
29.01.14 – 2pm – Show 1 – What is Psychology?
12.02.14 – 2pm – Show 2 – Neuropsychology
26.02.14 – 2pm – Show 3 – Clinical Psychology and Counselling Psychology
12.03.14 – 2pm – Show 4 – Health Psychology and Sport/Exercise Psychology
26.03.14 – 2pm – Show 5 – Forensic Psychology
09.04.14 – 2pm – Show 6 – Developmental Psychology
23.04.14 – 2pm – Show 7 – Community and Critical Psychology
07.05.14 – 2pm – Show 8 – The way forward for psychology – the Big Society and learning difficulties
The current issue of the BPS’s Psychologist magazine features an article on the Many Labs project (in press manuscript can be found here https://openscienceframework.org/project/WX7Ck/files/ManyLabsManuscript.pdf/).
As Honorary Secretary of the Social Psychology Section of the BPS, I have been asked to provide a comment on this initiative.
Below is a more elaborate version of my comments.
There are at least two ways to assess the strength and solidity of an effect: one is performing a meta-analysis (i.e. statistically combine the results of a series of studies which included the effect of interest), the second experimentally reproducing the study and see if the same effect appears in the new sample. The present study attempted a large scale replication of some very popular effects in social psychology.
Replication is at the basis of scientific progress: the fact that we find a certain effect in a certain study does not mean the effect is present in general, it could be an oddity of the sample or it could be linked to the specific conditions in which the study was run.
Over a meta-analytical work, the project reported has the advantage of guaranteeing that standardised procedures were adopted in each replica-experiment, though it meant that at times the design had to be necessarily over-simplified. It also has the advantage of getting around the ‘file drawer effect’, that is, the fact that most studies who fail to replicate an effect do not get published, and are therefore difficult to retrieve for meta-analytic purposes.
This ambitious project shows the importance of having a scientific community which engages in collaborative research and joins forces and resources in the common pursue of knowledge. Not only, but the transparency with which the data, their origin and their analysis are shared with the public are commendable and should set the standard for future work.
Indeed, no study is perfect, and also this project has margins of improvement, but it provides some solid ground to build upon.
Some possible areas of improvement are:
- Over-simplification: the effects which are successfully replicated are very basic
- Context in/dependence: the two studies which failed to replicate might be more linked to contextual factors (e.g. the lack of support for the flag-effect could be due to the ‘Obama effect’ in US and to the fact that the political discourse in general has changed it focus since the time in which the experiment was run; as for the currency, the recent economic downturn might have negatively impacted the link between money and system justification). This does not mean that the effect does not exist: it could exist under certain circumstances.
- Westernisation: of the 36 samples, only three were non-western (Turkey, Malaysia and Brazil) and three from Eastern Europe (Two in the Czech Republic and one in Poland), thus there are still issues to be addressed re: applicability of findings outside western world
- For the study including the IAT: being based on a contrast score we cannot tell whether the difference observed is due to a worse evaluation of maths or a better evaluation of arts which drives the results, so I am particularly unconvinced of the solidity of the Gender differences in maths attitudes study
During the summer holidays this year, I had the opportunity to work with the team in the Salford Housing and Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford. My role involved SPSS data entry (not as scary or boring as it may seem!) from surveys conducted with the Gypsy and Traveller communities across the UK. These surveys try to understand the needs of the communities by establishing family sizes, roles, and existing problems, such as overcrowding or poor access to various services including education and health provision. Once analysed, the data is presented to local authorities to establish what kinds of shortfalls exist for Gypsy and Traveller communities and these findings can then be transferred into planning and policy, having a positive impact on the lives of many Gypsy and Traveller families. This experience left me eager to understand more about the role of a researcher so, after giving him some time to take a holiday, I approached Dr Phil Brown, a SHUSU researcher, to ask him a few of my own, and some of your questions too…
WHAT PIECE OF RESEARCH ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF AND WHY?
I think you are proud of different things for different reasons. I’m probably most proud of the PhD work I did, not necessarily because it had a lot of impact but because it’s the only opportunity in your career you get to actually get stuck into something in that much depth.
Sometimes it’s also about the amount of effort. So the recent work we’ve done that has been funded by JRCT on numerating the Roma populations in the UK. Really, really difficult information to obtain but when you come up with a number that people have been wanting for a long time and there are lots of different agencies that are looking for evidence to do all sorts of things. There are a few that are small in value and small in scale but which mean a lot to individuals when they use them.
WHAT BOOK WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO FIRST YEARS? WHAT BOOK WOULD BE YOUR GO-TO?
There isn’t actually a single book that I would recommend because mostly the books themselves should be read for a specific purpose to a certain extent, when it comes to psychology. There’s plenty of other broader topics that you can draw on, I think, in this day and age you need to piecing your knowledge together from a variety of different sources. I once got asked this question in an interview and I said the book that Brian Keenen wrote after he’d been released from being a hostage in Lebanon with John McCarthy “An Evil Cradling”. I still think it’s a pretty good book for understanding the human condition under great constraints
ANY ADVICE FOR VOLUNTEERING WORK AND/OR PAID PLACEMENTS?
Do it. Do it and make yourself known. Approach people and demonstrate that you’re competent and you’re capable and that you’re willing to learn, but also that you’re willing to do some things that are fairly low level because it’s a good way to understand how the system works. So…get yourself out there!
DESCRIBE A NORMAL DAY AT WORK IN 5 WORDS…
Stressful, enjoyable, challenging, unpredictable and worthwhile
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE STAGE OF YOUR EDUCATION?
I’m going to split and say primary school because it’s the only time you don’t realise that you’re part of a system. And my last year of my undergraduate degree because it all clicked. I got it, and after 20 years of trying to learn how to learn I finally figured it all out.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DISSERTATION DO’S AND DONTS?
DO plan as early as possible. Stick to your timescales as much as possible. Listen to your supervisors.
DON’T be afraid of being innovative. Adapt existing work but don’t be too ambitious because you don’t need to be. It’s about balancing innovation and producing something that is doable.
WHO IS YOUR MOST INFLUENTIAL ACADEMIC FIGURE AND WHY?
Probably, inevitably, my supervisor throughout my undergraduate and post graduate stuff which was Prof Christine Horrocks, who is now the Head of Psychology at MMU. She was inevitably influential because we spoke for hours when I was there and she gave me a new way of thinking about the world, which you can’t always get from a text book. That’s the most influential real person. The most influential academic that I’ve never met, but referenced a lot, is a guy called Sunil Bhatia who is a cross-cultural psychologist in the states. I got to a point where I was writing my PhD and I was grappling for a theoretical framework and I just read one article that he had written and I was absolutely sold and then I read loads of stuff that he had done on this one idea. He basically helped to guide my PhD to the finish line, really.
HOW DO YOU UNBLOCK MENTAL BLOCK?
I stop thinking. You have to stop thinking and move away. Do something different. Don’t keep doing it, don’t stay up all night. Close it down, wait a day and come back to it, if you’ve got the time. If you haven’t you haven’t planned enough earlier on. It’s a difficult one and everybody gets it – whether you’re an undergraduate or you’ve written 15 books you will always get mental block. Sometimes it’s just all part of trying to understand an area.
The changes in HE have exacerbated some misunderstandings concerning what the University is for, and what students can expect to get from the University experience. Many have claimed that HE is becoming more of a ‘business’ or a paid for ‘service’.
Many in HE find themselves having to face disgruntled students who say they have paid £9000 therefore they expect this or that ‘service’.
Personally, I deeply dislike the idea of HE as a business, but for the sake of argument let’s follow this line of reasoning.
So, if Universities are a business, what sort of business are they? A Grocery, providing food for thought? An airline, with a one way ticket for a successful career? A SPA, full of people there to look after your health and wellbeing?
No. Higher education is a gym.
We have initial health checks (entry criteria), machines (libraries and infrastructures) personal trainers (lecturers and tutors), personalised programs (courses, optional modules and support material), health-checks (assessments and feedback), ….There are fancy gyms, newly built gyms, gyms equipped with the latest technologies, gyms with saunas and relax areas, gyms renowned for certain activities they offer or for certain – particularly successful – trainers, etc…
But one thing is common to all the gyms (and I know it well, trust me, as I wasted hundreds of pounds on gym memberships): if you do not put the work in, you are not going to build the muscles. You can have the best equipment, the best trainer, the most tailored health check and training plan, but if you do not sweat, there is nothing the gym can do for you.
So, dear students, enrolling in HE you have signed up to a very luxurious and very expensive gym. Of course, people sign up to the gym for different reasons: some just want a place to hang out with their friends, others want to find a romantic partner, others are simply looking for a distractions. In this case, of course, showing up every once in a while with a charming smile and a light attitude would suffice to guarantee your goals are achieved. Yet, others sign up to the gym to improve their body shape, build muscles or lose weight: to be successful in this case, you need to attend your gym, put in the work and the sweat and listen to your trainers’ feedback.
Simply signing up – for how expensive it is – is not a guarantee for success. Hard work is.
By Jenna Condie
I’m often asked how to structure a qualitative dissertation and I find that seeing other dissertations can help to 1) recognise the structural similarities and writing conventions, and 2) recognise that all dissertations are slightly different and it’s perfectly ok to do your own thing too. So I recently went on the hunt for some examples of qualitative psychology Masters theses to help MSc Media Psychology students in writing up their qualitative research.
I found a few qualitative psychology Masters theses online (see below) but PhD theses and undergraduate dissertations seem more available electronically (I’ve also included some examples of each below). Perhaps there is gap for an online hub of Masters projects? If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it.
*Found via the University of Edinburgh’s search option for Psychology Masters thesis collection here.
Whilst searching, I also found a Masters dissertation on social media’s role in branding which applies cultivation theory…might be of interest to our MSc Media Psych students.
Quite a few of the dissertations uploaded to the MMU Psychology Dissertations Journal are also media related. You can search the Journal here.
It’s great to see how others have conquered the challenges of writing up but there does come a point where you need to stop looking at other people’s work and focus on writing your own work in your own way. Good luck!
P.S. Don’t forget to adhere to your University’s specific guidance on writing up dissertations and theses too!
Thanks to @DrAClements, @ClareUytman, @ej_odwyer, @spatialsyndave, @drshroyer, @cyberandrew, @marcdonncadh, @paulbyrneuk, @DrSharronH, @GalvinMary, @VickiMcDermott for their retweets and suggestions which informed this post.
By Jenna Condie
In the final year of our undergraduate programmes (BSc Hons Psychology, BSc Hons Psychology and Counselling, BSc Hons Psychology and Criminology), one of the option modules that students can chose to take is Educational Psychology. Educational Psychology can be “…loosely defined here as the application of psychological theories, research and techniques to the educational development of young people in the context of the home, school and community” Holliman (2013, p. xxii). More broadly, educational psychology also considers how people can learn better, how teaching and learning practice can be improved, whether different people should be taught differently, and how learning can transform the person and impact upon their lives.
For the assessment, students taking this module propose a seminar for teachers, selecting a topic from the field of educational psychology that they consider is both current and of practical use in the training of teachers. The emphasis is on the application of theory to teaching practice. Last year, BSc (Hons) Psychology and Counselling student (now graduate!), Jessica Tomes created a seminar for teachers that focused on mental health stigma and how teachers can educate students to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues in the school environment. You can read her work below.
Jessica also presented her work as a poster ‘Reducing Mental Health Stigma Through Educational Seminars’ at the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Conference which took place at The University of Northampton (3-5 July, 2013).
It is fantastic to see how an assignment can be taken further to embrace opportunities such as presenting at conferences and sharing your ideas and work beyond the module.
Fleur-Michelle Coiffait is a recently qualified Clinical Psychologist, co-founder & curator for the Early Career Psychologist Network. She tweets @fleurzel, @PMLDresearch, and blogs at Fleurzel, Thoughts and Things. We asked her about getting on in clinical psychology and how to apply for training and assistant posts. Here’s what she had to say.
So application season for the clinical psychology doctorate is now open (see here for details of the UK Clearing House in Clinical Psychology, how to apply and the different courses) and ‘tis also the season for applying for voluntary or paid assistant psychologist posts (these can mainly be found on jobs.nhs.uk and jobs.ac.uk/psychology). Here are some tips and pointers that may help you think about and refine your applications* These are based on my own experiences as a former psychology graduate, postgraduate student, and assistant psychologist. I have recently completed my doctorate in clinical psychology and am now a qualified clinical psychologist and have supervised and shortlisted assistant psychologist posts.
First of all, I would suggest taking a little time to think about why exactly you want to do this particular job/course. This is a step that we often overlook, but it is really important to be clear with ourselves about our reasons for pursuing such a goal and it is something you are likely to be asked about in interviews. Many people say ‘I just want to help people’ and there’s nothing wrong with this. Nevertheless, I would spend time really thinking why it is that you want to help people. Who is it that you want to help? What is it you are hoping to help them with? Are you being realistic about the help you can give? Does this post/course actually provide opportunities to help in this way or would another similar career/course be more suitable? Do you have personal experiences that drive this motivation? Why is it important to you to be able to help? In clinical psychology and other helping professions, it is necessary to reflect on these things at all stages so that we can remain aware of our own motivations, as these will influence our actions, reactions and how we make sense of the process. I continue to revisit this question and often return to it in supervision as it is so important to recognise ‘our stuff’ and how this may influence our work.
The next step is to familiarise yourself with what the role actually involves – read through the job description, google the trust/university/organisation and if you happen to know anyone who has a connection to the place – ask them what it’s like and what they do there. Sometimes we see a job or course title pop up and we get ahead of ourselves and quickly see what we want to see, which may not be what it actually is. The reality can be a little different – so you need to fully understand as far as possible (some job/course ads sadly don’t give much detail) what is involved in the ‘day to day’ aspects of the post or course. It can help to phone up the department and ask any questions you may have about this, although only phone if you have genuine questions, it won’t win you any extra points to phone up if you haven’t really got anything to ask/say.
Similarly, you need to study the person specification so you understand exactly what they are looking for. Speaking from personal experience, too many times I applied for something despite not meeting the ‘essential’ criteria because it seemed like my ‘dream job’ and then I failed to get shortlisted. Given that there is often a tight turnaround with deadlines, some NHS assistant psychologist posts even closing following a 24 hour window or when a certain number of applications have been received, you need to focus your efforts or you will end up feeling burnt out, deflated and fed up of the process – trust me. It can seem really unfair and frustrating that such posts close so quickly, but I can say from being on the other side as a clinician and shortlister that we are given minimal time out of clinical and other duties to sift through applications and it really is hard work when there are many more high quality applications than there are posts/course places. If our time is restricted, we unfortunately have to cap applications in some arbitrary way.
This brings me on to how you write and set out your application. Make it easy for whoever is reading your form to tick the boxes that they will inevitably have in front of them that map onto the person specification. There’s a really good explanation of common statements usually contained in the person specification for NHS psychology jobs here that will help you think about exactly what the recruiters are looking for so you can provide evidence of this. If it says, for example, that existing experience of working with people with mental health issues is essential, then this is exactly what you have to have and you must also demonstrate this clearly in your application in order for that box to be ticked. I recommend thinking about the ten core competencies of clinical psychologists and how you may already be developing emerging skills and experience in these areas.
The way I structure my own applications is to go through the person specification, grouping similar skills/experiences together. I then describe how I meet each one, evidencing this with examples from my experience to demonstrate this and any reflections I have on that particular skill/experience to show that I understand it and have thought about it. What I mean by reflections is going one step further than simply describing ‘I have done x, y, z.’ What exactly did you learn from that experience? What insight did it give you into the importance of that skill/field? What insight did it give you into the practice of clinical psychologists or academics in that field? Did it make you realise anything about the work? How does it relate to topical issues in the news or on the current political agenda? And so on… Show that you don’t just do things to simply tick the boxes – demonstrate that you think about, learn from, and develop in response to your experiences. It’s not about ‘collecting’ experiences from your CV – it’s the quality of them (and by that I mean what you take from them), rather than the quantity. There are a number of different models of reflective practice that you can use as a framework to start you off if you’re not sure, including Gibbs’ reflective cycle, Johns’ structured reflective prompts, and Rolfe’s three key questions. For further discussion on reflective practice, see here.
Something else that I realised from feedback on one of my assistant psychologist applications many moons ago was that it is good to be confident, but don’t be arrogant or overstate your skills. If your application states that you are already trained in 10 therapies and have been chairing multi-disciplinary meetings for years and have a caseload of 50 patients – why the chuff aren’t you employed as a Professor / Consultant already and why should they bother wasting their money training you if you already know it all?! In all seriousness, it is good to be aware of and realistic about your limitations (another common interview question is about your strengths and weaknesses) and this is an important skill as both a practitioner and a researcher. It means that you won’t do things that you aren’t capable of that are potentially risky if they are outside your skills and experience and also means you know when to seek help and advice where appropriate. Counterintuitively, these attributes are actually valued and respected in the psychology profession – you don’t have to know everything and you never will, so it’s probably a good lesson to learn now On the other side of that, be confident in what you do know!
Along these lines, I think that the best candidate for any position is probably the person who shows that they understand the role and what is required, meets the essential requirements, and shows evidence of potential and a readiness and openness to learn and develop. Other key things that employers and admissions staff look for in this field is enthusiasm and warmth. Now these two are pretty hard to convey in a standard application form, especially if you’ve followed all of the other advice above. The way I tackled this one was to not use other people’s forms as a template or formula (this usually freaked me out, led me to compare my experience to theirs and ultimately morph my application into something similar) and to just focus on what I’d done and write what I really thought about things. So, for example, I would mention in application forms that I loved the challenge of every day being different when you work with children. Or that I am passionate about involving carers in research as I feel they often get overlooked. Be real, be you, as at the end of the day it’s a person they want, not a robot who ticks all the boxes. As for warmth, this is really tricky to demonstrate in an application – but once you get to the interview stage – my top tip is simply to smile, try and relax and be friendly and yourself!
Other simple things that really will enhance your application and increase your chances of being shortlisted include checking and double checking your application for typos and spelling mistakes and getting someone else to check it if you have time, just in case you’ve missed any. I realise that spelling isn’t some people’s strong point and we all make typos, but if a busy, tired shortlister who has to read through 30 applications in their lunch break has to read through one littered with mistakes, the reality is that it will probably put them off and risk you being seen as sloppy and unprofessional and possibly mean your application gets put into the no pile. If your application is full of spelling mistakes – what are your reports going to be like? Unfortunately, these sort of judgements will be made based on your form, so polish it up to be the best it can be! Another pet hate of mine is when people don’t capitalise the letter ‘I’ (when referring to oneself). I also dislike the use of acronyms without the phrase initially being used in full, because we may not be familiar with whatever it is you are talking about.
Another tip that helps make your shortlister’s life easier is to make your application as clear, succinct and visually easy to read as you can make it. That means not cramming in as much information as you possibly can in size 8 point font with no paragraphs. Now, I know people are divided on whether you should use headings or not (so that’s your call), but the use of proper paragraphs is recommended, ideally with a line break in between them. With regard to the use of bullet points, again people are divided on this one. I prefer complete sentences, but I think it is ok to use a bulleted list if for example, you’re giving a brief summary of duties involved in a particular position when you have to list your previous employment. List your qualifications and jobs in date order, starting with the most recent, this makes it easier for the person reading your form to have an overview of your experience in their mind. Again, repeat and pay attention to this mantra – make their job easy!
Include any publications you are an author or co-author on (including internal reports or things that have been submitted but not yet published), as well as conference presentations or posters, and reference these correctly using APA or BPS format. As an aside, the BPS Editorial Style Guide is an invaluable freely downloadable resource for all sorts of things, from how to reference a website to whether or not you should write numbers greater than ten out in full in the text (the answer to that is no). Use control+F (or command+F if you’re on a Mac) with the document open to search for the exact thing you’re looking for.
I also think it is really crucial to include some indication that you have a work life balance – i.e. you do not spend every waking hour, 24/7 doing psychology. That is not healthy and anyone who does fill up their spare time with psychology as well as working in or studying it really needs to take a step back to think about their priorities. Self-care is paramount in this profession and it is important that we practice what we preach. You are going to be no use to anyone (or not for any significant period of time) if you do not ensure you have a life outside of psychology where you pursue other interests, socialise, unwind and look after yourself. Indeed, evidence of hobbies and self-care, or at least recognition of the importance of self-care and work life balance, are something I look out for when shortlisting. Someone without this is at risk of burning out, so take heed!
Finally, once you’ve done all that, think about what makes you stand out. What makes you you. Have you done something particularly unusual or interesting that is worth mentioning? Do you have experiences from outside of psychology that are relevant? Think about how you can convey this in your form and weave it in somewhere, obviously within reason and within the boundaries of taste, relevance and appropriateness to the application.
If after submitting your form you are unsuccessful, read through your form and think about why and what you could possibly improve. Ask for feedback on your form from the shortlisters (although this is not always given at the application stage) and take this on board and do something to address it. It can be disheartening and upsetting to not get a job or place on a course, but it is an opportunity to learn and refine your application, so dust yourself off and go back to it when you’re feeling a little better and have had some space to reflect. If you know anyone who is in the field – ask them to read over your form and share their thoughts (also take them with a pinch of salt, as like this blog post, it is just their opinion). It may be that they just had too many applicants who were all really reallly good and they had to just find a way to cut the cloth and you lost out on something that you can’t change. In that case, you just have to keep your head up, learn from it, and keep going.
As they say in the Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favour….
*disclaimer: sadly, following this advice does not guarantee you a place/post and is my personal opinion based on my own experiences
If you’re looking for something to re-engage your mind with studying psychology before the new semester begins and you haven’t quite got to the point of feeling you need to read the recommended core texts yet, then I highly recommend any of the following as popular classics about some aspect of the human condition. Below, I’ve also included a talk from each author to give you a flavour of their work.
Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ is a reminder that there is more than one manifestation of an effective personality, with some pretty memorable examples.
Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ seems to have swept the boards of book awards and gives an accessible insight into our everyday experience of cognitive processing.
Meanwhile Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is a particularly enlightening and diverting insight into our brain’s relationship with music.
There’s plenty more out there, and thanks to online shopping these should be pretty accessible too. Enjoy!
Evelyn Chen is a BSc (Hons) Psychology undergraduate with the University of Salford who studies at the Open University of Hong Kong. Evelyn spent a few weeks here over the summer and I was lucky enough to be her assigned tutor. Evelyn worked with me on developing and pretesting a codebook and coding scheme for some Content Analytical work I am planning to carry out in the near future.
Evelyn has worked extremely well and has had significant input to the project, besides being a very nice person! Time flew by so quickly and today she will be flying back home.
It has been great getting to know one of our students from Hong Kong and to work with her on this project. Although we are all part of the same programme and social media like LinkedIn and Twitter allow us to be at least virtually connected, I feel much closer now to our programme in Hong Kong and I hope many other students will follow Evelyn’s lead!!!!
By Ashley Carrick, BSc (Hons) Psychology graduate 2013.
I am not going to bore you with the importance of starting your work and dissertation early or choosing a subject of personal interest in your final year (as with most students I know, this is probably something you will understand better when you finish your degree). I am however going to discuss my personal research in relation to you as a student or young person and the power you have over your own opportunities.
I have recently graduated from the university with a degree in psychology. To gain this qualification I had to produce my own research. I chose to look at the relationship between peer attachment, place attachment and identity in young people living in a deprived area. I realise that due to changes in university applications and the current economic climate, this is an area relevant to many students.
Something I learned when leaving high school is that you are the only person with control over your ability to succeed. I was once told I wouldn’t achieve the grades to go to college never mind be in a position to consider a masters. I believe my ability to overcome the doubters was, in part, due to my personal identity. As detrimental to my education as that statement could have been, I chose to use it as inspiration. I made it my personal goal to disprove the statement. Alongside of this, the knowledge I gained in psychology allowed me to see that not everyone would be able to look past the negative side of such a statement: this was something I wanted to address.
I grew up in a deprived area where it is often more important to have some income than none at all. The majority of work is provided by factories and casual work. My parents will admit that it is due to this that I am the first member of my family to attend university. Research, including my own, has found that living in a deprived area can have an effect on personal identity. Systems once put in place to help young people find work are now outdated and only sufficient to help maintain low level employment. These systems can prevent progression to higher levels.
Constant knocks and set backs in your pursuit to gain employment or further education will inevitably affect personal views of identity. Place identity is an important factor in the development of personal identity. We develop our personal identities based on the similarities and differences we see between ourselves and others. For example high achievers living in deprived areas are less likely to attend the best colleges and universities, this is said to be, in part, due to a personal feeling that they would not fit in. In young people it has even been found that social interactions are affected by the type of home you live in (private/council).
I believe that self belief, motivation and a positive sense of identity are key to opening up opportunities, even in a country where deprivation is on the increase and opportunities seem fewer. A change is needed and you as students are able to make that change. University is hard work but if you are willing to give it your all, and believe you can do it, (you can, you got here), the opportunities and rewards your degree can offer will be immeasurable.
By Jenna Condie
To say I spent the summer months during my undergraduate psychology degree sleeping and watching daytime TV is not quite true. I did work a variety of psychology-relevant jobs and pick up the odd book or two. However, I am now aware that I didn’t really make the best use of those breaks to develop my psychological knowledge and skills and ready myself for the graduate job market. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! On that note, here are five ideas for making the most of your summer as a psychology undergraduate. These ideas are inspired by recent opportunities I have noticed or stories I have been told…mostly via Twitter (hint hint!).
Most psychology students I speak to are already volunteering for various organisations. A local opportunity I spotted recently (call still open at the time of writing) was for the British Red Cross as a Bridge Group Project Volunteer in Manchester on Wednesday afternoons. The Bridge Group aims to help male refugees and asylum seekers cope with and adapt to a new city and culture. Activities include IT taster courses, tours of the city centre, first aid training and football tournaments. Due to the nature of the work, the volunteering positions are available to males only. Based on my graduate experience of working with ‘hard to reach’ and marginalised communities such as Gypsies and Travellers, I cannot emphasise the value of such experiences for developing communication skills and deepening your understanding of other cultures. At the same time, you could be reading up on psychological theory and research around migration and the processes people go through when adapting to a new place.
Another local opportunity that cropped up in my Twitter newsfeed today was for Mind Manchester, a voluntary organisation that works to improve the lives of people with mental health needs. @ManchesterMind particularly want young people (18-25) and people from ethnic minority backgrounds as these groups are currently underrepresented on their boards.
— SalfordPsych (@SalfordPsych) July 1, 2013
Get away! Literally! Being a season worker or ‘seasonaire’ can be great fun. To make the most of it, there are a number of ways this experience can be relevant to psychology. For example, companies such as PGL Travel and Esprit Sun have positions that provide relevant work experience for those considering a future career with children and young people. Further afield, there’s also the ever popular Camp America. It could be a bit late for this summer, but next summer maybe?
To combine ideas 1 (volunteering) and 2 (season work), check out organisations that arrange volunteering work in developing countries. SL Volunteers is an organisation that recently grabbed my attention as it is led by students and graduates. Their work is based in Sri Lanka where they run various projects such as The Children’s Home Project. They also have a clinical psychology placement scheme. There are often costs associated with these volunteering schemes but the organisations involved try to keep costs as low as possible. Perhaps you could be enterprising (see below!) and generate some sponsors and/or apply for funding opportunities
The organisation mentioned above, SL Volunteers, was established in 2010 by graduates from the University of Manchester and one of the founders, Lucy Nightingale, studied psychology! Maybe you’ve noticed a gap in services for university students – start talking to people across campus who might be interested in your idea.
By enterprising, I don’t necessarily mean starting a business. I mean create something, start something, bring people together with a common goal. If you don’t like the ways things are, change it. You might have an idea to start a group or a Facebook page or a blog for example. There is nothing wrong with starting small but thinking big. Perhaps there are opportunities for you to be ‘intrapreneurial’ (being entrepreneurial within an organisation) within the companies and organisations you are already working for or associated with.
Having the status of ‘student’ attached to you can be a massive advantage for starting an enterprise. If you are at Salford, check out the Careers and Employability Service’s enterprise page: http://www.careers.salford.ac.uk/enterprise.
There are lots of events and conferences going on throughout the summer, some of which are free. An interesting event I spotted today (Twitter again!) is a talk by the poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE called ‘GOOGLE ME’ – A talk on identity from someone finding theirs, organised by the University of Huddersfield (10th July 2013, 6-7.30pm). This is a fantastic opportunity to hear Lemn speak. Here’s a previous talk he gave for TED:
Attending events can give your ideas for dissertations, develop your critical thinking, and provide opportunities for networking. If there is a cost to attend an event, one option is to offer to help out so you can attend for free or at least get a reduced fee (enterprising again!) whilst gaining more work experience. Another option is to offer to write a review or a blog post about the conference or event…this has worked for me in the past and leads nicely onto the final idea for summer.
5. Developing your online presence
Last but not least, you could invest some of your summer into your online presence. Your professional online identity is now crucial for job (and potentially university) applications. Don’t believe me? Just Google ‘Paris Brown’ or ‘EmmaWay20’! A nice starting point for developing your professional self is to create a profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn. Because it’s the most professional of the major social networks, it can help you position yourself differently to how you might do on personal networks such as Facebook for example. We have set up a group on LinkedIn called SPNet to provide a network of students and staff to support each other on this platform and to start making connections with one another.
Another place which I have already mentioned is Twitter. This is the network where I get most of my up-to-date news and information about the latest opportunities…as this blog post demonstrates! For ideas about what to tweet and how to construct a professional self on Twitter, check out the @salfordpsych twitter archive and previous blog posts from current students about using Twitter for professional and learning purposes.
If you fancy going one step further…start your own blog like other Salford Psychology students such as Hannah Smith and Scott Robertson. You can also write guest posts for collaborative blogs. For example, this morning the BPS Social Psychology Section posted a call for blog posts on…you guessed it…Twitter (see below)!
Would you like to write a social psychology blog for us? Get in touch! http://t.co/JWjb2UMjdY
— BPS SPS (@socialpsychUK) July 1, 2013
Again, if you are at Salford, the Careers team can help with this and are available during the summer. There’s some drop in sessions too: http://www.careers.salford.ac.uk/page/jobsandcareers
If you are already having a psychological summer, great. Maybe there’s one or two ideas here that you want to follow up or even better, this post has sparked some ideas of your own. I expect the ideas in this post are just the tip of the iceberg…further ideas or suggestions are much appreciated, please leave them in the comments box below. We’d also be really interested to hear about your work experiences over the summer…you can even guest blog about them here!
Contact details: Jenna Condie, Lecturer in Psychology, E: email@example.com or Twitter: @jennacondie
Dr Sarah Norgate and Dr Liz Smith from Psychology at Salford have been collaborating with computer science researchers from Lancaster University to develop a smartphone app for parents to keep track of their child’s walking bus (a group of children walking to school with one or two adults) during the school run. The app has recently been piloted with schools, parents, and children within the local area. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the research may be of interest to those exploring digital media and/or physical activity.
The project has recently received media coverage. Please visit the University’s news page for more information.
If you would like to know more about the project, please contact Dr Sarah Norgate on firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Liz Smith on email@example.com
Second year students studying Social Psychology presented their own research in a poster conference held recently here at the University of Salford. This year saw the largest ‘marketplace of ideas’ yet, with over 120 individual pieces of work on display. The event was highlighted for commendation by the British Psychological Society visiting panel when they reaccredited the Psychology at Salford programmes last year.
Research into Facebook has mushroomed with particular interest in its impact on communication styles, on our self-esteem and even on helping behaviour. One study invited fellow students to compare their own personality traits with those attributed to online avatar characters they had created. The hypothesis that characters we dream up would be quite similar to ourselves was not supported, which confirms we really are capable of behaving quite differently when online than in person. Another study highlighted the role of emoticons (smiley faces and the like) in our feelings when online.
Investigations into the link between personality and physical attractiveness were as popular as ever, and the role of gender differences in our desire to help or conform with others was tested in some novel ways – whether it was the ‘accidental’ dropping of books to see who would help or the use of signs (with appropriate permission of course!) to see if men and women would be subtly directed through one library entrance or another. The library study by Kirstie Collins attracted most votes from fellow students for one of two prizes on offer. The other prize went to James Dunn for the poster awarded the top mark.
Many congratulations to all the second year students for a wonderful exhibition of talent!
By Hannah Smith
I have just found myself in the fortunate position of having secured myself a job that will give me relevant work experience for my career goal of being a clinical neuropsychologist. If you’re studying Psychology, you might have a specific career in mind at the moment, the same way I do, and you’ll probably be on the lookout for jobs which will get you on the first rung of the ladder.
I applied for quite a few jobs in the past few months, as with my graduation looming, I wanted to start climbing that ladder as soon as I could. I have had two interviews, including the one for the position I have been offered, and I think the things I learnt from the first one made the difference the second time around. I wanted to share this with other Psychology students at Salford, or anyone else who reads this blog, because interviews aren’t necessarily something we are taught how to prepare for!
In regards to any interview, be it your first or your twenty-first, do your homework. The two interviews I had were both for NHS trusts, and what I found was that each trust will have its own set of values, for example patient focused or accountability. Learn these values, and think of ways in which you already demonstrate similar qualities in your work, studies or personal life. My second interview asked for the values and I was able to recall each of them, as well as go into more depth about what each one meant.
What I’ve learnt from my job hunting process is that the feedback you are offered after an interview is so valuable. Write it down, and read back over it before any other interviews you have. Identify your weaknesses! The feedback I was given after my first interview was that I lacked knowledge around health and safety, as this is obviously important when working within a patient-focused role. Before my second interview, I searched my way around the internet, trying to fill the gaps in my health and safety knowledge. It paid off. Although the question I was asked in my second interview was not obviously about health and safety, it was a scenario question and I was able to identify where the safety risks were and mention these.
Other than the feedback you get from the interview panel, it’s also important to give yourself some feedback. Reflect on what you were asked at interview, how you answered questions, what gaps you think there are in your knowledge. As soon as I came out of my first interview, I knew there were things I should have said, and I wrote these down. I also realised that when giving my answers, I struggled to round them off neatly and ended up repeating myself in an attempt to end what I was saying. I did work on this before my second interview, and when I reflect back on that one, I can see that I improved.
I hope that this helps someone else get their foot in the door of their career path! Just remember to prepare, ask for feedback, reflect on your performance, and learn from it!
By Sharon Coen
In a very provocative recent post on LinkedIn (The Strongest Careers Are Non-Linear), Penelope Trunk encourages young people to avoid the academic career and achieve success following these steps: skip college, focus on internship, start a company instead of writing a resume and refuse to present oneself in a linear way. She concludes by stating:
“The biggest barrier to accepting the radical new nature of the job hunt is the reverberations throughout the rest of life. If you don’t need school for work, and you don’t need school for learning, then all you need school for is so parents can go to work and not worry about taking care of their kids.”
This post elicited a wealth of comments and discussion on the site, to which I would like to add my take. Being a lecturer, and having devoted my life not only to research but also to education, I feel particularly strongly about this argument. Here are the key points I would like to discuss:
1. The strongest careers are non-linear
I would agree with this. Often, people reach success after having walked different paths in search of something that fulfils them, and not all paths go through education. An example is the famous and economically successful Lord Sugar, who prides himself for choosing to start a business when he was still a teenager rather than studying. My question is at this point: what are the chances of becoming a Lord Sugar? Out of a hundred teenagers who choose not to educate themselves, instead to start a business, how many will end up on welfare, how many will just get by and how many will become successful entrepreneurs?
2. You don’t need school for work
Again, I agree with this. You certainly do not need school to get a job and earn some money. After all, some of the most lucrative jobs do not require education. Builders, movers, car mechanics, cleaners and sales people can make a lot of money without necessarily having a qualification. Even footballers, singers, actors and showpeople often reach success without having qualifications. It cannot be denied that this depends on what kind of jobs we are talking about. If someone aspires to be a lawyer, a physician, a surgeon , or a psychologist, they’d better make sure they gain the appropriate qualifications.
3. You don’t need school for learning
Once again, I agree. I tell students that in my opinion, the best psychologists are people who live in constant contact with the outside world, such as taxi drivers and bartenders for example. One can learn in different ways and school is not the only way to learn. It would be silly to state otherwise. But again, if it wasn’t for school, I would never have come across some of the most exciting ideas and concepts from Ancient Greek, Latin, Philosophy, History, Physics, Geography, and so on. I did not look for them. I wasn’t interested in these subjects before I HAD TO study them. School offered me the opportunity to come across knowledge which in all likelihood I would not have found otherwise.
4. All you need school for is so that parents can go to work
Ok, I think this is a very provocative sentence and I doubt the author really believes it herself. But let’s take it seriously for the sake of argument. Schools are a babysitting programme to allow parents to go and earn money for the family. So what? I don’t see the problem here. If you add that babysitting schools also offer knowledge and a (mostly) safe environment where kids can socialise, I would say bless the schools! Especially if you consider how expensive babysitters are nowadays! What would you rather kids do whilst their parents are at work? Work in a factory or in a mine like they used to do in the nineteenth century? Or should parents give up their jobs to look after their kids and be welfare-dependent (where available) instead?
If education is not for money what is it for?
Many students come to me with this question: can this course get me a job? My answer to this question is no. Gaining an academic qualification is not a guarantee to a job, especially nowadays. Certainly, one cannot aspire to become a professional in certain areas without the appropriate qualifications, but there are many other ingredients needed in order to be successful in the job hunt, one of them being luck.
So why bother?
Because knowledge is a value in and for itself. Being aware of the incredible achievements that human beings have accomplished in their understanding of the world around them, being able to be critical and find one’s own voice in the midst of those of others, and being able to formulate an informed answer to the small and big questions in life are all skills that schooling and education help develop. Education is not about finding a job. It is about fostering an informed citizenship where people are able to look at the big picture and play an active role in shaping the future of the society they live in. Or, at least, this is what I think it should be.
To quote Thomas Hobbes:
Scientia potentia est, sed parva; quia scientia egregia rara est, nec proinde apparens nisi paucissimis, et in paucis rebus. Scientiae enim ea natura est, ut esse intelligi non possit, nisi ab illis qui sunt scientia praediti.
Knowledge is power, but a limited power; because proper knowledge is rare, and not easily detectable if not in very few people and in a very limited amount of issues. Indeed, knowledge is one of those things that cannot be understood by anyone apart from those who dedicate themselves to it. (De Homine, cap. x. In Thomas Hobbes and William Molesworth, Thomæ Hobbes Malmesburiensis Opera Philosophica (1841), Vol. 3, 69. Retrieved online, my translation).
Education is about broadening the circle and making sure that the power is distributed more equally and broadly in our society.
By Jenna Condie
This is short notice but I am relying on the power of social media to spread the word fast. I am giving my annual #TheSelfOnline lecture tomorrow morning Monday 22nd April 2013 10-12pm in L312 for students visiting from Xaverian College. If you are free, Psychology at Salford students are welcome to attend, especially those thinking about increasing their online presence for a summer of graduate job searching. Also, I’m sure Xaverian students would really like to meet some of you too.
I am also giving the lecture on Friday 26th April 2013 to Level 4 students on the Individual Differences module at 10-12pm in MS G21. Again if you are free, students in other year groups and on our masters courses are welcome to attend. Please email me if you would like to attend this one firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what’s in store:
I’ve titled this post The Self Online Week 2013. If you can’t make it to the lectures, why not add your thoughts or questions around your online presence on Twitter using this tag #theselfonline. If you do one thing this week, Google yourself and see what you find. If you do another, check out LinkedIn.
Recently a number of our psychology students have ventured into the world of blogging. They are writing about psychology in the ‘real world’, their experiences of studying psychology, reviews of events they have attended and films they have seen. Having a blog can help develop a person’s online presence and demonstrate their ability to communicate on public platforms in a professional manner – an essential skill for aspiring psychologists who may work with vulnerable groups in the future.
Scott Robertson, a second year BSc (Hons) Psychology student, has established a blog and podcast network called ‘Psych’d’. Scott has kindly given permission for us to republish his first post ‘Pop Goes Psychology – Misconstrued Misconceptions’ which launched the Psych’d blog (see below). The post was originally published here. Psych’d has already had some local media coverage (see image) and Scott has some interesting plans in the pipeline. To find out more, you can also follow him on twitter @totheendandback.
Pops Goes Psychology: Misconstrued Misconceptions
As this is the first post, I would like to welcome you to the Psych’d Blog.
This week we will be looking at the generally recognised popular ‘pop’ psychology.
The term ‘pop’ psychology refers to concepts and theories about human mental life and behaviours that are predominantly based on psychology paradigms, these attain popularity among the general population. (Tosey & Mathison, 2006)
This phrase is often used in a somewhat dismissive fashion to describe psychological concepts that appear oversimplified, out of date, unproven or misinterpreted. However, the term may also be used to describe professionally produced psychological knowledge, regarded by most experts as valid and effective, that is intended for use by the general public.
The term ‘pop psychologist’ can be used to describe authors, entertainers etc. who are widely perceived as being psychologists. Not because of their academic credentials, but because they have projected that image or have been perceived in that way in response to their work. Pop Psychology can come in many forms, Self-help books; The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck, TV, Radio and Print Advice; Dr Phil (America) and Dear Abby and Psychological terminology making its way in to everyday language or Psychobabble; Inner Child, Freudian Slip or as it should be known Parapraxis. (Dilts et al, 1980 and Corballis in Sala, 1999)
Pop Psychology is an essential ingredient of the self-help industry. According to Fried and Schulte’s, criteria for a good self-help book include- “claims made by the author as to the book’s efficacy, the presentation of problem-solving strategies based on scientific evidence and professional experience, the author’s credentials and professional experience, and the inclusion of a bibliography”. (Witkowski, 2010 and Stollznow, 2010)
Some potential dangers of self-help books according to are Lum, (2001) are; People may falsely label themselves as psychologically disturbed, People may also misdiagnose themselves and use material that deals with the wrong problem and People may not be able to evaluate a program and may select an ineffective one.
Psychobabble is described as the misuse and or overuse of technical psychological terms as described earlier. Sometimes Psychological jargon is used to dress up sales pitches, self-help programs, and New Age ideas to lend these endeavours a respectable scientific appearance. Other times, people use psychological terminology to describe every day, normal experiences in a way that musicalises a normal behaviour, such as feeling sad after a loss, by suggesting that unpleasant emotions are a type of Psychopathology, like major depressive disorder.
People may use Psychobabble because they believe that complex, descriptive or special esoteric terms more clearly or more dramatically communicate their experiences of social and personal situations, or because they believe that it makes them sound more educated.
Some of these terms that have an origin in Psychological terminology and are typically misused include co-dependent, dysfunctional, meaningful relationship, narcissistic, and synergy.
Despite the various publications, the general public have a minimal understanding of what Psychologists do and what ‘Psychology’ is all about. Many believe Psychology was “mind reading and spiritualism”, (O’Connor, Joseph & John Seymour, 1993) and that it had no real application in everyday life.
In reality, Psychology is more about studying human behaviours and experiences that have strong applications to everyday life.
Written by SGR
With Thanks to Lorna Paterson and her wonderful inspiration for this blog post
Corballis, MC., “Are we in our right minds?” In Sala, S., (ed.) (1999), Mind Myths: Exploring Popular Assumptions About the Mind and Brain Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons. ISBN 0-471-98303-9 (pp. 25–41)
Dilts, R., Grinder, J., Delozier, J., and Bandler, R. (1980). Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Volume I: The Study of the Structure of Subjective Experience. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications.
Lum.C (2001). Scientific Thinking in Speech and Language Therapy. Psychology Press. pp. 16. ISBN 0-8058-4029-X
O’Connor, Joseph & John Seymour (1993). Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People. London, UK: Thorsons. ISBN 1-85538-344-6.
Stollznow.K (2010). “Not-so Linguistic Programming”. Skeptic 15 (4): 7.
Tosey, P. & Mathison, J., (2006) “Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming Centre for Management Learning & Development, School of Management, University of Surrey.
Witkowski (2010). “Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?”. Polish Psychological Bulletin 41 (2): 58–66.
Our @salfordpsych Twitter account has been up and running for a month now. Last week, BSc (Hons) Psychology and Criminology student Catherine Thomas (a.k.a. @kitty_cat86) took us to a whole new level. She inspired a presentations expert (@viperblueuk) to write a blog post with advice on poster presentations to help Level 5 students with their Social Psychology assignments. Below, Catherine reflects on what she gained from curating @salfordpsych and how Twitter can be a useful resource for university students. If you would like to read Catherine’s tweets from the week, they have been archived here on Storify.
How did you find your week curating the @salfordpsych account?
I loved it – have to admit I was really dreading it at first, mainly because I was worried that if I didn’t do it right I would look like a ‘bad psychology student’. I felt like the spotlight would be on me and didn’t want to look stupid in front of peers and professionals at uni. This was not the case – I was encouraged throughout and loved every minute.
Did previous curator’s tweets shape your approach to tweeting as @salfordpsych?
They gave me an idea of how/what to tweet and reading through their tweets was very encouraging. I think if I had been the first to curate I would have been much more reserved in what I tweeted.
What motivated you to be a part of the initiative?
I was asked to do it, accepted and then the dread arrived I knew that anything related to my degree could help me in my studies, and of course I love psychology so that helped.
What did you enjoy about it?
Networking; speaking with other students and professionals. It really helps when you speak with someone who has ‘been there done that’. Up to date studies that were tweeted were great. They help with your studies as well as just being an interesting read.
What surprised me is that in doing this you highlight what areas of psychology you are interested in by what catches your eye and what makes you want to ‘re-tweet’. In my case, looking through my tweets, I tweeted a lot in regards to clinical psychology. It wasn’t until I noticed this that I realised that it must be something that I am really interested in. This made me think further about career paths and further education.
Was there anything you didn’t enjoy?
Honestly, not really. I very much enjoyed the whole week and was gutted when the week was over.
Favourite twitter moment of the week?
When I got responses to questions regarding my assignment, people were so helpful.
Least favourite twitter moment of the week?
Which accounts would you recommend to other students?
Anything psychology related really – a lot of accounts tweet up to date studies and such which can really help with your own studies.
How can social media play a role in learning?
It can massively play a role in learning. If nothing else, it brings people together with shared interests who can encourage each other to learn together; people who you would not normally come into contact with.
How can we strengthen a sense of community at Psychology at Salford?
This has been a great tool to strengthen the Psychology community at Salford. Doing this has made me realise just how important it is to speak with other students in different levels of study.
Why do you use Twitter?
I signed up to twitter out of curiosity but now I love it. It’s great as it can enhance all things that we encounter in our lives outside of social networking.
Would you recommend being a curator to other students?
Absolutely. I have already
Any tips for future curators?
Don’t panic (like I did) about making sure you sound like the perfect psychology student. If you are stuck with something, ask while you are the curator, everyone is happy to help.
What role do you think social media will play in your future?
A huge one. It’s going to get bigger and bigger, and I can’t wait.
What would you like to see @salfordpsych do next?
Continue to encourage students to actively participate in the department. It really helps!
Top tweet of the week
— SalfordPsych (@SalfordPsych) April 7, 2013