As a final year BSc Psychology student, I wanted to use this year to develop my skills and experience so that I would be in a strong position to apply for graduate jobs. After taking a course on drugs and addiction as part of my degree, I realized that I felt passionate about this subject.
I decided that I wanted to look for an internship in a related role, to help me to decide if I would enjoy working in this field. However, I was not finding many advertised opportunities for the kinds of internships I was interested in.
Hi! I’m Gelsica, a Psychology of Education MSc student at Bristol. It was an Erasmus year spent working with young offenders in France which really ignited my passion for Psychology, and my career goal is to work in cognitive behavioural therapy with young children and adolescents.
I recently went to an online Careers in Psychology Q&A event, organised by the School of Education and the Careers Service. We heard from professional speakers working in a range of roles within Psychology, including Educational, Clinical, Counselling, Academia and Research.
Here are the key things I learned from the event, as well as some top tips from the Careers Service on starting a career in Psychology:
Be open-minded to career options within Psychology
A key message was the wide and diverse range of roles in Psychology – so if you aren’t sure where to begin, there are many options to explore.
There are several routes into Psychology – including a career change. One speaker began her career in recruitment before moving into mental health care – and she is about to become a Clinical Associate in Psychology (CAP).
There are many forms of work experience in Psychology. Although Psychology Assistant roles are a good starting point, they are highly competitive – so be proactive and open-minded about other ways to gain experience. The key is that you apply Psychology within the role – as one speaker advised, it is about “following your interests” and using “your passion”.
Careers Service tip: See Prospects information on work experience options within Psychology.
Think ‘on the ground’ for clinical opportunities
‘On the ground’ healthcare positions, whether bank employees or contract workers, are an excellent way to gain relevant knowledge and experience – and they are always in demand. For example, starting as a Healthcare Assistant is ideal for gaining experience in mental health.
If you are considering a career in academia – why not speak to your supervisor about the possibility of your master’s or final year research project being published? There are also opportunities to publish your research through the Bristol Institute of Learning and Teaching (BILT).
Seek out ways to interact with people working in your field of interest – several speakers mentioned opportunities gained through their network. Consider who you know – peers, lecturers, supervisors, friends, family – and seize opportunities to build on this.
Attending this event counted towards my Bristol PLUS Award. If you haven’t considered the Award and will be studying next year, I highly recommend it – it’s helped me to meet new people, improve my leadership skills and increase my understanding of careers in Psychology. To maximise your time at university, join the amazing Bristol PLUS Award community!
A 2010 DEdPsy graduate Cardiff University, currently working as an Educational Psychologist for a local authority provided the case study below about her current role and how she got there.
How did you get your job?
The initial step was to get my first degree in Psychology- I graduated from Aston University in 2001. During that degree I worked as a clinical psychology assistant for the NHS for 12 months. After graduation I worked as a mental health support worker for a year, and decided that I wanted to pursue the Educational Psychology route and taught in a primary school for 2 years following a PGCE.
At the time, 2 years of teaching was a prerequisite to be accepted onto the DEdPsy course, and whilst it no longer is, the classroom experience gave me a firm foundation to then apply for an Assistant Educational Psychology post which then led to successful acceptance onto the Doctorate course.
The course consisted of placements working as a Trainee Educational Psychologist in three different local authorities, a number of research projects and a thesis. I graduated and have been working ever since for a local authority.
What does your role involve?
I work with children and young people between the ages of 0-19 and the systems around them (school, family, community) using a consultation approach in order to facilitate change. There is a lot of multi-agency and liaison work, which involves working collaboratively with school staff, parents, and a range of other professionals (e.g. Social Services, Speech and Language Therapists, Youth Offending Service, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) to identify and support any wellbeing or additional learning needs.
Adaptability and the ability to communicate with others is key. I work with 15 schools including primary, secondary and pupil referral units and work one-to-one with a child using psychological assessments, individual therapeutic work and observations. I also undertake more proactive group interventions to help the children and young people develop social skills, self-esteem and self-regulation. I also work at a systemic level, supporting schools to develop policies and interventions, and provide training to teachers, LSAs and ALNCOs on topics such as self-regulation, anxiety management, psychological approaches and attachment. There is a lot of administration too- I have to research and analyse the effectiveness of interventions, write reports and ensure that I keep up to date with the latest research in order to provide evidenced based practice.
How did your degree help?
If you want to become an Educational Psychologist having the Doctorate in Educational Psychology is an essential requirement by the British Psychological Society (BPS). My DEdPsy involved 3 placements which were invaluable in finding out the variety of approaches which are used in different local authorities. My 50,000 word thesis explored the impact of teachers using Solution Focused approaches in schools.
What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into educational psychology?
With fewer assistant educational psychology posts available due to funding cuts, you will have to work harder to evidence your motivation for the DEdPsy course.
Experience of working with young people and children is essential. Get into a school and classroom setting to get a better understanding of the educational and school systems. Experience beyond the classroom is also invaluable e.g. in youth clubs, sports clubs, playgroups, voluntary agencies. This will give you a holistic insight into what children deal with on a daily basis and some of the challenges they face. It is vital that you gain experience of working with children from all backgrounds with a variety of needs and will be key in being able to demonstrate your communication skills and your empathetic nature.
Always consider the link to psychology in what you have done e.g. if you work as a learning support assistant or volunteer with a play scheme, think how you have used psychological principles to deal with challenges successfully.
Demonstrate your enthusiasm and initiative by asking to shadow professionals that work with children and young people- social workers, clinical psychologists, therapeutic workers. If they can’t spare the time for you to come out for the day, ask if you can at least speak to them – try to gain insights wherever and whenever you can. Ask questions and demonstrate that you’ve gone the extra mile with additional research- contacts can be key to professional development in this field.
Get research experience during the summer- seek out psychology research projects and get involved.
Consider choosing a dissertation topic related to children or young people. This will not only help demonstrate your interest and increase your knowledge but could also bring you into contact with a range of other professionals who also work with children.
Keep up to date with the latest research- journals such as Educational Psychology in Practice, Educational & Child Psychology, developments in the profession through the BPS and if possible attend any appropriate training courses.
A 2007 psychology graduate from the University of Manchester, currently working as an assistant clinical psychologist for the NHS, provided the case study below about her current role and how she got there.
How did you get your job?
Since leaving university I have held several jobs. My first was working as a sales advisor for an insurance company – completely unrelated to the career that I wanted. In the meantime I joined an assistants group at the university, got involved in writing articles, and worked as a locum support worker for women that had suffered domestic abuse.
Eventually I plucked up the courage and contacted several clinical psychologists and got an honorary research assistant post at the University of Manchester.
I then started a part time Research Psychologist post for UCL which gave me great experience of conducting research. I also started volunteering as a research assistant one day a week on a project looking at obesity and managed to get paid work on an ad hoc basis at the University of Nottingham which eventually resulted in some publications.
What does your role involve?
My current role as an assistant clinical psychologist consists of conducting neuro-psychological assessments on children with queried autism/learning disabilities or a social communication disorder. I score up and interpret performance and write reports. I also visit children within their school environment and carry out direct/video observations. My post has enabled me to sit in on and assist in formulations and intervention/treatment plans. Spending time around clinical psychologists has allowed me to gain a sense and clear understanding of the work that they conduct.
How did your degree help?
If you want to become a clinical psychologist having a degree is essential. My degree gave me a great foundation of knowledge, improved my writing and research skills, and confidence to pursue a career in clinical psychology.
What advice would you give anyone else wanting to get into clinical psychology?
Gaining a place on the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Training is not an easy process. It is important to fully research and understand what Clinical Psychology is.
Contact clinical psychologists and ask to talk to them – they tend to have a lot of knowledge that can be helpful for you. Whilst at University this should be easier as you may have clinical psychologists that lecture you.
Try and get involved in support work / Nightline / Samaritans / mentoring etc. whilst at university.
Join an assistants group (it is not always restricted to assistants).
Get any experience you can which you can show is relevant. I was involved in Nightline, worked as an ambassador for the university engaging those from disadvantaged backgrounds, worked in India and Romania with people that had disabilities etc.
Offering to work on an honorary basis on a research project during holidays is a good way of getting experience.
Opt for a research project (normally in your final year) that is as clinically relevant as you can get.
Be willing to seek out experience and to deal with rejection.
Do not allow it to consume you – it is only a job at the end of the day.