On Saturday 30th November 2019, the British Psychology Society (BPS) organised a fantastic, free conference targeted at Psychology students, to learn about careers in the industry.
The event was hosted at the Institute of Education (IoE) in London. It was a full day of talks, panel discussions, and exhibitions, with the opportunity to interact with the speakers in person and by submitting live questions online.
The energy was high and the speakers were inspiring. If you want to know more about how to start a career in Psychology, read my 5 key takeaways from the event below!
1. Your degree alone is not enough
Perhaps one of the key takeaways from the day (although fairly obvious) is that Graduates are expected to have more than just their degrees to secure a job or a place on a Doctorate programme in Psychology.
Whilst this is applicable to most disciplines, the event highlighted the importance of standing out from other candidates by contributing to the Psychology field outside of your studies.
The speakers suggested various ways to do so: volunteering, writing for academic publications, for laypeople (e.g. the Conversation, a website that publishes news stories written by academics and researchers), writing about experiences at conferences, teaching, giving presentations on your research.
These experiences are beneficial not only to add to your CV but also from a personal perspective, they shape you and enable you to develop new skills, they help you grow in self-awareness, which will be useful in determining which career path you choose to pursue. The BPS itself also offers lots of opportunities for students to get involved, whether that be as part of the BPS student committee, or writing for the BPS student publication, Psych Talk.
Moreover, all these additional experiences help you grow your network, which brings me to my second takeaway from the event.
2. Networking is key
Again, another fairly obvious point applicable to most disciplines that were highlighted at the conference was the importance of networking. Fraser Smith, one of the keynote speakers, currently in his final year of Counselling Psychology Doctorate, shared how, throughout his Psychology career, he only had ever applied for a job through the ‘official’ route (online vacancy application) once, with all his other experiences sprouting from opportunities he had made for himself through his network.
For example, a volunteering role as simple as an admin clerk in a hospital enabled him to be first in line when an Assistant Psychologist vacancy became available. Dr Annie Scudds, another keynote speaker and lecturer at the University of Chester, explained how she was offered a PhD scholarship from her supervisor as a result of working as his research assistant.
Students tend to forget the world is not always a fair place where all applications are considered equally. As the job market gets increasingly saturated, employers will always prefer to hire someone they know and trust.
Building relationships and putting yourself out there is, therefore, the key to making opportunities for yourself. Conference attendees were encouraged to think of the network already available to them: peers, university lecturers, supervisors, even friends, family and friends’ parents!
The BPS is another good way to network with people in the field: the student membership is subsidised by a lot of universities (so check with yours) but even if not, the annual cost is only £26. As a student member, you get the opportunity to connect with members of your local branch, you can attend BPS events, and interact with the online community, which includes other students but also industry professionals.
3. Building an online presence is important
Another key point Fraser emphasised was the importance of building an online presence. In this digital day and age, an online presence helps to get you known in the field and consequently create opportunities.
Digital guru Fraser has developed GetPsyched specifically to address this purpose: he has a YouTube channel where he posts Psychology videos, a blog (where you’re reading this article!), social media channels and a podcast. Fraser shared how GetPsyched got him invited to speak at conferences and events, in the UK and abroad, from which he got the opportunity to meet people and further grow his network.
When people are looking to hire you, one of the first things they will do is an online search to find out more about you, so make sure they find positive things that demonstrate your passion and proactivity for the field.
Fraser encouraged conference delegates to get as creative as possible here and to think outside the box to develop innovative online content. What experiences make you different from other Psychology students and how can you use those differences to create something novel? What skills do you have that can be utilised creatively? What are the current trends in the way people consume digital content that you need to consider?
4. Keep informed of new developments in Psychology
Technology is changing the face of Psychology at lightning speed, and I admit I was very surprised about some of the latest developments presented.
Some I was already aware of, such as the successful emergence of online therapy and mental health mobile applications like Headspace or Calm (although I was not aware of exactly how successful: Headspace is currently valued in the region of $320 million and Calm circa $1 billion!), but some I had never heard of before.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Smith explained, is being used in a whole host of ways in Psychology, for example with the development of therapeutic robots that combines the use of animal therapy with robots. This has been particularly useful in patients in older care settings where live animals might present logistical challenges.
Other digital innovations such as Virtual Reality (VR) and avatar therapy have also proven to be successful, for example in overcoming phobias like fear of heights using VR or in treating auditory hallucinations in patients with schizophrenia using avatar therapy.
What does all this mean for you as a student in Psychology? Well, all these developments are changing the field and creating opportunities for your future that you may not have considered.
Keeping abreast of these changes will help you decide what role you want to play in it. To do so, Smith advised using the John C. Norcross (and colleagues) ten-yearly forecasts of Psychology that have a history of being fairly accurate.
5. Your career is unlikely to be a straight path
One thing that struck me during the conference was the huge diversity in the careers of all the speakers. Dr Scudd’s path particularly surprised me: she had experienced working in academia as a Cognitive Psychology Researcher; in the industry helping to design packaging for Unilever products (such as the Magnum ice-creams); as an occupational support coach to Chief Executives; and then back into academia as a Senior Lecturer.
It was like she had lived 20 lives in one lifespan! This reminded me of a book I read written by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, where she encouraged her readers to think of their careers less in the way of a ‘career ladder’ but more in the way of a ‘jungle gym’ as she puts it.
Whilst ladders are limiting (people can move up or down, on or off) and there is only one way to get to the top, jungle gyms allow for more creative exploration and there are many ways to reach the top.
Oftentimes as students, we get fixated on having our whole career figured out, and that there is only one ‘best way’ to get to where we want to be. But the truth is, there are many ways to get there, and it is important to keep an open mind.
Take it step by step, and follow your curiosity, as Dr. Scudd encouraged. It is pointless to fixate on one narrow path, as your objective will change anyway.
As much as your interests will shape your experiences, so too will your experiences shape your interests. Psychology is a very broad field, so keep an open mind as you may not even be aware of all your options.
Moreover, your personal life will inevitably shape the decisions you make in your career, so planning the next 10 years of your life is redundant. You might meet a significant other that will change where you decide to settle for example. So, relax and take it step by step, and enjoy this journey we call ‘life’.
Lynn is an MSc Psychology (Conversion) student at the University of Surrey. Prior to her masters, she was working as a Technology Consultant at Deloitte. Lynn has a background in Business Management from the University of Warwick.