In my position as a psychology professor at SUNY New Paltz, I get to help cultivate the minds and pathways of lots of bright young scholars looking to study psychology and to get into a career related to their studies. While every day is not a birthday party, I have an awesome job – and the best part of it is seeing these bright young people develop their skills, knowledge, and confidence – and watching them lead careers of their own where they are able to make positive marks on the field and on the lives of individuals.
15 years ago, when parents of incoming students would meet with me at events like Open House and such, they would always look me in the eye and say “Hey! Is my son or daughter going to get a JOB after majoring in psychology? Huh!?!?” … just.like.that.! Well you know, my answer used to be something like, “well, hopefully! There are various graduate programs related to the field – and if they get into one of these programs there is a good chance – and there are some jobs in the field …” … In 2014, my answer has changed dramatically. “Yes. If he or she works hard - absolutely.” This change in my response is not because I am more advanced in my career. It has everything to do with changes in the market. Graduate programs related to fields in psychology have increased – there are lots of such programs. And there ARE jobs in the field. Lots of them. And the pay, to my understanding, is not bad. Here’s the deal:
According to data presented by Healthdata.org, mental health issues, such as depressive and anxiety-related issues are on a steady pattern of increase. In another blog, I plan to address how evolutionary mismatch likely helps best explain this problematic phenomenon, but, for now – we can think of it this way – along with this rise in mental health problems has come an increase in the mental health field as an industry. And psychology majors are best-educated and best positioned to get jobs in this industry and to make positive contributions in this field.
And there are other possibilities for careers – beyond applied kinds of jobs designed to directly deal with issues of mental health. There are research jobs – and degrees focusing on research in the behavioral sciences. With increased focus on statistics and research skills needed for departments of health, departments of education, and other government-related entitites for states and counties, etc., the research skills that psychology students get in their majors (such as SPSS) are, actually, very valuable and (with a little bit of looking), employable.
This all said, here are 5 bits of guidance to fledgling psychologists, behavioral scientists, therapists, and counselors – from someone who has guided thousands of students in this area on to successful advanced study and careers.
5. Study hard as an undergraduate student – get a good GPA – and you should be able to find some kind of graduate program that you should be able to get into.
4. During your studies, find out about – and take advantage of extra-curricular activities that your program offers – such as “independent study” (usually taking the form of research with a professor) or internship/practicum. These kinds of experiences tend to set students apart as very motivated and as knowing what they are doing.
3. Take a leadership role as an undergraduate psychology student. Your school likely has a Psychology Club or chapter of Psi Chi – or both – or more. Student clubs are notoriously like PTA executive boards – they are always looking for people to step up and take leadership positions. “We REALLY need a vice president this year! … Who is going to be treasurer???” … Students who take these positions get to work on great projects, get to know faculty well, and always have a huge leg up. Just go to the meetings and volunteer and contribute. Not too hard. Big payout.
2. Take a variety of basic and applied classes to see what you like best. I thought I wanted to be a therapist until I learned about research psychology in an introductory psychology class some years back. I ended up loving this stuff and making a career of it. Take classes in research psychology – along with classes related to such applied areas as counseling psychology, abnormal psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and more. Have an open mind – and let the content you learn guide your passions and interests – and future.
1. Figure out what specific career path is of interest to you. Students sometimes think that “being a psychologist” means being a therapist – and that there is only one kind of therapist. WRONG! There are lots of fields that follow from a psychology education. And, related, there are lots of degrees that lead to fields in psychology. These include degrees in research areas (such a PhD in social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, etc.). There are also various degrees related to applied areas (such as a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, Masters in School Counseling, PhD in Clinical Psychology, PsyD in Clinical Psychology, Masters in Social Work, and more). And graduate programs tend to have much better funding opportunities than undergraduate programs – so don’t let the price tag scare you away! Look into funding opportunities!
The study of the human mind and behavior is awesome stuff. And there are lots of great areas of advanced/graduate study and career opportunities in this field! Work hard, keep an open mind, and consult with experts in the field (such as current or past psychology professors of yours) for guidance. If you are a fledgling member of the broader psychology community – welcome. You have chosen an area with lots of great opportunities – and potential to make a positive mark on this world. And good luck! And feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions – maybe I can help!