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My Charge to 2017’s Psychology Graduates

How to leverage skills learned in the major.

I am still enjoying my sabbatical leave from the classroom, so I won’t be speaking at any graduation gathering this month. But if I did, I would probably want to remind this year’s graduating psychology majors that they have a good opportunity to remind potential employers or graduate or other professional programs about the particular skills they have acquired during their college years. Besides being a STEM major and a hub science, an education in psychology offers students a chance to develop key skills that can help them in the workplace or in pursuit of advanced degrees.

These skills include:

Understanding research data, graphs, and tables. Psychology majors know how to “read” research results and to interpret graphs, tables, and other data displays. This knack can come in very handy in the workplace.

Evaluating claims about behavior. What factors motivate people? Psychology majors spend four or so years thinking about what personal and environmental variables influence people’s choices where their actions are concerned. Such knowledge is invaluable for sales, marketing, and related business pursuits.

Synthesizing information from diverse sources. Psychology students know how to find information to bolster their claims. They are used to culling data points from library, journal, and online sources (being critical and appropriately wary of the latter) in order to make a case or to offer an explanation for why people behave the way they do.

Effective communication. Psychology majors not only know how to read critically, they also learn to write persuasively. Their written communications can be formal or informal. They also have experience giving professional presentations, which means they can tailor their comments to the knowledge-level of their audience, whether professional peers or lay people.

Team work. Many psychology students have worked on teams in the course of their studies. These are often research teams or project groups. Being able to work well with others is an essential skill for the workplace or grad program.

Starting and finishing projects. Work life and post-graduate education are less structured than college life. There are many projects that need to be conceived and executed. Psychology majors are used to juggling many balls in the air at once, which means they are quite capable of finishing what they start.

Exhibiting persistence. Few students pass through college without some stress, whether personal or educational. Psychology majors often learn the importance of persistence—to keep on keeping on—in spite of the pitfalls and setbacks they encounter. Persistence is resistance to the foibles of work and life; its importance should not be underestimated.

Tolerant of ambiguity. Human behavior, like life, is complex, and not everything that causes people to do one thing over another can be accounted for easily. When ready reasons for something are unclear, psychology majors don’t give up or give in—they are curious and patient, continuing to search for the answer.

Amiable skepticism. Students of psychology are used to examining inferences and claims with a colder eye, one aimed at discerning truth from falsehood or, lately, facts from alternative facts. When doing so, they are open-minded but not easily convinced when justification is lacking.

Ethically responsible. Psychology majors know right from wrong; they don’t take ethical or moral shortcuts, nor do they fail to call out wrongs or questionable actions.

So, psychology graduates, as you walk across the stage to get your diploma, consider how these skills can be leveraged to advance your future. Good luck!


Dunn, D. S., & Halonen, J. S. (2017). The Psychology Major's Companion: Everything You Need to Know to Get Where You Want to Go. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

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