Leveraging Psychology Skills for Grad School or Employment

Soon-to-be grad students should engage in this learning exercise.

Posted Dec 07, 2017

I recently did a Skype interview with an undergraduate psychology major from a Florida university. As a final requirement of a capstone course, I was invited by a colleague to assess the professional savvy of a soon-to-be psychology graduate. The student set up the call and shared an electronic portfolio with me. Therein she had a resume, her post-graduate plans (both a hoped-for outcome and a back-up or “Plan B” option), a list of references, and a description of the major courses she completed. My role was to assess her readiness to graduate and to evaluate the viability of her plans and her understanding of the psychology-related skills she acquired during the course of her education in the major.

The student I Skyped with – like all the other students in the senior capstone offering – used the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major 2.0 to guide the discussion. In my student’s case, she focused primarily on her post-graduate plans, which include pursuing a graduate degree in a European country next year. To outline her academic progress, she relied on the Guidelines’ Goals 3 (Ethical and Social Responsibilities), 4 (Communication), and 5 (Professional Development). By doing so, she described to me experiences where she, for example, applied ethical standards to a research project, demonstrated her ability to write well (e.g., crafting an Internal Review Board research proposal), and shared concrete situations with me where she had learned to do teamwork and refined her ability to manage and submit projects in a timely manner.

The interview – though she did most of the talking, really, presenting, we asked other questions – lasted just shy of an hour. I found the exercise to be very helpful in getting to know the reasons she chose psychology as her undergraduate major as well as to discern that she understood the relevance of acquired skills to her learning during college and the promise they held for helping her in the future. I later completed an evaluation form where I could indicate whether I felt she needed further development with respect to a given criterion (e.g., “demonstrates effective speaking skills”), was competent, clearly performed in a distinguished manner, or if there was “no evidence” provided. Besides completing the evaluation form, I sent along some narrative comments.

I think providing students with an opportunity to explain their major choice (whether it’s psychology or something else) and to provide extensive behavioral evidence to support that choice is a terrific idea. The exercise is low stakes because it is not public, yet it is clearly demanding – she prepared in advance and carried the conversation for almost an hour – and involving. There were no awkward silences or pauses because she had a list of questions (that she could depart from as needed).

I think psychology faculty and students at many colleges and universities could adapt this exercise as a means to let capstone/soon-to-graduate student articulate what they learned in their major. I also think the exercise serves as an excellent opportunity to do a dry run interview with a stranger (here, a proxy for any potential employer or a grad school interview) while preparing and sharing talking points in the form of a succinct portfolio of materials. I was delighted to take part in this exercise and I am going to see whether it can be adapted for use on my own campus. I hope other psychology faculty and students will reach the same conclusion.