As the field of academia gets increasingly more competitive, it becomes harder to impress the admissions office: there are too many intelligent people out there nowadays, so good grades alone just don’t cut it anymore. This is where work experience comes in. Not only does it enable your application to stand out, but also demonstrates your maturity, responsibility, commitment and many other important qualities that make you a worthy applicant. So, work experience is pretty much a necessity for an aspiring psychologist, but you probably already know this from all the careers lectures you had to sit through during your time at UCL. So, what can postgrads advise when it comes to work experience?
First off, when it comes to writing up the experience section of your CV, Alessandro (MSc Research Methods in Psychology + PhD in Clinical, Health and Educational Psych) emphasizes that it is important to avoid “putting everything you have achieved in your life down”. Instead, focus on the most important bits that you think are relevant to the course you are applying for. Alessandro also advises to mention what you have gained from your experiences, and how this makes you suited for the course. His own work experience includes investigating the effectiveness of horticultural therapy among those with substance use disorders and psychotic disorders with the Mind and the Providence Row Housing Association in London. Additionally, in the two summers preceding his postgrad studies he had worked with the Icahn School of Medicine of the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and with the Division of Disaster Psychiatry at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science, “looking at the mental health impacts of complex emergencies among victims of the 9/11 attacks and of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake in 2011”. And, like that wasn’t impressive enough already, he also worked as a lead researcher in a project on student mental health at UCLU.
In case your experience is not really relevant to the course, or is simply not worth mentioning, Kunalan (MSc in Social Cognition) suggests that you can make up by taking part in relevant online courses. He says: “My volunteering experience was not relevant. My job and previous education were only marginally so. In my application, I mentioned various Coursera courses (online courses) relevant for my degree that could make up for my not having taken them as part of my undergraduate course, and I think this might have helped”.
Another piece of advice Kunalan gave is getting as much research experience as possible: this is what will look most attractive on your CV, and demonstrate your readiness to pursue a career in research. “You can’t learn to cook if you haven’t been in the kitchen!” Olivia Williams (DClinPsy Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) adds that for an application for a degree in clinical psychology, experiences in both research and clinical experience are sought after.
For those interested in applying for clinical psychology, Olivia says that it is better to show diversity in experience of working with people, so aim to work with people of different age groups and social backgrounds. She herself have babysat an autistic girl, did a summer internship in the brain injury unit at a hospital, job shadowed a psychologist, worked in community centres with people with learning disabilities, and had a year’s full-time work experience at community mental health service provider. Olivia continues: “before getting on the course, to gain work experience, fresh psychology graduates usually apply to assistant psychologist and research assistant positions in universities / NHS. Just like the actual DClinPsy course, these positions are very competitive. But once you are a qualified clinical psychologist, I think it will be much easier looking for jobs”.
If you have experience in the field of education, Maheen Khan (MSc Developmental and Educational Psychology) says it’s worth mentioning: “I also mentioned some relevant work experience in the educational field and how it benefited my understanding, in the way that I could apply what I had learned to my work. Even though it did not directly relate to the course, it was still very helpful“.
Jorina Von Zimmerman (PhD in the department of Experimental Psychology) has a slightly different outlook on the whole ‘pressure to get work experience’ thing: she shared that during her undergraduate degree, she has not worked in holidays: “I value my free time and prefer to spend it travelling and resting, which ensures that I’m ready to cope with challenges in the coming academic year”. She adds: “I really don’t like it when people feel pressured to do stuff just for their CV. I think it’s important to do what you like, as that’s what shows your individuality, which at times can be more valuable than a good CV”. However, Jorina has completed the Liberal Arts undergraduate course at the University of Amsterdam, which is a particularly challenging, intensive course that in itself shows that she is qualified enough for postgraduate level studies, she says.
The students we have interviewed were obviously successful in their applications, and are now enjoying postgrad studies. However, this does not exempt them from thinking about future careers, which we have also asked them about.
Most of them aren’t planning to stay in academia, or are unsure about whether or not they want to. Maheen is currently looking for jobs in education or HR; he says psychology has allowed her to keep her options open due to its widely applicable nature. Similarly, Jorina is keen on finding a sphere in which her passion for social psychology and her gained knowledge can be applied: “I’m particularly interested in gang violence, so maybe the police could be an employer”, she says. However, she adds that in London it’s quite hard to find a job, even with a PhD from UCL, so you should always bear in mind that it might take a while before you’re hired after graduating. Olivia wants to start off by working in the NHS, but with the goal of transitioning to private or charity work. She says it’s common to work for NHS to gain enough experience to go into private counselling, either in clinics or at home, because you get paid a lot more in private work.
This article was written by Dominika Leitan. She is a member of the Bugle Team.
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