It goes without saying that going to university and obtaining a degree enhances your career prospects for once you enter the ‘real world’ after graduation. However, a degree alone isn’t always enough. Gaining work experience through placements is vital as the practical skills you pick up are invaluable. Psychology graduate Lauren Waterhouse is a great example of someone who went that extra mile to ensure that she had plenty of industry experience under her belt to set her up for the career she is in now…
Started off with a misunderstanding
Along with the majority of prospective Psychology students, I wanted to study Psychology so that I could qualify as a Psychologist. However, my understanding of this profession wasn’t great at this stage! My belief was that a Psychologist is a professional who sits down and talks to people who are suffering with mental health problems and my knowledge didn’t really extend further than that. Even whilst completing my BSc, my understanding of what a Psychologist actually does was still relatively limited!
Gaining an understanding
In order to take the next step in my career, it was really important for me to gain a better understanding of the role of a Psychologist. I found websites such as the British Psychological Society, which provides information about all the different divisions within Psychology and the steps that are necessary for a career in each division. Prior to researching this independently, I thought that I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist, then an Educational Psychologist, and then I finally settled on a Forensic Psychologist. As I am further into my career towards becoming a Forensic Psychologist, I definitely feel that I made the right decision, but I don’t think I would have if I had not completed my own research into career options.
Experience is key
Along with doing your research into the different career options, the most helpful piece of advice I can offer is to gain as much experience as possible. Not only does experience help you with job applications, but this also helps to show you what you don’t want to do! The experience that I gained during my undergrad degree included:
Year 1: Two weeks’ work experience at a special school working with children who have autism:
This involved acting as a classroom assistant for children by helping them with their daily activities. I also had to manage challenging behaviour whilst ensuring that the other children were safe at the same time. My BSc helped me by developing my communication skills through the use of presentations. These skills were essential during this placement as I was required to communicate effectively, particularly with non-verbal children. My BSc also helped me to understand the importance of confidentiality which was extremely important within this role.
Year 2: self-arranged visit to HMP Wymott Psychology Department:
This allowed me with an opportunity to speak with Forensic Psychologists to gain a better understanding of the day to day tasks. This also helped me in terms of finding out where jobs are advertised and asking Psychologists personally what type of experience they would want their applicants to have.
Year 2: University college module: British Sign Language:
This provided me with a basic understanding and an ability to communicate using sign language. This was something that really helped me in job interviews as it set me aside from other candidates.
Year 2/3: Independent Custody Visitor with Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner:
I really enjoyed this voluntary role and only occurred approximately once a month which meant I was able to juggle this role with other placements. This involved making unannounced visits to police stations in Greater Manchester to assess the condition in which detainees are being kept. It was really important for me to remain objective during this role and this is skill which I had developed from my BSc. I found out about this role through my own research.
Year 2/3: Employment with Psychology department at an autistic care home:
From learning about autism during my second year modules, I felt well equipped to work with adults who have autism. This role involved referring back to service users’ care plans and revising these if needed. I was also responsible for advising support workers of how they may work best with different clients. I was working alongside the Clinical Psychologist and completed observations to feed back information. Working as a support worker is also great experience of how to work with vulnerable groups.
Current: Interventions Facilitator at HMP Wymott:
This is my current position and I have been working here full time since I graduated in 2015. Within this role I am mainly responsible for delivering group and individual interventions to male prisoners. I also complete risk assessments which involves looking at individuals offending history to predict what this might look like in the future. Having knowledge of the psychological theories from my BSc was essential for this position and helped me to develop my understanding of offending.