Starting her programme in 2016 and having been out of education for over 3 years, Lacey Johnson threw herself into an MSc in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health here at the University of Manchester. Here she talks candidly about having to overcome her own self-doubt and getting her confidence back with the help of the University’s various support structures. Today she is an Assistant Psychologist and has seen her work published in peer-reviewed journals – take a look at how she got there…
As a ‘mature’ student (26!), I started the course with a lot of anxiety, I hadn’t studied for over three years since completing my undergraduate degree and was worried I wouldn’t be up to scratch. With the help of my partner, some very supportive family, friends and faculty, I managed to complete the course and graduated with a Merit in December 2017. The year brought much stress, but also enjoyment and great achievement.
Whilst working within a forensic mental health setting alongside completing the course, I was able to realize how practical and relevant a lot of the modules were. For example, after gaining knowledge and practice of HCR-20s (Historical Clinical Risk Management) in the risk assessment module, I was able to complete these under the supervision of a clinical psychologist in practice.
One of the things I was struck by was the wealth of support that was available at the University. Faculty members were very compassionate and willing to offer additional support when I felt overwhelmed (which was a lot come exam time!). At the start of the academic year, we gave in our dissertation proposals and were assigned supervisors; as luck would have it, there was a new substance misuse programme starting at my work, which used an acceptance and commitment therapy-based approach with those with co-existing mental health and substance misuse difficulties.
As a result of this, my dissertation ended up becoming a mixed-methods evaluation of this programme and used both quantitative (psychometrics) and qualitative (interviews) methods to explore the service users’ experience and progression within the programme.
I was lucky to have a very helpful, knowledgeable and organised supervisor who helped me to become well organised, and encouraged me to apply to the ethics committee early, meaning that I was seen by the panel within 2 ½ months of starting the course. I would advise anyone who might need ethics clearance to start ASAP as the process can take some time. Collaboratively setting myself deadlines with my supervisor throughout the year also helped me to keep my dissertation on schedule (it’s easy to put it to one side when you have other deadlines, but it can creep up on you towards the end of the year!).
Within a year after completing my dissertation I presented my research at two BPS (British Psychological Society) conferences and after a lot of tweaks and revisions, it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. I would advise anyone to have the confidence to submit their abstracts to conferences and journals and get there research out there; I often had thoughts that I or my research “wasn’t good enough” and never thought what I have achieved now was ever possible.
My clinical supervisor at work was invaluable throughout the dissemination of my research. She attended each conference with me, read and re-read my manuscript whilst still a work in progress countless times, as well as keeping me motivated even when I wanted to give up. Having someone who believes in you can help you to achieve great things and the University really gives you that support. I would advise you to keep anyone like this close throughout this process.
The greatest piece of advice I could give to any existing or prospective student would be to just go for it! It took me many years to gain the confidence to apply for an MSc and within a year of completion, I have secured a post as an assistant psychologist as well as having a piece of research published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The University of Manchester helped me develop so many important skills, whether they be academic, professional or personal; they are qualities which have helped me to progress as far as I have in my chosen career and I’m sure they will continue to do so. I aspire to complete further training in clinical psychology and, thanks to the University, I believe I have a good knowledge and skill base to build upon.