Msc Health Psychology graduate, Faye Johnson, took a couple of years out after graduating from her undergraduate degree in 2014. She wanted to make sure that her next big decision in life was the right one and eventually came to the conclusion that health psychology was the answer. Now, just a few months after graduating with a master’s, she tells us all about the ins and outs of the course and explains how the MSc is helping her to progress her career.
After finishing my undergrad in Philosophy and Psychology in 2014 I worked for two years whilst mapping out my future. My first job was for a non-profit organisation helping to widen access to sport and physical activity and after that, I got a job in the NHS as a Children’s Occupational Therapy Assistant. I then volunteered abroad for a mental health organisation before realising what I wanted to do next.
I’d enjoyed the biological modules of my degree and considered applying for graduate entry medicine, but after spending some time shadowing doctors I realised that I was more interested in the emotional and psychological aspects of physical illness. Realising this, and considering the various interests I’d explored over the past few years – physical and mental health, health and society, illness and healthcare – it seemed like all roads led to Health Psychology.
Health Psychology is a broad and evolving field, and the course content definitely reflected this. Considering the current state of healthcare and medicine, Health Psychologists are arguably set to become increasingly important. For example, applying psychological theory to help people adapt to new types of diagnosis or medical procedure is vital. The course allows you to explore these issues and ideas in a lively, complex and engaging way.
There is a great emphasis on critical thinking and how to pick apart scientific literature, which is a skill that I think really sets you up for the future. The dedicated Professional Issues module is also great for developing transferable skills, whatever you choose to do after the MSc (the module includes careers advice and workshops to help you do so!).
The highlight of the course for me was the dissertation. The choice of projects offers something for every interest, and staff are also open to discussing students’ own ideas for projects. The dissertation gave me a lot of independence and autonomy and I ended up with an interesting project that I was really engaged with and proud of.
Manchester offers the opportunity to study the MSc part-time, with teaching one day per week over two years. Everyone is different, but I’m really glad I chose the part-time option. Mainly it allowed me to work alongside the course and support myself financially, but personally, I also benefited from learning at a slower pace. I was part of a small minority of part-time students, but staff were incredibly supportive and I never felt like I was missing out.
Halfway through the course I got a job as a research assistant in the NHS, helped largely by citing the research skills I was developing on the MSc! I was based in the A&E department of a large hospital, in an acute research team working on clinical trials and observational studies.
My role involved identifying suitable patients for the studies, collecting clinical data, and day to day project management. I was lucky that my manager was very supportive and allowed me to work flexible hours around the course. Even so, it was still sometimes a challenging juggling act, although ultimately I think the job and the course really complemented each other. The job allowed me to contextualise and put into practise the things I was learning on the course – for example, research ethics, study design, and even just a better understanding of what patients and their families experience and how healthcare professionals communicate.
I graduated from the MSc a few months ago although it doesn’t really feel like it’s over, as I’ve been busy talking about the results of my dissertation and preparing manuscripts for submission to journals and conferences. I’ve recently applied to do a PhD in Manchester, which will hopefully allow me to expand on the work I did for my MSc dissertation.
My advice to prospective students would be to think carefully about your reasons for doing a master’s, and not to lose sight of those reasons when the pressure increases a bit. I think a postgraduate degree can unfortunately just be viewed as a bit of a tick-box or something to improve your CV, but I think ultimately you get so much more out of it if you’re engaged and passionate about what you’re doing. The course offers a lot to enjoy and a lot of opportunities if you want them!