The importance of perseverance as a master’s graduate

Aidan Mchardie is an MSc Forensic Psychology and Mental Health graduate from The University of Manchester and is a great example of how life isn’t plain sailing after graduation. A university degree sadly doesn’t mean you get to walk into your dream job as soon as you’ve donned a cap and gown but with perseverance and determination you can get yourself where you want to be. Below, he discusses everything from his time on the master’s to his current job in the prison service…

I chose the MSc in Forensic Psychology because since the age of 12 I’ve always wanted to help people in a psychological capacity, regardless of who they are. This stems from my dad’s death around that age, during which I felt very distraught, lonely and emotionally broken. I knew I had to stop others feeling this same way and made it a life goal to become a psychologist in some capacity.

Forensic psychology interested me as often those in custody are forgotten about by society and deemed not worthy of help. I’ve always enjoyed railing against common thought such as this, so aiming to become a forensic psychologist seemed to suit me perfectly from that perspective. Of course in order to become a forensic psychologist, one must have the necessary qualifications, hence my application to the course. I chose the University of Manchester due to both the University’s status as being one of the best in the world, and the city’s rich history in social change.

Highlights and challenges of the course

I loved the course, in particular the role playing exercises and having guest lecturers come in and talk about topics such as terrorism and police interviewing techniques. The role-playing of group therapy suited me perfectly due to my background in being a Childline counsellor. Many of the same techniques applied so I felt very comfortable in this environment.

I did struggle with many of the written assignments though. Each new assignment was so different that I found it hard to apply the wisdom I gathered from my mistakes onto the next exercise. The staff were so supportive though so my struggles were purely down to me struggling to keep up with the MSc standard. The support and care from staff was in fact one of the things I enjoyed most about the course. You could see the teaching staff clearly cared about what they were speaking about and they talked to you with respect.

The difference between undergraduate and postgraduate psychology

For the first time in four years I no longer felt like a number, I was treated like a person which was very touching. Of course the work is much harder in terms of what is expected of you. Work that would normally score highly at undergrad would be considered merely passable at MSc level. In addition, one of the main differences was how nice it was to be surrounded by people who are all interested in the same things as you.

At undergrad level there’s a huge mix, particularly in Psychology as it is so broad. Not to mention at undergrad you would be in a cohort of several hundred people making it very hard to meet others. In comparison, during the MSc I would see the same 15-20 people weekly which built up a real feeling of community and kinship.

Career since graduation

When studying psychology, we are always told of how hard it is to find work in the field. I had naively assumed that with an MSc in hand this would be easier, however I must have had over 70-80 rejections from different job postings after graduating.

This was a truly dreadful time and I felt truly at my lowest here. Since the age of 12 I had fought through exams, the disadvantages of state schools, studying for five years in total, just to be told relentlessly that I was not good enough and I was not wanted.

I eventually started working part time in a school just to have some form of income. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I would recommend that anyone else job hunting should not be afraid to try something new even on a part time basis. I then secured a social care job with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) but during the process of signing contracts and securing references, the COVID-19 pandemic struck causing the job to fall through.

Lockdown proved to be a perfect time for job hunting though, with many positions interviewing via Skype and Zoom meaning it did not matter that I was based in Edinburgh. I found a Treatment Facilitator post down in Sussex and thankfully managed secure it. Had it not been for the one other interview I had attended I do not think I would have got the job. It gave me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and perfect my ability to sell myself as a therapist.

What my current role entails

My role as a Treatment Facilitator will involve hosting group therapy sessions for those serving court orders. I will host these group sessions with a partner and we will aim to explore the reasons behind their offending behaviours and attempt to build the confidence and belief in these people so they can return to a better life without re-offending.

The MSc undoubtedly helped me to get this job and what I learned on the course will certainly come in handy. Different mental health conditions (personality disorder, psychopathy, schizophrenia, etc) are highly prevalent in offenders and we learned all about these conditions during the MSc which are highly prevalent in offenders. With this knowledge I am sure will help me understand and work better with individuals with these conditions.

Naturally, the skills involving group therapy will be very useful too. We were taught about Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) during group sessions and my knowledge of this even helped during interview stages. As a result I imagine that knowledge will be extremely helpful in the job.

Future plans

My plans are to work in that position for a couple of years and see how I get on. Should I enjoy it and thrive in it then I will look to proceed with the stage 2 of the forensic psychology route (stage 1 was the MSc itself). This would involve completing a checklist over numerous years to earn a qualification as a forensic psychologist.

I would like to add that I’ll forever be grateful to the teaching staff. They gave me this opportunity and played a major role in shaping who I am today. They deserve immense credit.

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