How a master’s in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health helped me to pursue a career in research`

Molly McCarthy is a Research Assistant at The University of Liverpool where she is currently working with individuals who suffer from depression. Before she reached this position, she did an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a postgraduate degree in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health at The University of Manchester. Below, discover how well suited the master’s is for budding researchers and hear all about the work she’s currently doing with mental health patients…

Why Forensic Psychology and Mental Health

My decision to study an MSc in Forensic Psychology and Mental Health stemmed from my experiences as an undergraduate. During my bachelors in Psychology at Manchester I was unsure about which avenue of psychology to go down, so I started to take up different voluntary and part time roles. One of these included working with male perpetrators of domestic violence on a healthy relationships programme. I thoroughly enjoyed working in practice and seeing a positive change in patient behaviour and it made me want to pursue a career in forensic psychology.

In addition to this, my undergraduate dissertation research was in the area of forensic psychology. It focused on the factors associated with child-to-parent violence with my supervisor for this also being a lecturer on the master’s course. This gave me the perfect opportunity to enquire a bit more about the programme to confirm that this was definitely the right path for me.

Planting the seeds for a career in research

In the summer before starting the masters, I gained employment as a Research Assistant at a company called Interserve Justice. This was working on a study examining the effectiveness of a domestic violence intervention.

As part of this, I interviewed participants in a prison and probation setting which gave me an insight into some of the skills needed to work in this area. I also got an insight into ethics applications and developing an interview schedule. These skills were then enhanced throughout the master’s degree.

How the course helped to pique my research interests

The programme has such a broad range of topics, covering a lot of different aspects of Forensic Psychology, for example psychology and the legal system; offending behaviour interventions; and research methods and statistics. There is definitely something for everyone.

In regards to research, there are two specific modules which covers both qualitative and quantitative research. Each module has a specific assignment which is a good chance to get feedback on your research skills. Your dissertation is also a large piece of research which allows you to develop your skills in different areas of setting up and conducting research as well as analysing data. You also have a lot of freedom in regard to picking a topic for your dissertation so there is definitely enough to satisfy the interests of those who are more research orientated.

The skills you learn for clinical practice are also very important for research. As part of the course we had a group work skills day, where we were able to work in small groups and practice running a dialectical behaviour therapy session. In my role as a Research Assistant now, I can see how these skills are transferable to a research setting for when you are engaging with participants. So although there are a lot of other topics perhaps not directly linked to research, you still plenty of skills that are very important and relevant for a career in research

In addition to this, some modules have guest speakers come in to talk. These are really interesting classes as you are able to see Forensic psychology in action and understand how it is applied in practice. Also, as the cohort is small, these sessions are great for networking and gaining further information on different job roles. For example, one of our research method classes was taken by a PhD student. I found this really helpful to ask questions and listen to how she got into this role and what other previous jobs she had leading up to this.

My career in research since graduation

A few months ago, I started my new role as a Research Assistant at the University of Liverpool. What really interests me about this job is the feeling that you are making a change (very cliché but also very true). For example, I am currently working on a study about the effectiveness of an outcome measure for individuals with depression in primary care and I can see the changes in each person’s mood and mental health at different time points.

Generally, the role involves conducting research assessments and interviews with patients. I am really enjoying this role, engaging with patients and seeing a real change in their mental health due to the research. I think it’s really rewarding.

In this type of job you get the best of both worlds in regard to writing up research and data analysis but also engaging with patients and conducting interviews. Eventually, I would like to complete a PhD, however, I think I need a little break from studying first.

My advice to prospective students

Don’t be scared of failure. The field of Forensic Psychology is competitive to say the least, but it is important to never give up trying and always reminding yourself why you are here. When it does come to the time you are applying for jobs, don’t be afraid to ask for help (I must have asked my supervisor over 50 times to read over job applications for me!). All the staff are so supportive and are willing to go the extra mile for you so do make use of their knowledge and support. And finally, enjoy it – the year goes so fast and before you know it you are finishing your dissertation and looking for jobs. Enjoy learning and take each new experience as it comes.


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