Students- The right experience...it could be right under your nose

Help on finding work experience
In my first undergraduate year I decided, like many others, that I wanted to do clinical or forensic psychology. In researching, I found that before you can apply for the doctoral training or apply to take the diploma, you had to have at least one to two years’ work experience with vulnerable client groups. Well, I thought to myself, that’s fine, because I can just get an assistant psychologist post when I graduate – easy! I soon found out that it could take anything from three months to three years to get an assistant psychologist post. I was stumped. As undergraduates we’re led to believe anything is possible, but here was evidence to the contrary!So I got to thinking about how I could set myself apart from the hundreds of other eager beavers hankering after work experience. Then, in one enlightening ‘eureka!’ moment of my own, I realised I had loads of time on my hands… four months off from university each summer.

The right experience…
it could be just under your nose

In my first undergraduate year I decided, like many others, that I wanted to do clinical or forensic psychology. In researching, I found that before you can apply for the doctoral training or apply to take the diploma, you had to have at least one to two years’ work experience with vulnerable client groups. Well, I thought to myself, that’s fine, because I can just get an assistant psychologist post when I graduate – easy! I soon found out that it could take anything from three months to three years to get an assistant psychologist post. I was stumped. As undergraduates we’re led to believe anything is possible, but here was evidence to the contrary!So I got to thinking about how I could set myself apart from the hundreds of other eager beavers hankering after work experience. Then, in one enlightening ‘eureka!’ moment of my own, I realised I had loads of time on my hands… four months off from university each summer.
I had plenty of time to get myself some work experience, and so I set about getting some. However, I was surprised to find how little information there is about how to get work experience at undergraduate level and, so from my own experiences I am sharing
a few handy hints to get my fellow undergraduates on their way. After all, we’re all in it together!
Ask yourself what you do all summer between your first and second year and between your second and third year. I would hazard a guess that most students are scrabbling together the cash to pay off overdrafts, maybe taking a holiday. Well, ask yourself, can you spare a few hours a week? Those few hours are just enough to get some experiences under your belt and give you the edge over other applicants.
There are numerous things you can do with a few spare hours a week, and among them are jobs like care worker, charities volunteer or support worker. These positions are often advertised on the university website or on notice boards. However, the real nugget lies in the research assistant positions that aren’t advertised. This is where I found my work experience – in the university psychology department.
University lecturers are always conducting their own research, and I found that they’re all too happy to have students assisting them. Follow my lead and e-mail the lecturers whose subject topic interests you and ask them if they want any kind of help. In the summer following my first year I e-mailed around the department, and I got responses from several lecturers. I allocated a few hours a week to each and got to learn a wealth of skills about psychology in practice. I gained experience in areas ranging from literature review, website and database research, to scoring and analysing experimental data.
Following the success of my first summer, in my second I e-mailed a favourite lecturer and enquired about the chance of work experience. That summer saw me getting a paid position, and saw my responsibilities increase. I gained skills in areas such as generating and piloting data in a series of evaluative studies, in addition to booking and scheduling testing, data collation and analysis.
Speaking now, I have eight months research assistant experience, and several enthusiastic referees. Applying for those assistant posts should be a much less daunting experience! It is hard to set yourself apart from other students also hoping to secure that golden ticket into a doctoral programme. My advice  – make use of your long summers and your overworked lecturers!

Katie Hopkins is an undergraduate at the University of Reading.

Student prizes
What advice would you give to students starting your course? Write about that topic for the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network Student Essay Award 2007 and you could win £250 and a Toshiba laptop. Submissions are invited from students studying psychology at any level in any higher education institution in the UK. Deadline is 16 March 2007. For more details, see www.psychology.heacademy.ac.uk/html/student_essay.asp.
The Psychology Network is also running a competition to find the best psychology-related video or other visual presentation. See www.psychology.heacademy.ac.uk/html/video_award.asp for details.

Cheap books
Don’t forget that Society members can get discounts on books with both Open University Press and BPS Blackwell. See  www.oup.co.uk/promotions/medicine/websocbps and www.bpsblackwell.co.uk/.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber