Developing scientist-practitioner students

Hannah Lena Merdian and Kirsty Miller share their experience from the University of Lincoln, and call for views.

At the University of Lincoln, we offer three undergraduate degrees in psychology: Psychology; Psychology with Clinical Psychology; and Psychology with Forensic Psychology. All three programmes are very positively perceived, by the students, teaching team, and external examiners. While the ‘with’ students show high satisfaction for the applied elements of their courses, they consistently rate the core psychology modules (common across the three programmes) lower than the Psychology students and appear to be less satisfied with all core domains. So perhaps our approach to the applied elements of the course has been driving this dissatisfaction and apparent disconnect with the core concepts of psychology.

When reviewing our applied teaching, we realised it had become focused on portraying psychology as a means to explain deviance/disorder rather than to explain human cognition and behaviour more broadly. We felt we needed to emphasise the integration and necessary knowledge transfer between different areas of psychology, making the relevance of the core topics much more evident to the ‘with’ students. As academics, we understand the need to build a strong foundation of knowledge, but getting our ‘with’ students to embrace this is key to preparing them for a career in applied psychology, be it research- or practice-based. In addition, an alternative interpretation of the data suggests that the ‘normal’ Psychology students may fail to critically engage with the application of the core domains.

The scientist-practitioner model (see Shapiro, 2002) is a key teaching model for professional psychologists, defining the role of psychologists working in applied settings as applied scientists. We adapted the SPM for our undergraduate context and devised key objectives in terms of general learning outcomes and specific practical skills to guide our teaching.

How does it work in practice?

  1. Our revised teaching model contains a strong emphasis on the knowledge exchange between psychological subject areas; for example, students may be asked to explain a particular offending behaviour based on the knowledge gained in their social psychology module.
  2. Students will be taught how psychological and statistical theory inform clinical or forensic decision-making; for example, with regard to evaluating the quality of the existing evidence base of a clinical phenomenon or in justifying clinical decision-making at a mock case conference.
  3. Students are given assignments that go beyond knowledge reiteration towards the application of psychological theory; for example, the development of a risk assessment tool for problem behaviour or an initial treatment plan for a mock case.

We hope that development of strong scientist-practitioner attributes in our students will help them to see the relevance and interconnectivity throughout the psychology domains, enhancing their career prospects (and will show improvement in their core module evaluations!). We would be interested to hear if other schools have seen this differentiation in student feedback and what solutions have been found.

Hannah Lena Merdian and Kirsty Miller

University of Lincoln


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