A taste of psychology

Molly Ghinn on her experiences thanks to the University of Bristol.

As a lower sixth form student, with aspirations of studying Psychology at a top university, I am acutely aware of the seemingly ever-growing negative opinions of studying it at degree level; “It’s not a real subject” “It’s the easiest degree” and “Everyone has a degree in Psychology nowadays”, are the overwhelming responses I get from telling people of my aspirations.

For a long time, I was hesitant to even consider Psychology as a degree due to the pressure put on me by teachers and peers to study “a real science”. But after reading and researching I decided to throw caution to the wind and pursue Psychology, only a year before I’m due to apply to study it at university. So, with little background knowledge but huge motivation, I applied for summer schools, taster courses, work shadowing and anything I thought would be beneficial in broadening my knowledge.

In doing so, I completed an eight-week Psychology taster course at Bristol University, with my course being predominantly led by PhD student Emily Crowe. Access to Bristol aims to provide students with an idea of life at university, as well as a taste for studying their chosen course in greater detail. Taking part in the Psychology stream, I decided to try and chat with Emily, hoping to reassure myself that taking my first steps into the world of Psychology at breakneck speed was a risk worth taking.

One of the first things I asked Emily was where her interest stemmed from. She fondly remembered watching murder mystery programmes as a child, introducing her to forensic Psychology. The current popularity of programmes such as CSI and Midsummer Murders does make me consider how many other young adults will have considered Psychology as a result of crime dramas. “Is it a fad?” I ask Emily, who agrees that young people are heavily influenced by their surroundings, so their interest has to spark somewhere. She believes that the broadness of the degree also appeals to many Millennials, who, after being forced to narrow their subject interest so early on in schooling, are desperate to once again broaden their horizons. Its seems Psychology is reassuring to many in the fact that you can take it where you want it to go and this independence is highly desirable, after 17 years of being driven down specific learning pathways.

My instinctive pessimist kicks in and I can’t help but worry that a degree in Psychology could be too broad? Emily agrees that those who chose the degree without passion for the subject often end up without a career in Psychology at the end of it. but reassures me that the wide skill set gained is highly transferable. It is undoubtedly true that critical thinking, quantitative skills and computer literacy are highly desirable in all professions but to spend unspeakable amounts of money on tuition just to improve these, is not really appealing to me.

But, not all hope is lost for future Psychologists, Emily offers students a potentially crucial piece of advice – to be proactive and “seek out opportunities". It’s almost painfully simple and drilled into high achieving secondary school students across the globe, but Emily reiterates that proactive engagement is what can make or break a potential Psychologist. “It’s the small things, like missing out on research apprenticeships or placements, that can have the biggest impact.” And thinking about it, it’s obvious. In a field that’s moving at an incredibly fast rate, in order to keep up with its progression you’ve got to be at the forefront of research and be working with a determined, self-motivated ethos.

Alongside modernising research techniques, the subject of Psychology is seemingly becoming more inter-disciplinary. Emily has worked with engineers at Bristol University, together looking at radiologists delineating tumour boundaries, then developing algorithms to run a mathematical formula over the image and comparing the human/computer results. Elements of coding and computer programming also seem to be worming their way into Psychology at university; further broadening the degree.

It seems to me that a Psychology degree can open a great array of doors to any individual, providing they are passionate in pursuing the subject. Completing Access to Bristol and speaking with Emily was hugely important in helping me come to this conclusion, and I’m grateful that sixth form students are being encouraged to explore their passions before committing to a degree. Programmes such as Access to Bristol are beginning to take place across the country, and it is for schemes like these that I owe my motivation. With neither of my parents attending University, charities such as the Sutton Trust and widening participation schemes have allowed me to aspire beyond others’ expectations. Psychology looks exciting and I now believe that a motivated, proactive student is not one who should struggle to make anything of their degree afterwards. For that reason, I am not afraid to take the plunge and let my determination be my life jacket… well, for the first three years anyway.

I am hugely thankful for all the guidance and support given to me, especially from people like Emily, simply taking 20 minutes out of their day to talk to me about psychology and university. This information and nurturing was crucial in giving me confidence to apply to university, and similar help benefits many other disadvantaged students. So is there anything your department, company or university could offer young people that would allow them to consider something they may have only previously dreamt about? I know we would be extremely grateful.

Molly Ghinn

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