PsyPAG’s tips and tricks

David Moore with some advice on postgraduate life

The Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group’s position within the BPS is unique. We are not actually a section of the Society but rather a closely affiliated body running in parallel. PsyPAG represents the views of, and provides services to, all students registered for a postgraduate UK psychology qualification, from academic master’s candidates to practitioners in training. We have no formal membership and our only entry requirement is to be a registered psychology postgraduate.

PsyPAG represents individuals at a particular level of training rather than those working in a specific field so we have a rather different role to other committees. We:
I    produce and distribute a quarterly publication (PsyPAG Quarterly) free
to all psychology departments;
I    organise an annual conference to allow postgraduates a friendly environment to exchange ideas about their research;
I    run postgraduate workshops on a broad selection of topics;
I    offer bursaries up to £100 for conferences in the UK and £300 for international conferences to help postgraduates disseminate their research;
I    represent the views of postgraduates on each of the BPS’s committees.

The nature of research funding is never far from our minds and has been a particularly important issue in the past 12 months. We have recommended, among other things, that greater flexibility and transferable skills are built into funded master’s training so that psychologists can ensure the most appropriate preparation for their doctorate-level qualifications.

PsyPAG has sought to improve the structure of doctoral training. Members are increasingly encouraged during training to develop transferable skills, publish research, teach, etc. Given this increased range of activities, we’ve asked whether three years is long enough for doctoral training. As a result we have lobbied to extend this deadline and reflect that extension in funding.

Postgraduate study should be a life-changing period, giving people the practical skills needed to perform their job – for instance research skills, CBT and psychometrics – but also the wider social and work skills that will allow them to be truly successful. PsyPAG is actively engaged with trying to assist with this issue by running conferences and workshops to develop these skills and by giving postgraduates the opportunity to publish their work and sit on committees relevant to their work.

When you look ahead on your first day, three or more years of study can look daunting. The challenges faced early in a programme of PhD study are many and varied and can lead to severe doubts about what you’re doing and where you’re going. It’s important at an early stage, to take the time to look at different options and learn from your mistakes. This is the best time to make use of those around you, and I would particularly recommend forging strong links with other postgraduates as they are best placed to provide you with both practical and emotional support. They will know what you are going through and the best ways to manage this.

Once you've begun to settle in, try to get yourself and your work out into the public domain. The sooner you get used to presenting, publishing and defending your work the easier this will become. Of course, this can be a stressful experience, and that is why PsyPAG provides a friendly environment in which to get an early experience of these key skills: you can publish pilot studies in PsyPAG Quarterly and present at our annual conference. By developing experience of presenting your research and networking, it is much easier to demonstrate your abilities when trying to get jobs at the end of your studies.

The other crucial ability you will need to have to survive a PhD is to maintain good relationships with supervisors. This can be tricky! However, if you set clear ground rules at the beginning of your studies about who is expected to do what and when, and take time to consider the best way for you to work together, this will hopefully make it easier. Keeping a research diary can also help you chart your progress, remember what is required of you and remind your supervisors of what they have promised.  

Postgraduate study is an emotional rollercoaster where the highs vastly outweigh the lows and the more you get involved the more you get back from it.

For more details of what PsyPAG can do for you or what you can do for PsyPAG please go to our website (www.psypag.co.uk) or email our information officer ([email protected]).

- David Moore is the outgoing Chair of PsyPAG and a final-year PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University. He is also a research officer at the University of Bath
[email protected]

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