What has #ThisPsychGrad been up to?

After a social media outpouring on destinations for psychology majors, Ella Rhodes calls for a UK equivalent.

Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush felt the wrath of psychology graduates on Twitter after he made comments suggesting the best you can hope for with a degree in the subject could be working in a fast food outlet. Psychologists and others working in the US took to Twitter using the hashtag #thispsychmajor to prove him wrong.

Bush said during a town hall meeting: ‘Universities ought to have skin in the game. When a student shows up, they ought to say, “Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that's great, it's important to have liberal arts … but realize, you're going to be working at Chick-fil-A.”’ Did his comments hold any truth, and where does this perception of psychology being a pointless degree come from?

As psychologist Dr Vaughan Bell wrote on the Mindhacks blog, the facts don’t back up Bush’s statements: ‘Essentially psychology is slightly below average in terms of employability. Tenth out of sixteen but still a college major where more than 9 out of 10 (91.2%) find jobs as recent graduates.’ He also went on to point out that Bush had three psychology majors working in senior positions on his campaign team.

The hashtag inspired some excellent examples of how a psychology degree can be used, sometimes in surprising ways. The mother of one psychology major tweeted that her son was now a democratic campaign manager, another tweeted that he had become a paramedic and priest. On the more psychological side many psychologists used the hashtag to speak of their work helping people with debilitating anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

But what is the picture like in the UK? The British Psychological Society’s ‘Destinations’ project is surveying psychology graduates and following their progress after graduation. Although fewer than 20 per cent of graduates will end up as psychologists, it has found that psychology graduates leave their degrees with many employability skills as well as their more specific psychological training. Professor Catriona Morrison (Heriot Watt University, and Chair of the Society’s Education and Public Engagement Board) said: ‘Looking at their careers in the short-term following graduation will not give us an accurate picture of the gains they have from having studied psychology. Psychology furnishes graduates with the skills they need for a hugely diverse range of occupations: literacy, numeracy, scientific analysis, group and individual working skills, confidence in data analysis, and so on.’

To inspire some hope in today’s psychology undergraduates, that their degree will be valued even if it may not immediately lead to a career as a psychologist – we propose a UK version of the hashtag #thispsychgrad. Why not add your voice and story to the debate? Copy us in on @psychmag.

- Read much more in our archive on graduate employability.   

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