Diverse and colourful
At Friends House in London recent or near-graduates of psychology came to hear talks about the many, varied and sometimes surprising routes into working in the field. The seven excellent speakers inspired the audience with tales of a Jedi mother, rejecting a yuppie lifestyle in favour of helping others and how fashion psychology could impact society.
James Randall-James, co-chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology’s Pre-Qualifications Group, and fellow member of the group Steph Minchin, both University of Hertfordshire clinical psychology PhD students, gave a fascinating talk on the best ways into the field as well as general careers advice. They pointed out the areas in which clinical psychologists may work and the sorts of problems they focus on in therapy and conversations with clients. They spoke about the varied ways in which clients are assessed, including clinical interviews, psychometric tests, neurocognitive tests and clinical observations, as well as the various interventions in which they are trained. Throughout the talk they told the audience of their personal career paths and emphasised the importance for those wishing to embark on a career in clinical psychology to gain as much experience in their chosen area as possible before applying to a PhD course.
Psychologist, organisational consultant, executive coach and former NBA basketball player John Amaechi OBE, held the rapt audience with his wonderful talk about his route into psychology with an atmospheric portrait of his mother. He said as a young boy he would accompany his mother, who worked as a GP, on house visits. He said of these visits to grieving relatives or those with very sick family members: ‘People would yell and cry, but she would let them talk and say what they needed to say and would cut through the clutter in the air… Suddenly the tension would drop and although they knew everything was not going to be OK they felt like they could cope in that moment, and I found that amazing.’ After seeing the first Star Wars film and witnessing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s way with people, he came to the sudden realisation that his own mother might just be a Jedi. He added: ‘What brought me to psychology was seeing the impact that, what I can now see as mindful attention and purposeful focus, can have.’
Amaechi later began to study psychology while playing basketball in San Diego and went on to do a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. He now runs Amaechi Performance Systems, working with some of the top businesses in the world. Though Amaechi said his own relationship with academic research had been ‘tenuous’ so far, he emphasised that future research needs to capture the true diversity of the world and not leave important questions unasked. In giving the gathered graduates tips for success, which he said felt ‘far too bold’, he stressed the need to question the status quo, and not simply accept well-established ways of working. Amaechi also drew attention to the value of mindfulness in the workplace – particularly from a leadership point of view. He said the world was full of disproportionately powerful people and added one of the most important roles he had was to make these giants of industry realise they are giants, which will hopefully lead them to be more aware of the potential harm they can commit – even unintentionally – and the potential good they can do with that power.
Prolific psychology writer Rob Yeung then gave a great general talk about how psychology graduates can stand out in a competitive environment. He emphasised the importance of giving an appearance of confidence, competence and charisma during interviews and in working life as a whole. Yeung bravely used his own mistakes in the working world as a basis for his advice – he pointed out that after working in a large management consultancy he moved to a smaller firm and immediately tried to enforce all he had learned at this larger business on the smaller one. This, needless to say, did not go down very well with his new employers. He said: ‘When you’re in a new position, focus on fitting in and being helpful.’ He then gave some examples of research into job interviews to help graduates in their job hunting and emphasised the importance of having composure and speaking fluently, suggesting that graduates use the ‘three Ps’ before an interview: prepare, practice and perform. He also gave a handy tip for a quick fix to boosting confidence – he said some research had found that if interviewees spent five minutes writing about a time they felt they had power and influence, they performed better at mock job interviews.
George Kitsaras, the BPS’s 50,000th member, recently started a job as an Assistant Psychologist for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust. He spoke about his career path moving from Greece to study for a MSc in clinical psychology at the University of Reading. Kitsaras gave a great summary of his role in Birmingham on a medium-secure men’s unit and outlined some of the benefits of graduate BPS membership. He advised the graduates who wanted to pursue clinical psychology careers that they should be prepared for a potentially long road to qualification and should aim to get as much work experience as possible in the field.
Dr Carolyn Mair was next to speak about her extremely varied career path, which now sees her leading the only course in the world that looks into the role of psychology in fashion. Mair’s first role was as a graphic designer and she came to psychology in her late 30s, completing a degree in psychology and computing at Bournemouth and later an MSc at Portsmouth. Her new course at the London School of Fashion looks at how psychology impacts the fashion industry and the people who buy into the industry. She said she hopes that her students can take away a greater understanding of psychology from the course and apply this to the dilemmas facing the world of fashion, including questions around eating disorders and sustainability. ‘It’s not about a person’s ability to cite a certain paper but it’s much more about the bigger picture and looking at, and tackling, the issues that are out there. That’s why psychology degrees are so valuable – they give you the skills to contribute to society.’
Finally, BPS President Jamie Hacker Hughes spoke about his extraordinary career path from wannabe maxillofacial surgeon to army officer, high-flying IT salesman and marketing director, to taking a 90 per cent salary drop to become a psychiatric nursing assistant at the Maudsley Hospital. After qualifying as a clinical psychologist he was appointed Head of Defence Clinical Psychology in 2007 and the following year became Defence Consultant Advisor in Psychology to the MoD.
All in all, a day that was as diverse and colourful as the discipline it was encouraging the audience to enter.
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