From the President, December 2020

An opportunity to ignite learning… BPS president Dr Hazel McLaughlin on encouraging talent and supporting learning in these challenging times.

We recently saw the start of a new academic year like no other, as universities find new ways to welcome students and to protect them and their staff from the pandemic. The challenges are great for ‘Generation Covid’. Young people, in the 16-25 age range, are twice as likely to lose their jobs as older workers and 60 per cent have seen their earnings fall. Uncertainty has increased, with rules and restrictions changing and people less clear about their immediate, never mind their long-term, futures. Research led by Society member Professor Rory O’Connor and colleagues at the University of Glasgow, highlighted a small but significant rise in suicidal thoughts, especially amongst young adults aged 18-29.

It is therefore incumbent on all of us within the profession to support the next generation in our psychology professions. The challenges are there for all, but the impact is unevenly spread, with minority and disadvantaged groups more adversely affected.

Psychology has gained prominence as an undergraduate degree and many in early career stages are undertaking postgraduate and further studies. We need to think to the future in order to recognise, mentor and engage with the talented and committed young people who chose to study psychology and to follow a psychology career path.

At the BPS we recognise that we must engage more and provide resources and support, all of which need to be fit for purpose for today’s graduates and postgraduates. We want to energise, to motivate and foster the researchers and practitioners of the future. This is particularly important this year.

Psychology is about interaction, yet we recognise that university programmes are restricted in the amount of face-to-face contact and support. In the current context, this cohort of students and postgraduates need their professional body more for support and guidance. Our student networks have a key role to play, including the BPS student committee and the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group.

We can make a significant difference with clearer, better careers guidance for students. Indeed, this has emerged from our member journey project as one of the top three priorities that our members want from the BPS. Many branches, divisions, sections, and networks have mentoring schemes and provide guidance and advice to those early in their career. We want to strengthen these initiatives and support them with an overarching mentoring framework within the BPS.

We have already started to make some early changes. We recently teamed up with the Association for the Teaching of Psychology to launch a toolkit of resources for psychology teachers. This will enable A-level students with a keen interest in psychology to have an excellent introduction to the subject and the future possibilities that it opens up for them, prior to commitment to university.

Our online student community [bps.org.uk/communities] provides our student members with a platform to discuss their studies and to support each other through advice and tips, as well as peer-to-peer support at a time when it is so vital.

On a personal level, I continue to explore ‘Building Psychological Capability’ with our member networks and encourage career development and mentoring throughout the society. Please engage with initiatives such as the member journey project, and encourage your friends and fellow students to join the BPS so that we can provide students with the additional support they want and need.

If we can combine a wider awareness of BPS membership among psychology students with greatly improved resources, I know that together we can support the next generation of psychologists through this difficult period. As Plutarch said, ‘The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting’. Let us take this opportunity to ignite learning and make sure that psychology in the UK has a bright future.

- Dr Hazel McLaughlin is President of the British Psychological Society. Contact her at [email protected]

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