Elanor Webb - Advice as an alumni

May 12 2021
Model brain against green background

Having graduated from Herts with an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Psychology, I am now working in the sector as a senior research assistant psychologist. For anybody looking to study psychology, I want to offer you four key pieces of advice and tips to help get you started!

1. Don’t feel like you need to go into the course (or finish it!) with your career plans mapped out

Finding your feet after university can be daunting – I won’t sugar-coat it. Psychology, particularly the clinical field, can be a competitive area of work to get into, and it’s often not a quick, linear, or easy pathway into a career. So if you don’t have your life roadmap paved out for the next decade - or even the next year – don’t sweat it (easy said than done though, I know). Had you asked me what I wanted to do three years ago, as I came towards the end of my undergraduate degree, you would have been met with a nervous laugh and a face of complete panic.

My decision to continue into postgraduate education was largely the result of uncertainty about what direction I wanted to go in with my career. As my undergraduate degree was coming to an end, I knew clinical psychology was an area of particular interest to me, which prompted my decision to study for an MSc in Research in Clinical Psychology. Essentially, this was a course targeted at people who want to get onto the clinical doctorate training, and those who want to pursue a research career in the clinical field. Ironically, I began the degree as the former, and finished it as the latter.

Working in a secure mental health setting has also confirmed to me that clinical doctorate training isn’t the route that I want to take, and it’s research that I really love. So I’d definitely say to keep your mind open, and try to avoid that tunnel vision thinking of "this is what I want and I need to get there as soon as possible". There’s no timeline to your career and people often get caught up in thinking about the end goal without enjoying the parts in between.

2. Take advantage of opportunities during the degree… your post-grad self will thank you for it!

That’s perhaps quite hypocritical for me to say as I certainly wasn’t one for doing this. There’s a balance to be struck between focusing on your academic attainment and getting valuable experience along the way, and I definitely put my time and effort into getting good grades. A first class degree will undoubtedly open doors for you, but there’s also lots to be said for a replete ‘experience’ section on your CV.

Whilst I didn’t do a placement year, I often work with students who are on a clinical placement at St. Andrew’s, and I can definitely see the benefits of taking one. The experience they are gaining and the skills and knowledge that they are learning will undoubtedly prepare them well for both their final year studies and beyond this, in their journey into a career.

Getting involved in research can also be a really helpful thing to do. As well as updating your knowledge within an area and developing lots of useful skills, it can offer you an advantage when it comes to applying for training programmes, and is one way to stand out in a very large crowd.

3. Do your research on all the different pathways a psychology degree can take you

For many people, getting onto clinical doctorate training is the motivation underlying their decision to study for a degree in psychology. However, this is by no means the only pathway into a career within the field. As my postgraduate degree was coming to an end, and the delight of never-ending job applications began, my eyes were opened to a whole range of alternative roles and routes; at the time that I got my first research assistant job, I was also offered a training post as an education mental health practitioner – a role which I hadn’t heard about until five weeks prior. Also, there are a whole host of options available to psychology graduates which extend far beyond the area of psychology itself.

4. Celebrate your successes

Lastly, but by no means least, allow yourself to celebrate your own accomplishments and successes along the way. A degree isn’t meant to be handed to you on a plate, and it does unquestionably demand hard work, commitment, and lots of perseverance. But it also brings growth, personal and academic development, and exceeding beliefs about your own capabilities. Whilst it can be easy to get caught up in grades, studying for a degree will bring success in many other ways too. Expect the challenges that come with earning a degree, but allow yourself to revel in all the triumphs along the way – big or small!