WHY PSYCHOLOGY? CLARIFYING THE EXPECTATIONS OF FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS
An introductory subject was designed to orientate students to the work environments and profession of psychology and to raise student awareness of the broader academic skills gained through an undergraduate psychology degree. This unit aimed to (1) address the misconceptions about the scope of psychology held by first-year students, (2) clarify the professional pathways in psychology, and (3) raise student awareness of the broad academic skills possessed by psychology baccalaureates and the range of work contexts in which these skills may be applied. Additionally, the subject adopted an experiential learning approach to help students apply this knowledge meaningfully during the course of their studies.
The subject involved workshops with guest speakers who were all psychology graduates working in a range of professional areas. These guest speakers discussed occupational experiences after graduation and the applicability of a range of generic academic skills, which they gained through their undergraduate training, to their current work. Tutorials involved the use of career-counseling tools and professional reflection activities to complement the lecture program. Assessment was also aligned with the goals of the subject. In groups, students presented oral reports about areas of psychological practice. Students were also required to reflect on their academic activities during the semester and demonstrate how psychological knowledge, skills, and values can be applied in a variety of occupational and community settings. These reflections were presented as part of an electronic student portfolio that will remain active after graduation. With approval from the student, this portfolio may be accessed by potential employers as a tool during recruitment and selection processes. Students were encouraged to continue developing their portfolio during their degree.
Before commencing the subject, first-year students were surveyed about their career goals and knowledge of professional pathways, their reasons for selecting a psychology degree, and their expectations of the scope of skills involved in psychological training. Students were again surveyed about these topics at completion of the subject. Results indicate that prior to participation in the subject, students had a limited understanding of psychology as a discipline and the work roles they may engage in after a psychology bachelor degree. After completing the unit, students were better informed about the concepts surveyed. Evaluation involving students in previous cohorts also supported the introduction of this unit. These findings suggest that first-year students would benefit from a formal introduction to the professional pathways of psychology and the applicability of academic skills to be gained during their degree. It is also hoped that this approach will prepare students for the broad scope of undergraduate psychological training, inform the career goals and elective selection of students, and may improve the ability of baccalaureates to represent the value of their degree to potential employers. Possible implications for student retention will also be discussed.
© 2008 Victor Karandashev