www.MyPsychMentor.com: For Psych Majors and Enthusiasts

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thinking of Teaching Psychology at the College Level?

Several psychology majors have asked me how much schooling and other preparation they would need to work as a Psychology Instructor at the college level. The answer is: it depends.

If you want to teach as an adjunct (part-time) faculty member at a community college or small college, you may be able to do so with a Master's degree and some teaching experience. In fact, it is theoretically possible to teach full-time with a Master's degree at the community college level, but it is very uncommon since the field is so competitive and the doctorate is the degree most desired by college and university employers. Working part-time as an instructor may be perfect for some and is very rewarding, however, it does not usually provide job security or full benefits depending upon the region of the country in which you work.

Another thing to think about when considering becoming a psychology professor is whether you would like to work at a research-oriented or teaching oriented college, both of which are similar but require different duties and therefore different preparation.

Teaching-oriented colleges include 2-year community colleges and 4-year teaching-oriented institutions usually hold a doctorate degree. Faculty at teaching-oriented colleges spend the majority of their time on teaching courses and interacting with undergraduates. Four-year colleges may expect faculty to devote some time to research. Some of their teaching duties include developing lesson plans, responding to students’ learning needs, grading/evaluating student work, and reading and attending conferences to stay abreast of their field. These professors also serve on college committees that deal with academic, curriculum, budget, and hiring, policy etc. The benefits of being a professor at a teaching-oriented college can be both personal and practical. Many such professors enjoy the intellectually stimulating environment of their work setting and having colleagues who also truly enjoy their subject matter. The majority of them find it personally rewarding to share their love of the field with their students. You may wish to start developing your interpersonal communication skills if you want to work at this sort of institution.

Faculty at research-oriented institutions hold doctoral degrees and conduct research in their specialty area within psychology. They run laboratories in which they train graduate students to conduct research. Many of these professors spend much time writing applications for grant funding to fund their research, a recurrent process that often requires the continual writing of grant renewal applications and research reports. These professors spend less time in the classroom teaching and with students and more of their time focused on conducting and publishing research. Some benefits to being a professor at a research-oriented institution include a flexible schedule, high levels of intellectual stimulation through research and interaction with colleagues, personal satisfaction from researching interesting topics, and professional satisfaction from generating new psychological knowledge. Those professors who are self-driven and have a high degree of curiosity are most likely to be fulfilled in these types of positions. One may wish to focus more on developing their research skills and vitae if they want to work at this kind of institution.

Competition is fierce when it comes to attaining a full-time position as a psychology professor. When comparing the number of positions available at teaching-oriented and research-oriented positions, there are far more available at teaching-oriented institutions. You can learn more about the job prospects for these careers in Chapter 7 of Insider's Guide to the Psychology Major: Everything You Need to Know About the Degree and Profession by Wegenek and Buskist, (APA Books, 2010) or check out the online resources below.

One thing you should be doing now if you are an undergraduate considering either of these career paths is to volunteer as a teaching assistant and to volunteer as a research assistant in order to see whether you might prefer teaching or research activities - or both! : )

Other Resources:

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (APA Division 2)


Description of Requirements for Becoming a Psychology Professor


Friday, March 12, 2010

Ever Think About Becoming a School Psychologist?

If you like children and want to work in a "helping profession", school psychology may be for you. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, these professionals "help children and youth succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. They collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students that strengthen connections between home and school.

School psychologists are highly trained in both psychology and education. They must complete a minimum of a Specialist-level [graduate] degree program (60 graduate semester credits) that includes a 1200-hour internship and emphasizes preparation in the following: data-based decision making, consultation and collaboration, effective instruction, child development, student diversity and development, school organization, prevention, intervention, mental health, learning styles, behavior, research, and program evaluation."

To read about one professional's experience as a school psychologist, see below.

Simone Gunderson, MA. School Psychologist, Capistrano Unified School District
“A Career as a School Psychologist”

"I have always had a passion for children and have wanted to work in a career that allowed me to make a difference for them. During my undergraduate studies, I began researching careers that involved working in the educational system and the opportunity to work directly with students. While doing this research, I discovered the field of school psychology. I chose the field of school psychology for both the challenge and positive impact I can have on a child’s education.

I discovered that a school psychologist typically works within a school setting, providing services to students from the preschool through the secondary level. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and professionals to determine the best learning environment for students. Their duties typically include conducting educational evaluations to determine the appropriate placement of students. Additionally, they counsel students, provide parent and teacher consultations, and are sought after as a resource for student interventions.

After completing my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Irvine, I began working on my graduate degree at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California. This program combined both a Master of Arts degree in Educational Psychology and a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Psychology. A Pupil Personnel Services Credential is required to practice as a School Psychologist in the state of California. The graduate program consisted of a minimum of sixty graduate units, which included a 1200-hour internship. The graduate course of study focused on counseling, academic and behavioral interventions, completing psycho-educational assessments, research, and evaluation.

Prior to completing my graduate degree, I held a variety of jobs working with students with disabilities. This kind of experience can be very valuable when entering the field of school psychology. I worked as an Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) instructor for preschool age students with moderate to severe autism. This position was especially helpful gaining experience working with the growing number of students with autism in our school system.

Currently I work for Capistrano Unified School District as a full-time school psychologist. I am positioned at both a middle school and an elementary school. As a school psychologist, I have many duties. The majority include conducting psycho-educational evaluations on students and interpreting the information to parents and staff regarding the appropriate placement of students. These evaluations may include intelligence testing, academic evaluations, and determining how a student is functioning both socially and emotionally. Counseling students on various issues such as school success, behavior, and emotional issues is also an important part of my job. Most school psychologists also serve on the school site’s crisis management team in order to provide support and consultation in the event of a school crisis. Additionally, as a member of the-school’s intervention team, I participate in meetings regarding particular students that are struggling.

The field of school psychology can be very rewarding. School psychologists work in collaboration with teachers, parents, and administrators to promote student success. There seems to be a steady need for professionals in the field of school psychology. If working with children and helping them see their true potential seems interesting, a career in school psychology may be for you."

Special thanks to Simone Gunderson for writing this narrative to be included in the Insiders' Guide to the Psychology Major (by Wegenek and Buskist, APA Books, 2010)

For more information on what school psychologists do, visit the National Association of School Psychologists online: http://www.nasponline.org/about_sp/whatis.aspx


Visit the American Psychological Assocation Division 16 (School Psychology Division) site:

To learn about the job outlook for school psychologists, including expected growth and salaries in this field, visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the federal bureau of labor statistics:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Career in Human Factors Psychology?

Have you ever thought to yourself - Hey, I could design that gadget better! Why didn't they design it like this?...

If you often have thoughts like this or have an interest in optimizing human experience with products and technology, you may be interested in HUMAN FACTORS PSYCHOLOGY.

Human Factors Psychologists work to design products in a way that takes into account our knowledge of cognition and perception. They apply their knowledge of these areas to optimally design product shape, function, usability, look, and feel. Human Factors psychologists work to foresee potential product misuse and to provide consumers with the best possible experiences with human-made products. They may work in settings such as research,education, industry, and more (e.g., Department of Defense).

Read what one human factors psychologist has to say about his career and the advice that he gives aspiring interaction designers below:

"Lawrence Najjar, PhD, Interaction Designer, TandemSeven
“A Career in Human Factors Psychology”

I design software so that it is easy to use.

My job has a lot of different names – human factors engineer, usability specialist, information architect, user experience architect, engineering psychologist. The name that seems to be the best match right now is “interaction designer.”

I got a masters degree in engineering psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. My first job was for a government contractor outside of Washington, DC. I designed a software and hardware user interface to help government analysts translate intercepted foreign language audio messages into English text. I talked to a user representative and wrote detailed specifications that described how I wanted the user interface to work.

My next job was with IBM. I helped design the user interface for the next generation of US air traffic controllers. I observed and talked to air traffic controllers around the country. One lesson I learned is that you can’t count on users to tell you what to design. The final project cost $3.5 billion so air traffic controllers could have had almost any user interface they wanted. The few users with opinions only asked for the new system to work faster than their current system. After the user analysis phase, I performed tradeoff studies and designed a customized keyboard, selected a new trackball, designed the audio alerts, worked on the design of new digital flight strips, helped with the ergonomics of the workstation, and designed an efficient layout of workstations in the en-route centers.

After that project, I moved to the commercial side of IBM in Atlanta and mostly did usability tests of software products. The software was designed by programmers rather than people like me who focused on the needs of the prospective users. It showed. I asked representative users to perform typical tasks using early versions of software. I listed the many problems the users had, rated the usability severity, and suggested design solutions. The problem was, we were evaluating software that was about to be released and it was too late to make the major changes the users needed. So, my recommendations were mostly ignored. Very frustrating.

I took a buy-out package from IBM and went back to Georgia Tech to get my Ph.D. It was supposed to take two years, but it took five-and-a-half. I worked part-time on-campus at the Georgia Tech Research Institute writing design requirements for highway traffic management center operators, performing an accessibility evaluation on an advanced photocopier, and designing and evaluating a wearable computer user interface for poultry plant quality inspectors. For the wearable computer, we used a head-mounted display, simple voice recognition, ear-protecting headphones with speakers for audio feedback, and a very simple application that I designed. Our prototype worked perfectly in a test-run in an actual plant.
Then the World Wide Web happened and I wanted to be part of that user interface revolution. I got into a couple of Web design firms and worked on AOL’s online annual report, Home Depot’s first e-commerce store, the redesign of NASCAR.com, and a wide variety of other projects. The dot-com boom went bust, my company died, and I was laid off. I could not get a permanent, full-time job for 18 months.

The job I finally did get was in another city. I moved to Austin to work at BMC Software, a company that made company-wide, system management products for mainframe computers. I designed graphical user interfaces for a couple of mainframe products and wrote accessibility user interface design guidelines for our desktop-based Java application developers. But it was clear the company did not value ease of use and they laid me off along with half the usability staff.

My current job is with a 40-person design consulting firm called TandemSeven. The world has gone Web. So I mostly design portals for company intranets and complex, browser-based applications. My clients include Abbott Laboratories, Campbell Soup Company, Girl Scouts of America, and Orbitz Worldwide. I get to use my years of experience to work smart and fast. I do a wide variety of work – writing proposals, presenting proposals to prospective clients, learning a new domain, interviewing users to identify their needs, creating personas that describe users with representative needs, writing prioritized design requirements, working with clients, performing iterative user interface design, conducting quick usability evaluations, and writing detailed design specifications. The projects last several months and each one is different. I feel like I’m using a lot of my brain.

If you’re interested in this career field, here is my advice:
• Love the field. You should enjoy making the complex simple and being both creative and organized.
• Get a masters degree in psychology. The technology keeps changing but the people stay the same. If you understand how people sense, perceive, and think you can make technology easier to use.
• Get some experience. Make it obvious you can do the work. Design a Web site for the department, a class project, a charity, or yourself. Get part-time work or a summer internship at the kind of place you want to work at later.
• Work where you’re valued. Work someplace where ease of use is essential for the organization to make money, save money, or save lives, and everyone knows it.
• Do work that is innovative, tightly tied to users, hard to replace, and is so valued that customers actually pay more for the product that you help produce.

A career in interaction design may be right for you if the more you learn about it, the more you think “Wow. That is so cool.”

Other online resources:
A general site about this subarea of psychology
Human Factors in Aviation

Special thanks to Lawrence Najjar for contributing this to "Insider's Guide to the Psychology Major", Wegenek and Buskist, APA Publishing (2010)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What are the job prospects for people with Masters Degrees in Psychology?

Students often ask me: "What's the job market like for people with master's degrees in psychology?"

This question is a very broad question and the answer is accordingly broad because there are so many paths that an undergraduate psychology major can take when choosing to pursue a master’s degree. There are different types of masters degrees that one can earn in psychology and each of these degree paths can lead to a career in a multitude of settings.

For example, one may work as a research assistant, a psychiatric aide at a mental health facility, a personnel manager, a supervisor in a mental health facility for developmentally disabled individuals, a statistical consultant for a corporation or organization, a behavioral intervention therapist with children, and more with a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in general psychology. It all depends upon your area of specialization and how you choose to apply or generalize the skills you attained in your masters level training.

However, if one is interested in seeing clients for mental health problems but does not want to earn a doctorate (PhD or PsyD) in clinical psychology, pursuing a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) may be ideal. Marriage and Family Therapists are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems and often work in the same settings as licensed clinical psychologists.

Alternatively, a person who wishes to work in a similar setting to a licensed clinical psychologist without earning a PhD may choose to earn a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and specialize in the clinical track. Although many in the general public think of social workers as working primarily in agencies such as child protective services, etc., social work is quite a broad field. Clinical social workers may be involved in psychotherapy, individual or group counseling, crisis intervention, case management, child welfare, medical settings, employee assistance programs, substance abuse, aging/gerontology, hospice, and more.

The other specialty track for MSW is called community practice and focuses on community organizing. MSWs specializing in community practice may work in community organizing type and work in organizations such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, political agencies, or in similar settings may wish to earn an MSW and specialize in community practice, a specialty that is growing in popularity.

The good news is that the general career outlook for Counselors with a MFT, MSW, or other related Master’s degree on a whole is considered to be good, according to the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), which is published by the United States Department of Labor, Department of Labor Statistics and includes projections based on nationwide statistical trends.

If students visit this resource, they will find that the job outlook for those working in mental health with masters degrees during the 2008-1018 decade is quite good, with a projected 24% growth rate rate (a rate much faster than the average for all occupations) for mental health counselors, 14% growth rate (a rate faster than the average for all occupations) for MFTs, 16% for social workers in general, and 20% for clinical social workers. This is expected due to the aging of the baby boomer population*, an increase in the demand for substance abuse treatment due to the increased tendency of courts to sentence people to substance abuse rehabilitation rather than prison, and an increased demand for less costly quality mental health care as legislation is expected to require health insurance companies to cover mental health care. This last factor contributes to the overall positive outlook for all workers considered mental health counselors. *In addition, the demand for those specializing in aging should significantly increase. I have not even included information about increased demands for educational/school counselors, occupational therapists, or more in this brief summary. Students interested in those careers should definitely check them out since they are also expected to grow!

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook Online http://www.bls.gov/OCO/

More blogs to come about how to apply the skills that you learn as a psychology major or masters student out in the work force