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: