A Journey through Psychology

As the autumn term draws to a close it is good to take a moment to reflect on where a degree can take people and how it can be used. Psychology is a very broad discipline, encompassing all aspects of behaviour from individual to social perspectives.  The breadth of the academic discipline can feel a little overwhelming at first with so many ways to focus on what we do as humans, and so many ways to explain those things we do.  Once you have got past the initial rush of ideas, theories, and methods, then you need to focus in some areas and think about how psychology might be used and where it might be used.  In the Department, we have an applied focus in what we do.  We want our students to think about how they can use what they are learning in different settings, to try and support people and improve communities and lives.  This can be seen in the placements offered in the degree, and then again in the MSc programmes with their strongly applied work and research emphasis.

What comes after a degree is important, and reflecting on a developing career can help us all to think about what we know of psychology, and what we think we might want to do with the subject that can inspire and frustrate us.  Dan Lawrence graduated a few years back now, and since then has been steadily building his career, completing postgraduate training in forensic psychology with us.  It has been brilliant to see how Dan has progressed over the years, and fascinating to read about his route into a career.  It’s really useful to see this, and see how we can take opportunities that are in front of us.

Reflections on becoming a Forensic Psychologist

My first steps into the ‘world’ of psychology surprisingly stemmed from a keen interest in sports. Up until sixth form I had very little experience or understanding of psychology in its general sense. However, one of my A level choices was Physical Education (P.E.) and one of the modules within this was Sports Psychology which I found fascinating. When it came to choosing my university options I had no idea what to do and ended up picking Psychology at Cardiff Met (then UWIC) as my first choice. I guess my thinking was along the lines of “well I definitely want to play a high level of rugby in the future, UWIC can help with this and that psychology module I did was pretty interesting, so I’ll give it a go”.

The undergraduate degree was a peculiar experience for me.  I remember initially being unenthused about much of the content, which I think related to the broadness of the topics that were being taught. However, my interest didn’t take long to grow and it wasn’t long before modules captured my attention in the same way that the Sports Psychology module had at A level. I noticed early on that it was the programme content which related to mental disorder or crime that I found most interesting (although I also thoroughly enjoyed the Animal Cognition module). This then led me to read about becoming a psychologist and what I needed to do to be one. One thing that was abundantly clear was that, as well as a psychology degree, work experience was paramount. As a result I contacted some people I knew working in one of the prisons in South Wales and I was eventually able to gain a voluntary placement there. I was also able to gain other relevant experience at the time. This along with the Forensic Psychology module in the third year led to my interest in this area to develop further and I knew that in the future I wanted to work in forensic services (either forensic psychiatric or correctional).

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Next came the Forensic Psychology MSc at Cardiff Met.  My aim initially was to (after gaining more experience) enrol onto the Clinical Psychology Doctorate course, and had not intended to enrol on this course as at the time . After consideration of the various possibilities I decided to do the masters part time whilst also gaining relevant work experience.  I figured that having an MSc would only improve my chances. For me the MSc has been the most enjoyable part of my experience so far. I think this relates to it being focused on the areas of psychology that I find most interesting. I particularly liked the range of modules that related to the forensic application of psychology and the frequent guest lectures that were part of the programme. I found that the lecturers and staff that were involved in this degree were extremely supportive and passionate about the development of forensic psychology. Whilst still enrolled on the masters, I was fortunate enough to obtain an Assistant Psychologist role which would later prove to be invaluable experience.

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I then applied for the Post Graduate Diploma in Practitioner Forensic Psychology (PGDip) and was fortunate to be accepted for this course. I found this course to be far more challenging (including emotionally challenging) than any of the others that I had completed, which I think was something that I was not fully expecting when I enrolled. I found it to be far less structured and guided than the other courses, which I guess should be expected from a practitioner course as opposed to an academic one, as this certainly encourages autonomy and independence. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the content of the jobs and tasks that I did as part of the PGDip because as I always have, I found the nature of the work that I was doing fascinating and at times, rewarding. There was also some great support available from those involved with the course and the university if needed, which was invaluable. I can honestly say that this course taught me the importance of determination, resilience and making the most of the support that is available, both personally and professionally. Having recently (November 2017) completed the PGDip this marks the end of a long but rewarding journey of studying at Cardiff Met. I am very much looking forward to this next stage in my career, working as a fully qualified Forensic Psychologist.

My advice to others who aspire to work in the field of applied psychology would be to decide early on which area it is that you want to develop a career in. Then make every effort to gain relevant work experience as early as you can, the more the better (you can never pester people enough about offering you experience!). If you are able to gain experience whilst still studying then even better. The ‘world’ of psychology is a competitive place so you need to give yourself the best chance you can.  Also I was always given the advice that at least a 2:1 in my under graduate degree would stand me in good stead for the future, so aim high and work hard! If you know that becoming a psychologist is something that you definitely want then go for it. Stay focused on your goal and don’t give up, even when things are challenging. If I can make it this far you guys can too.

Best wishes and good luck.

A couple of things stand down when reading Dan’s story.  The first is that being interested, and finding that interest, is really important for starting off.  The other thing is that hard work and determination are vital. Dr Nic Bowes, who runs the PGDip Forensic Practitioner Programme emphasises this in her comments:

Dan’s good grounding in Psychology was pivotal in his career progression to become a forensic psychologist.  Gaining a good, deep foundation in psychological theory is essential if you want to go on to practice.  He then completed his MSc whilst working full time in a forensic setting.  This demonstrates both his drive and determination – bit also is very sensible.  It allowed him to experience what it is like to work in a forensic setting and to test whether he thought this was the setting for him.  It also provided some important contacts for him to progress on to supervised practice.  Training in supervised practice is very tough.  It requires students to develop their scientist-practitioner skills.  Students critically reflect on everything they do and every aspect of their practice.  Not just what they do, but how they do it.  Working in forensic settings whilst training is challenging.  Dan’s commitment to his studies and to applying the feedback he received in supervision has been obvious.  He’s going to be a great contributor to forensic psychology practice in the UK and it has been great to be with him on that journey. 

It’s good to see how a career can develop, especially one that will impact on people’s lives.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for Xmas, and look forward to greeting everyone again in 2018!

Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda!

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