Having worked in the field of Psychology for some time now, specifically within the student community, I often hear negative comments from frustrated students about the value of their psychology degrees. While it is true that an academic qualification has its limitations, in the right context its implications can be limitless. Unlocking the secrets of a Psychology degree has the potential to expand perspectives and diversify opportunities, if approached in the right manner.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
An academic qualification is a theory-based university programme that prepares graduates for higher-level professional qualifications. Where these programmes lack in practical learning, they make up in creating critical thinkers with an in-depth historical and theoretical understanding of a subject. While these qualifications in Psychology do not lead to registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), they do more than just open the door to postgraduate qualifications; they give students superpowers.
Below I have compiled a list of marketable and transferable skills that, if applied in the right manner, can be valuable assets in the working world. Each superpower is associated with tangible corporate skills that have the capacity to help any Psychology graduate shine when applying for jobs. These superpowers are intertwined in the very fabric that is Psychology at an undergraduate level; all of which can be extremely valuable to employers across a number of sectors.
1. Goal Development
Throughout ones studies in Psychology, students will be challenged on a daily basis to manage their time effectively as well as test their ability to set realistic and achievable goals for themselves. Basic cognitive theories covered during undergraduate programmes outline the value in setting concrete goals with achievable outcomes as a way to direct ones cognitive effort towards upskilling and developing in any environment.
Studies have shown that leadership and management are vital skills when entering the working world. Having the ability to set achievable goals and define strategic ways of attaining them is of paramount importance in any corporate environment, especially in a managerial position. Outlining directives for others to follow can be difficult, but not beyond the scope of a psychology graduate.
2. Stress & Anxiety Management
It wouldn’t be a psychology course if students had not encounter the terms distress and eustress. While all degrees are stressful and exam season is likely to create anxiety for all students, few students get the type of intensive training in stress management and coping mechanisms that psychology students receive. By the end of a 3 year qualification, a graduate’s ability to cognitively appraise stressors and sublimate them should be superhuman.
It comes as no surprise that business life can be fast-paced and stressful. Anxiety caused from stress can often lead to burnout, which can have a negative influence on both the employee and the employer. Psychology graduates have the tools they need to identify, and even mitigate, anxiety-provoking stressors before they lead to burnout.
3. Critical & Creative Thinking
Psychology students and graduates will attest to the fact that Psychology is so much more than just common sense; it is an empirical science built on the foundation of decades of work and research. Psychology pushes the limits of the stereotypical thought processes surrounding human interaction and creates graduates with the ability to solve problems through critical inspection and research.
Critical thinking is more than just a marketable skill desired by employers but a habitual manner in which individuals can attack any problem that is thrown at them. Employees need to be able to question assumptions, draw conclusions, and find creative solutions to problems in order to engage appropriately with the types of issues that present themselves in business.
4. Scientific Literacy
With a detailed academic qualification comes a detailed understanding of research and scientific literacy. Not only does this lead to the development of critical thinking skills, but it also provides insight into many of the cognitive biases surrounding validity and reliability in research. The ability to find and understand literature on a specific topic is a superpower all on its own; using the knowledge appropriately is what makes psychology graduates stand out from the crowd.
Effective written and oral communications skills are in the top 5 desirable skills that employers look for when hiring and/or promoting candidates. While students may not always find research modules as fun and exciting as a course in psychopathology; these research programmes give students an opportunity to develop and hone their written communication skills and better prepare themselves for the post-graduation success.
5. Ethics & Professionalism
As a qualification based almost entirely on human and social interaction, it is important that Psychology students and graduates hold a certain level of professional and ethical decorum. Psychologists are individuals that are bound by the constraints confidentially and this is taken very seriously in order to protect members of the public. Even though undergraduate students and graduates do not hold professional registrations, they are still part of the psychological community and are expected to act in a professional and ethical manner.
There is one thing that every employer wants their employees to present; professional and ethical conduct in the workplace. Psychology graduates that are able to show a high level of professionalism in the way they do their work and interact with the others, shows the organisation that they are capable of conducting themselves in a manner that will only benefit the company and its reputation.
6. Social Understanding
Social Psychology is the study of how individual or group behaviour is influenced by the presence and behaviour of others, and is a keystone of any Psychology degree. Students will develop a deeper understanding of concepts such as bias and prejudice and how these can lead to fallacious reasoning. Being aware of such can give Psychology students an edge when working collaboratively within a team or in a leadership position.
Research shows that teamwork and teambuilding have been identified as important skills that contribute to creating a facilitative team that functions as a cohesive unit. Understanding social dynamics means that psychology graduates are able to see various perspectives and accommodate them accordingly, working consistently to achieve goals.
7. Reflection & Insight
Finally, one of the most important superpowers that Psychology graduates have is the ability to look inward and evaluate one’s own cognitive, emotional, and behavioural processes. Psychology students are taught this practice as they learn to better understand themselves in the hopes that one day they might help a client in the same way. Reflective awareness brings perspective and experience together and creates subjective meaning to the world.
Whilst not listed as a specific skill needed within the business world, insight and the ability to self-reflect play an integral role in shaping the way in which students and graduates interact with, and frame, their surroundings. One fundamental skill that develops from insight is that of being a good listener and creating safe and secure environments for others to share their perspectives and opinions.
While Psychology undergraduates are not able to hold professional registrations, that does not mean that their qualifications is useless or a waste of time; in fact, quite the opposite. Psychology degrees are bursting with valuable skills and content that graduates should be highlighting when applying for job opportunities.
I encourage all Psychology students to think critically about the values, skills, and knowledge they have learned during their undergraduate qualifications. When writing a CV or attending an interview, make certain that you are able to showcase these marketable superpowers to prospective employers.
Remember; not all heroes wear capes.
This article was inspired by the work of Dr Stephen Chew; a Professor of Psychology at Samford University. Click here to read more about his work on Psychology students.