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The Life of a Psychology Graduate in 2022
It's not as glamorous as you imagine...
Today’s guest post from Anjali is the 2nd in an ongoing series of ongoing dispatches from individual mentees who have sought my mentorship in the academic setting. By allowing them a platform to share their experiences within the academic milieu, I aim to provide them with a way to develop their writing and critical thinking skills, ideally benefiting from feedback from a diverse and growing number of Mailer subscribers. Of equal or greater importance, this also provides them an opportunity to share their experiences within the Academy and the perceived value of their academic/research training and degree(s) with those in the ‘real world’.
Hello everyone, I’m Anjali and I’m a recent graduate with a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of British Columbia. While I was born in Malaysia and spent my early childhood years there, I spent most of my teenage years in India. Here’s my story.
Psychology remains one of the most popular majors taken by university students all over the globe. While there are some who aspire to go on to get a Ph.D. and become a psychologist, most tend to major in Psychology because it’s ‘fascinating’ and a ‘fun elective’. My interest in Psychology initially stemmed from binge-watching psychological thrillers in my childhood and teenage years. As I grew older and my interests kept changing, Psychology remained constant.
That’s why a bachelor’s in psychology seemed like a natural progression when choosing my major at the University of British Columbia. During my time at UBC, I dabbled with research in Psychology through my RA positions at different labs and volunteered at Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services to gain some real-world experience. Once I graduated, I was still unclear about the path I wanted to take in Psychology, which is why I decided to hit the brake on a Master’s degree and instead chose to work as a therapist for kids with autism while I figured out my interests.
In 2017, Conray et al. found that over 3.5 million people in the United States in 2017 held a degree in Psychology. Out of these 3.5 million students, only 13% went ahead to obtain a Master’s degree in Psychology and 4% a doctoral degree.
For such a popular major, it’s absurd that there remains a lack of resources during your undergraduate years and once you graduate. Unlike degrees in Business and Computer Science, where there are dedicated forums for job seekers, various YouTube videos and podcasts to support you in your job search, and specific websites with job postings to guide you on a relevant path further, there wasn’t much for me to build upon once I completed my studies. The fact that COVID hit and worsened the job market the year I graduated didn’t help.
Having had 2 years of experience as a Research Assistant at UBC, I wanted to further pursue a Research Assistant job and understand what interested me the most. Most entry-level RA roles generally require 0-1 years of experience. Yet I faced countless recruiters’ rejections, or even worse, ghosting me after rounds of interviews. Unfortunately, more often than not, Master’s and Ph.D. students apply for these entry-level jobs as well, making it almost impossible for an entry-level graduate to be a competitive applicant. To top it off, I saw an increase in most “entry-level” jobs requiring applicants to have 3-5 years of experience. A typical psychology university degree is 4 years. Let that sink in.
But then, when I received the opportunity to volunteer as a Qualitative Researcher at a prestigious hospital in Toronto a few months after my graduation, I was ecstatic. The assumption that I would gain invaluable experience overpowered the fact that it was unpaid and a commitment of over 10 hours a week. I spent months doing admin work while being reassured that what I was doing was important. Unfortunately, the experience didn’t teach me any skills and I was back to square one.
Recently, I found out that organizations have started charging students to gain experience through an internship. Essentially, interested people need to pay to do an unpaid internship. Unpaid internships, something that has become so common in the field of Psychology, have always been a topic of debate among Netizens. However, paying to do an unpaid internship has sparked outrage and rightly so.
A lack of resources coupled with exploiting students and recent grads in the name of ‘experience’ only adds to the uncertainty and confusion they experience. With these unnecessary hurdles, it’s no surprise students steer away from continuing further studies in Psychology.
As I reflect on my own journey in academia, I often wonder how different my life would be had I chosen another major or rejected a futile volunteering position. My path moving forward remains unclear, but I do know, Psychology isn’t the constant that it used to be. Things seem dark and gloomy for current and future Psychology students, and I can only hope that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.