For those of you who don’t know me, I am currently a student at Lancaster University, studying psychology. This has led to some pretty interesting experiences, which I would like to share with you.
- People will treat you differently
I like to think that I am a social person. I attend the occasional party and I go out with friends. However, it is interesting how new people treat you once they find out that what you study. In my personal experience, there are 3 different reactions- they will use their basic knowledge of the subject and spend the next ten minutes or so asking me about Freud (and only Freud); they will suddenly become incredibly self-conscious and fear that I am analysing what they say and pretty much shut down the conversation down or, and this is the rarest reaction, they will try to use me as a personal sounding wall or therapist. I don’t mind people reacting like this, I am very aware that psychology as a discipline that carries some stigma, but it interesting to see how people react when they find out what I study.
- Psychologists can be incredibly petty people
When you learn about some of the more famous studies in psychology (Zimbardo, Milgram, Harlow etc.), you don’t tend to focus on the psychologist themselves. However, I volunteer as a research assistant for one of my professors and part of that role involves discussing papers in a small lab group. Turns out psychologists can be petty little bastards. While many psychologists will write critiques of others in a formal and respectful manner, there are those who just go for the throat. This leads to a number of eyebrow-raising articles being published as they lean heavily on straw man arguments and basically just bashing the author they don’t agree with. I had no idea this was the case going into my degree. Sure, I was aware that people had differing opinions but I didn’t realise that from time to time, any sort of civilised conduct just went out the window.
- People may think that you are evil
The chances are that most people you will meet will have some knowledge of psychology. Unfortunately, the chances are that their knowledge of psychology will focus on some of the more controversial experiments conducted throughout the discipline’s history. I have too many conversations with people in which they berate me about the ‘lack of ethical thinking’ in my field of study. Unfortunately, I rarely lack the time or energy to have this sort of conversation and so the person goes away still thinking that I am the Dr Doom of academia. The sad truth is that even with a stringent ethics code in place, psychology has a dark past. Even sadder is that some of our more controversial experiments have led to some of the greatest developments in our understanding of the human condition.
- People don’t consider you to be a scientific discipline
The debate as to whether psychology is a science has been around since psychology to be a thing. As a psychology student, let me tell you now, we’re a science. However, there are many people out there who look down on me because they consider my field of study to be a ‘fake science’ or a ‘soft science’. Webster defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation” and psychology very snugly fits into that definition. As with many of these points, I don’t mind people having this opinion, I have dealt with it for the last three years, it just gets a little tiring when someone tells me they are studying the ‘real science’. Fun fact: the only way you are doing you’re your real science is via the models of memory developed by, wait for it, psychologists. Boom.
- You have a Freud-load of career options
Most people will instinctively say ‘psychologist/psychiatrist’ if asked what jobs a psychology degree can lead to but the options are near unlimited. The professional world loves psychology graduates due to their insight into how humans think and behaviours. Straight off the bat, you are perfectly suited to advertising as you can work out what will make people buy a specific product. You are free to go into any profession you want and your time at university as psych major will simply help you on your way. You are not restrained to psychological professional or supervillain (so many comic book villains have psych degrees, it’s ridiculous). With the right training, you can do pretty much anything.