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Q & A with Former Psychology Majors
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Danielle McCumber: is an enrollment coordinator for a study abroad organization.
Kerry Davis: does bilingual psychological evaluations for a local school district and also has a private practice in juvenile forensics (helping young people navigate the court system).
Leslie Quon: is an instructor at a community college.
Rebecca Scalera: is a neuropsychologist in a private, hospital-affiliated group practice.
Yana Myaskovetskaya: is an information developer for a major technological corporation.
What skills or information learned in college do you find yourself making the most use of?
Danielle: Research skills—finding the most and best information in a short amount of time; social skills—how to behave in a professional manner; I greatly improved my ability to write concisely and informatively.
Kerry: The best skill of a psychologist is that of observation. Observing subtle nuances of both behavior and communication can give you insights into a person that they are not even aware of.
Leslie: I believe that time-management skills are what I will continue to use for the rest of my life. I learned the importance of balance—getting my work done, but also saving time for rest and pleasure. I continue to refer to many theories that I learned in social psychology classes.
Yana: The ability to work under pressure has been the skill that [helped] me succeed in the work force. I work in [a] fast-paced environment, and all the work is under pressure and under time constraints.
How did you decide which field to go into?
Danielle: I found a position with an organization that is based out of a city in France where I have a lot of family.
Kerry: I initially became a teacher of English and Spanish at the high school level, then a teacher of immigrants (using my Spanish) at the high school level, then a psychologist after my doctorate.
Leslie: I was inspired by one great professor I really admired—this encouraged me to go into teaching.
Rebecca: I wanted to be in private practice to have the autonomy to make my own schedule and be my own boss. I also loved the stimulation of a hospital setting, so [being affiliated with a hospital] was appealing and gave me the opportunity to continue to work with professionals from different disciplines.
What advice do you wish you were given before you entered the job market?
Danielle: You don't have to take the first job you're offered—don't feel bad holding out for something if you think you can do better.
Kerry: Find a niche in which there is a real need. Entry-level people are a dime a dozen . . . [so] you have to have some special skill.
Leslie: Start early! I waited until I was finished with graduate school before I even began looking. There was a lot of waiting around even after I began the search.
Rebecca: I wish that someone had given me more guidance on networking. When you are in private practice, this is a very important skill—relationship building with other professionals—and I sort of had to figure this out as I went along.
Yana: I wish I would have been told how important experience is. It's better to do an unpaid internship somewhere rather then working in a coffee shop or something; you're gaining experiences that will give you an advantage when you start looking for work.
What was your first job out of college?
Danielle: Enrollment coordinator for a study abroad organization, I applied to a posting on Monster.com.
Kerry: I was a high school teacher for migrant students in south Texas. Being bilingual was so sought after that I just showed up at the district office in November and mentioned that I was bilingual and had an immediate job offer.
Leslie: Working abroad teaching English in Japan. I found it with help from the career center at my school.
Rebecca: I got a job as a bilingual vocational counselor. I was taking that year to apply for PhD programs and I found this job through a friend of my older sister's who was leaving the job to go back to school herself.
Yana: My first job out of college was as an information developer/usability analyst for Symantec. I did an internship for this department during my last year of college, and after graduation they took me on full-time.
If you went straight into the workforce after receiving your bachelor's degree, do you wish you had attended graduate school first? If you went on to grad school, do you wish you had worked first?
Danielle: I went straight to work, and I am glad I did so because I needed more time to figure out what I wanted to do with my professional degree. I also think it's important for people to experience the "working world" before getting back into academics.
Kerry: I worked while going to get my master's. I believe the experience of working gave me a better focus and feeling for exactly what I wanted to do when I finished my master's program.
Rebecca: I am happy that I worked for a year before going to graduate school. The real world experience and low pay added to my motivation to continue my education and work very hard in graduate school.
Yana: I actually did the right thing by working first, because I found out what career I want to pursue. Now with a little experience under my belt, I have better chances of getting into a master's program of my choice and I am sure about what program I want to pursue.
What do you like most about your job?
Danielle: My job is very flexible because it is a small operation—I'm one of two employees in the U.S.
Kerry: The school practice has regular hours, good benefits, time off when my children are off, no overhead—and it is not rocket science. I love my private practice, as I get to use my clinical skills.
Leslie: I love being able to interact with and influence students, and I appreciate the fact that each day is different. I also love the fact that I am teaching the very things I studied in college.
Rebecca: I love working with such a variety of patients, from small children to older adults and many adolescents. However, I really enjoy the peer contact, support and group supervision with my colleagues. This is a huge benefit to being in a group practice.
Yana: I get to work with people from different backgrounds and different countries. Through my interaction with engineers, managers and marketing people, I get to learn something new and interesting every day.
What suggestions would you have for those still in college?
Danielle: Make sure you take classes that you find interesting—you'll learn more from the subjects you like.
Kerry: If interested in forensic psychology, try to get as much law enforcement/criminal justice exposure as you can.
Leslie: I highly recommend studying abroad. Living in a different country really opens your eyes.
Rebecca: Try to obtain internships in settings that you could see yourself working in, and interview folks in your field who have completed their training; ask what their typical day is like and try to imagine yourself in that position.
Do you have any tips for those entering the workforce/graduate school now?
Danielle: You have the rest of your life to figure out the best career path for yourself. Don't rush into anything.
Kerry: Seek out a mentor. They can be invaluable.
Leslie: Graduate school is very demanding, and if you don't love the subject matter, it will be extremely difficult. If applying for a job, it's important to remember that many positions also look for experience—so it's critical to get as much of that as possible.
Rebecca: Be creative about getting the training you need and networking in your field to find opportunities that could lead to career advancement. Don't expect things to fall in your lap.
Yana: You're not just a major; you're a person with knowledge, experience and skills. When you can prove this to an employer, no field is unattainable.