For those who know me, they will understand that Psychology is the one subject matter I am most familiar with and interested in above all else. I love the way that individuals’ behaviour can be explained and the manner in which hypotheticals of the mind, become factual through research. However,…
I was exploring the neuroscience tag and I felt compelled to answer your post because I am currently facing a familiar dilemna. I hope my perspective can help you decide what’s best for you. I apologize in advance for the long wall of text ahead.
I am currently a 2nd year psychology undergrad at the Université de Montréal. My research interests, if we can call them that, are eclectic as I keep finding more and more interesting topics. For the past year, I’ve found myself gravitating towards the field of bioethics, some of my favorite topics being the ethical implications of emerging/speculative biotechnologies and neurolaw.
I fell in love with psychology about 2 years before entering university. My initial interests were borderline personality disorder, OCD and depression. For a short period, I really wanted to become a psychologist but I quickly lost interest. The DSM debate and the limits of psychotherapy and medication were a huge turn-off for me. I also realized around that time that psychology was not just clinical therapy, it was also research. Discovering the research side of psychology made me fall in love with it all over again, this time even harder.
So I started university with this kind of mindset about psychology. I was passionated, motivated and confidant. I had a slight idea that it was competitive, but I had no idea how intense it actually was. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is effectively useless. You absolutely need the PhD in order to become a professor or a psychologist. And getting in a doctoral program is ridiculously tough. You need an average of As (although some schools are less demanding about grades and put more emphasis on your accomplishments), research AND clinical experience (you’re lucky if you get paid) in order to have a chance. Out of thousands of undergrads, theres only about 30 spots for PhD or Dpsy (if that’s a thing where you live). So yes, it’s excessively competitive.
The first year was really tough. I was not pulling those As and I had a really bad grade at an optional advanced evolution class that dragged my gpa even lower. It was taught by a world-renowned primatologist and is actually the favorite class that I took, but I sometimes wonder if it was worth it. I believed that performing poorly in classes rendered my interest in psychology illegitimate, even though I felt the passion deeply in my heart. I was very confused and the insecurities about the future were consuming me. Looking back at it, it was probably the lowest point in my life.
But then something unexpected happen. I was walking in the the psychoeducation department during lunchtime with a bag of chips and an old man, out of nowhere, plunged his hand into the bag and stole some chips, laughing his ass off. He was actually a professor there. Intrigued, I googled him and I discovered that he has the exact same research interests than me. He wrote a lot of critical academic articles about pseudosciences and his latest one was basically about how Mother Teresa was a bitch (which he did for the lols, pretty much). He was giving a lecture about alternative medicine that very same week-end, and I went to it. We began to talk a lot and he eventually invited me into one his research projects.
From that point on, everything was better. I finally began to pull As and I became involved in a lot of projects. Too many projects. This term, I became the editor-in-chief of our student journal and what I was doing for it and my research projects were far more interesting than what we were seeing in classes, so I ended up skipping them all. I had to cancel 4 of the 5 classes because I didn’t want to fail them. Thanks to plotholes, that has basically no impact on my chances at getting accepted in a graduate program. This is why I’m also taking a sabbatical year starting next term. I want to finish my projects, and learn things and skills I always wanted to learn but never had the time to. This will also be a time to bulk up my CV and I heavily recommend it if this doesn’t have effect your chances at being accepted in grad school like me.
But you also have to realize that getting accepted in grad school is not even the half of it. Even if you finish the PhD (which takes like an eternity), getting an academic job is also disgustingly competitive. And even when you get that academic job, the position is not secure. To stay alive, you’re expected to be very proliferic. And getting tenure is on a whole other level of competitiveness. I think psychologists have it easier, but I’m aware they have their fair share of struggles.
So yes, it’s an eternal struggle. You’re gonna have to decide if it’s all worth it. Financially speaking, I’d say run away. Especially if school is expensive (it’s like 4k a year here). You’re gonna have to fight really hard your whole career. Just being interested in psychology is not enough to make it. Between classes, being a research assistant, being in a student organization and volunteering at x or y place, you’re barely gonna have time to breathe and enjoy yourself. But if you’re intensely passionate about psychology, maybe, just maybe it’s the right thing for you.
To conclude, here is a list of personal basic advices for being a succesful undergrad:
1) Decide early on whether you prefer research or clinic. It has a big impact later on, trust me.
2) Learn as much as you can, without sacrificing time for class and study. Read recently published studies (especially those from professors at your school), learn how to use programs like SPSS or MATLAB, etc.
3) Socialize with teachers. Read everything about everything single one of them. If what they do interest you, go to them and discuss with them. Maybe they’re looking for research assistants or will invite you in one of their projects.
4) Socialize with other students. They’ll be the one referring you to other teachers, or telling you where to volunteer and helping you study, etc. A good way to do this is to get involved in a student association.
5) Build an impressive CV by getting research (try to get a paper published before finishing your bachelor’s degree) and clinical experience, get involved and of course, get good grades.
6) Don’t burn out LOL