Tell us why you chose the MPsych Advanced Psychology course.
Adam: I saw the MPsych course as a fantastic opportunity to build on the research skills and knowledge of clinical psychology that I had developed during my time studying with Plymouth University and on my placement year. Jobs in clinical psychology and academic research positions are very competitive so I wanted something extra that would help me stand out from the crowd. The MPsych course offered a range of modules that I knew would put me that extra step ahead of those students with a standard psychology BSc. Getting all the additional perks of a masters while still being eligible for student loans really helped make my life easier financially, and is a really big bonus of the MPsych that is not offered via a normal MSc route.
Sophie: In all honesty, I was sceptical at first about whether I needed to do the MPsych year before doing a PhD, and what it would teach me that I didn’t already know from my undergraduate degree. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to do the MPsych – it was hands down the best year of my degree.
How did this course help you win a PhD place?
Adam: I’m pretty confident that I would have struggled to get through to the interview stage for the PhD without having done the MPsych course. I really believe it helps you stand out. Furthermore, the masters year provided me with a more advanced knowledge of research design and statistical techniques, so that when it came to having my own research ideas scrutinised during interview, I was much more confident and effective at answering quite difficult questions. Lastly I will say that an extra year studying on the MPsych course also helped me to develop a more professional demeanour. You get to work much more interactively with academic staff in the masters year, with small group teaching, and also get the opportunity to collaborate with external organisations, such as the service user groups in the case of the MPsych clinical pathway. A developed sense of professionalism goes a long way in whatever career direction you want to take; academic or other.
Sophie: The specialised clinical psychological modules I had done during the MPsych really made me stand out as a suitable and capable candidate. During the MPsych year I had my first research paper accepted for publication, I felt like I really got to know my area of research including its strengths and weaknesses, and my confidence in myself and my abilities increased massively. Looking back, I’m extremely glad that I didn’t start a PhD without having done the MPsych as I wouldn’t feel half as prepared as I do now.
What advice would you give anyone who is thinking about doing a PhD?
Adam: Have a clear idea of what it is you want to investigate and how you could go about researching the topic. This sounds obvious but many people will apply for PhD positions and hinder themselves by not having a strong rationale or plan for their research. Interviewers are much more impressed when someone has obvious goals in mind and ideas of how to achieve them. This doesn’t mean knowing in advance the exact designs and methods of experiments you could run, but more a decent knowledge of what is missing from our current understanding of an issue/phenomenon and what feasible routes could be taken to further this understanding.
Sophie: If you know it’s what you want to do, don’t give up. I was incredibly lucky to win a PhD place straight after my degree, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. There are a lot of factors affecting who places are given to and for what areas of research, so remember that a rejection is no reflection on you as a person and don’t get disheartened. Keep trying. Before an interview, prepare as much as possible and really think about how you can put across all of your relevant experience – interviewers want to know that you are capable of conducting independent research at PhD level.
What are you studying for your PhD?
Adam: How and why making eye movements, or completing other cognitive tasks, during the recall of emotional memories can help to reduce their emotional impact. This question is relevant to the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using a therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Recalling a distressing event while making left-right eye movements is a core component of EMDR, but no-one fully understands exactly why this procedure should help to improve clinical symptoms.
Sophie: I’m investigating the underlying mechanisms of social anxiety, particularly with regards to recurrent and intrusive negative self-imagery. I’m hoping to gain a deeper theoretical understanding of the phenomenon and use this to develop and test cognitive interventions. Thanks to the issues in clinical psychology module and working with trainee clinical psychologists during the MPsych, I have a really good working knowledge of current issues affecting mental health services, particularly the shortage of therapists and funding. Because of this, I am particularly interested in developing and investigating the efficacy of self-help, computerised interventions.
How did studying with Plymouth help you?Adam: Plymouth University offers an excellent environment for fostering enthusiasm and knowledge in the topics you want to know more about. That quality of the teaching and resources for learning provided me with a strong base from which to explore my interests in psychology. The academic staff members are very engaging and offer a broad range of expertise within the field of psychology. The library resources are fantastic and have improved every year since I started my undergraduate degree. And the helpfulness of technical support staff has made running experiments for my previous dissertation projects an enjoyable experience. All these things and more which are offered by the University have made it possible for me to achieve academic success to date, and are largely why I have chosen to continue my studies in Plymouth.
Sophie: For psychology in particular, Plymouth really stands out from other universities. I believe that Plymouth helped me to develop myself both personally and professionally. The School of Psychology has modern, top-class research labs including a video recording suite, a virtual reality laboratory and several laboratories for brain imaging and brain stimulation. We also have our own tech office who can order in specialist equipment and design and produce custom software for use in experiments. Finally, the level of teaching and supervision at Plymouth has been exceptional, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.