The Psychology Whisperer

Psychology – student life – research – learning – academia

2013.5 + 2014

Otherwise known as ‘what Ahona has been doing for the past 7 months’.

1. Neglecting blog

2. Settling into new job as case manager in family violence + climbing a steep learning curve with VicPol, Magistrate’s courts, family violence and child abuse.

3. Publishing! I was invited to be part of a team writing a review on preschool children’s body perception last year. The paper was accepted earlier this year and published by Early Child Development and Care. Link here. Name in print <30 years of age – goal achieved.

I have also been tidying up my Honours systematic literature review for publication and expect to submit that for review soon. I then look forward to starting work on a second systematic review to inform my PhD research.

3. Finishing coursework. After 4 years of semester-by-semester life, I am looking forward to a year free of assignments and weekly readings, with large chunks of time to ruminate over my thesis and postgrad plans.

4. Recruitment – my thesis requires me to recruit child participants aged 5-6 years to study their body perception and body image. I have spent the past year emailing and telephoning school principals, parents and directors of day care centres. Recruiting children is hard work, nuff’ said. Very grateful to all the lovely people I know who have been linking me in with their school contacts or volunteering their children.

5. Planning my PhD project. Stay tuned. Meeting with supervisor to discuss thesis plan tomorrow, I expect to emerge with a to-do list the length of my arm. Writing a research proposal is harder than it appears! I feel like I am throwing a number of variables I want to study into the ring, with little logic backing them up or tying them in together.

6. Starting paid overnight shifts as a crisis counsellor and accustoming self to 6 hour shifts of non-stop counselling.

7. Commencing work with my local APS branch on Study Group Networks. I am excited about engaging with the local practitioner community.

8. Play – all work and no … etc etc

9. Deciding on postgraduate backup plans in case my Masters/Doctorate applications fall through (always a possibility, given the competition!). So far I have plans A, B, C, D & E. My supervisor thinks the number of backup plans I have are very amusing. However, they give me peace of mind, as I like planning and knowing (vaguely) where life will take me.

10. Two words – Summer. Reading.

11. Deciding on my goals for the year (I hate resolutions)

  • Stress less, surrender more
  • Publish
  • Finish Honours
  • Submit postgrad applications on time
  • Stay alive

Keeping it simple -

So you want to become a psychologist?

One of my pet psychology related peeves is (are?) psychology students who feel like they are entitled to become psychologists and deserve an easy ride through to the top, simply because they want to become psychologists. NOW.

There appear to be a large number of them around. I am not sure whether this is illustrative of the type of people attracted to psychology, or the landscape of my current university. Perhaps it is cultural – fast food, gimme gimme gimme generation(s)?

The reality of psychology education in Australia currently is that it is incredibly competitive and that there is a large bottleneck between undergraduate and Honours and again, between Honours and postgraduate courses. As it is a seller’s market, universities can afford to be very choosy about the candidates they allow into their own courses. Universities often demand ‘extra’ of candidates, i.e. not just solid grades, but an excellent interview, good references, work history, references, publications and relevant volunteer experience. Some of the students I have communicated with have great difficulties accepting these criteria. I have been (reluctantly) subject to many impassioned arguments against the bottleneck in psychology and the non-work-readiness of undergraduate psychology degrees, especially when contrasted with other service professions such as OT or social work.

Personally, I sigh a few breaths of relief, knowing that there are a few strong hurdles between wanting to become a psychologist and ACTUALLY being unleashed on the public as a psychologist. I have seen the aftermath of bad, or unethical psychologists and am grateful that entry into postgraduate courses is so selective.

My view is that becoming a psychologist is a privilege that is earned, not one that is demanded. It entails working with extremely vulnerable people in very intimate, closed environments and making decisions that impact on the foundation of people’s lives. It is one of the rare professions that are strongly associated with a practitioner’s personal qualities and character. You may be able to wear a facade and play act a professional role from 9-5  as a banker, however, this is almost impossible to do as a psychologist.

Becoming a psychologist requires a large number of personal virtues. Certainly, academic ability is paramount in order to understand research, learn appropriate interventions and ensure that you possess the cognitive capacities to incorporate these into your personal repertoire. However, more importantly, there are certain personal qualities that psychologists must possess if they are to work effectively with clients without doing any harm. In my view, these are: humility (the ability to critically engage with your shortcomings and successes without a sense of grandiosity about your place in the world or your role in people’s lives), a lack of arrogance, curiousity about the world and people, openness and non-judgment (we all have our blind spots and soapboxes, more important is an insight into how these affect you), a lack of defensiveness, ability to be open to critique and incorporate feedback into your daily life and practice, strong interpersonal and communication skills, empathy, respect, an unimpeachable work ethic and INSIGHT.

I cannot reiterate the importance of insight and self-reflection enough. How do you present to people? How do your actions impact upon people? What is your role in your daily interactions? How are you influencing your interpersonal relationships? What dynamics do you bring to an interaction? How much time do you spend reflecting on your actions and interactions? Are you able to own your mistakes? I think that this is the single most important quality a psychologist can bring to the therapy room and ironically, one that a significant proportion of people lack.

It is incredibly difficult to strip away our armour, defenses and need to see ourselves as a wondrous being and instead look at ourselves as we really are and as we appear to others. I learned just how difficult it was last year, when I made a mistake at work and was pulled up on it. Instead of apologizing for it and fixing it, I retreated into defensiveness mode. Many tears and some very hard learning later, I gained some valuable insight into approaching mistakes, my need for perfection and my sense of self-importance.

Do yourself and your future clients a favour and spend some time developing this skill now. It will likely go a long way towards ensuring you entry into and success at a postgraduate course, as well as successful relationships with clients, friends, partners and colleagues in the future.

I have been told that the students most likely to succeed and make superb clinicians are not those with the highest grades. The defining factors successful students have in common is that they have genuine care and regard for people, excellent insight into their own intra-psychic processes, strong self-reflective abilities, a desire to explore their own interests and passions through their work, a lack of competitiveness, a desire to make a difference and wonderful work ethics.

What are your thoughts on this?

FAQ for Psychology Honours applicants

It’s about that time of year – the time when most third year psychology students start looking at applications for Honours programs and/or panicking about their grades, often in conjunction! I know I had many questions when I went through this process late last year. I am lucky to work in an office surrounded by psychologists and psychology students and had many a water-cooler/tea-room conversation with whoever would spare a ear. Most of my student compatriots seem to have had similar questions. I have collated a list of these FAQs below. Good luck with your applications!

       1. What grades do I need to get into Honours?

It depends. Most Melbourne universities require a mid-DI (75+) average. Cut-off scores fluctuate by cohort, so it is best to contact each university individually to check on their current cut-off and to allow a +/- 3% margin around this.

 2.       Are there any alternatives to Honours?

Most universities will offer a full-fee Honours equivalent, often called a Graduate Diploma or Postgraduate Diploma. The cut-offs for these courses are often significantly lower than Honours, often by as much as 10%. This is a good alternative if you do not have the grades required to get into Honours. There is usually no difference in course content between Honours and Grad Dip courses. However, at my university, Grad Dip students typically work in a group project and collect their data in groups, whereas Honours students work individually. There is a trend towards this changing though, with many Honours projects now being conducted in a group format.

 3.       I didn’t get into an Honours course, is a Grad Dip/Postgrad Dip going to significantly disadvantage my postgraduate applications?

No. Postgraduate places are offered on the basis of a matrix of factors, including undergraduate and Honours grades, work experience, references and interview scores. Anecdotally, most of the postgraduate coursework students I know completed a Graduate Diploma, instead of Honours! The only time a Grad Dip might disadvantage you is if you come up against an Honours student who has the same grades, interview scores, references and experience as you. This is relatively unlikely, all things considered.

 4.       I don’t know what my universities requirements are for Honours entry.

Find out. Look at their website, contact the course administrators or course coordinators and attend an Honours information evening. Most universities hold these evenings in the second half of second semester. You should see flyers around your school. Also check your student email.

Never assume that you know what your universities criteria are, as this is liable to change. I know my undergraduate (and Honours) university has recently changed its Honours entry criteria to include second year results.

Also, some universities have specific requirements, like a mid CR (65+) for Research Methods subjects. This is something you should research at the start of your degree, you don’t want an unpleasant shock in third year.

5.       I didn’t make the grade for an Honours or Graduate Diploma place, what do I do now?

Re-evaluate whether you want to be a psychologist and explore some of the other pathways and careers open to you (e.g. social work, occupational therapy, alcohol and drug counseling). There are many ways to work in a human services occupation and help people without being a ‘psychologist’. If you are determined that this is the path for you, then consider repeating some subjects as single subjects to bolster your grades. Most universities will allow you to do this. If you choose to do this, ensure that you speak to a coordinator first, so you repeat the correct subjects that are considered for Honours entry. As a general rule, they should be part of an APAC-accredited core major.

Use the time you spend repeating subjects to hone your academic skills, fine tune your writing and to gain some volunteer counseling experience. This will be invaluable in the long-term.

 6.       Does the university I go to matter?

Yes and no. It depends on what you want from the degree.

My view (and that of most of the people I have spoken with) is that the supervisor matters a lot more than the university as you will be working with them closely and will be dependent on them to have your back. The prestige of the university can certainly have an impact on your future career trajectory. However, as Honours is a portal into post-grad and not an end-point qualification for most of us, I would argue that the prestige of the university matters less than how well the university prepares you for life after Honours, the networking possibilities and the quality of teaching and supervision.

In addition, most Honours courses are highly similar in content due to APAC regulations. The main difference appears to lie in supervisor quality and support and staff and administrative support.

Realistically, most students complete Honours at their undergraduate university, so I would not spend too much time worrying about this.

7.       Does it matter whether I do Honours through science, arts or psychology (e.g. Bachelor of Arts (Psychology Honours) vs Bachelor of Science (Psychology Honours)?

No, degree nomenclature is immaterial. There is no difference in course content between these courses.

 8.       …But I don’t want my degree to have ‘Arts’ in the title!

One of the first things you need to learn as a future psychologist is to separate out issues that matter, from issues that don’t. I am sure you can work out which category this one fits into.

 9.       How many universities do I apply to?

A glib answer would be ‘as many as you can’, but I think that is a waste of time.

Most universities have specific cut-offs and based on your current scores you will probably be able to work out which courses you have a chance of being accepted into. If you are averaging 75+ for instance, I would not apply to UoM or Monash, as it is very unlikely you will be offered a place. Conversely, if you have a 95+ average, you can be selective about which universities you study at and only apply to top-tier universities or universities that house supervisors you really want to work with.

Realistically, I would look at applying to at least  5-6 universities in your home state if you have a good average (i.e. 80+) and more if your average is between 70-80.

10.   How do I find out application deadlines?

Websites and course administrators are your friends. Find out what these deadlines are as soon as possible, because there is nothing worse than scrambling to get an application together at the last minute whilst sitting third year exams!

11.   Do universities have application fees for Honours?

For domestic students, no.

12.   What documentation do I need to provide?

Check with each university individually, it differs. As a guide, you will be asked to complete a form, provide proof of identity documentation, a certified academic transcript and the names of 2 referees.

 13.   Referees…?

Yes, now is a good time to start attending tutorials! I asked two of my lecturers who I had developed good rapport with to be my referees. Approach your lecturers and tutors prior to listing them as a referee.

14. But, my friends said you have to get at least 90% to get into Honours!

As House says, “everybody lies”. One of the most difficult lessons I learned during my undergraduate degree was to take with a large pinch of salt, most hearsay. There is a large amount of hyperbole, paranoia and hysteria around Honours and postgraduate applications and subsequently, quite a fund of rumors and exaggeration. Unfortunately, this is fueled by students sharing misinformation with other students and feeding the panic. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go straight to the source (i.e. lecturers, administrators and coordinators), ignore the hyperbole, learn stress-management techniques and develop a sense of skepticism about statements from non-credible sources.

15. Can I defer an Honours offer?

Usually not, as Honours offers are dependent on the level achieved by your cohort not a standard cut-off i.e. they are norm referenced not criterion referenced.

16. Can I apply for Honours more than once?


17. Can I study Honours part-time?

I am. Most universities will allow this, but it is best to check with the course administrators and coordinators.

If you have any other questions, email me or drop me a tweet @PsychWhisperer Good luck!

an unusually non-traumatic semester

This semester is treating me a lot more kindly than, well, the previous 10 semesters! It is a tad disconcerting, to have time to sleep in, read for pleasure, see my friends, linger over a coffee, etc etc. Usually, by this time of semester (week 5), I am a neck-deep in assignments. weekly readings and exam revision, trying to balance everything, failing miserably and adopting the “just take a nap” mantra as a way of coping.

I am not sure whether it is because I have finally worked out more effective organization and coping strategies, or whether this semester is less work-intensive.

In reality, it is probably a mix of the two. Most of my full-time compatriots are thesis-ing and data collecting with abandon and correspondingly have less time to devote to coursework. I imagine having a less coursework intensive semester in the interests of maintaining sanity amongst the cohort was a deliberate pedagogical decision. I am not complaining, given last semester’s crazy stats workload and bizarre blend of philosophy and statistics modules. I occasionally wondered whether I could still legitimately say I was studying psychology.

I am still staying busy however and enjoying the freedom I have to seek mind expansion in personally chosen directions. At the moment, the projects I have on the burner include: Editing a systematic literature review for publication; editing the same systematic literature review to adhere to my universities word count limit; co-authoring another paper for publication; contributing to the editing of a third paper for publication; writing 3 x assignments; taping counseling sessions for an assignment; refining my empirical project research questions; playing with ‘Fantamorph’, the software I will be using for my research project; beginning the long and arduous process of recruiting child participants and schools for my project; planning and facilitating student-led counseling practice sessions at university; contributing to my school’s Teaching and Learning Committee as a student rep; volunteering at a crisis line; investigating PhD possibilities and familiarizing myself with several bodies of literature and maintaining this blog and my twitter feed.

As well as working 3 days a week!

I feel lucky that I am temperamentally suited to having fingers in many pies and thriving under a reasonable amount of pressure (Yerkes-Dodson)! I am crossing my fingers and hoping I can continue seeing this semester through without a meltdown.

Dead Symphony

My lovely housemate, E, and I wandered down to the Arts Centre this evening to watch (?) listen (?) to a musical performancey, ensembley, installationy piece called ‘Dead Symphony’ composed by Saskia Moore. This is a mini-symphony composed from people’s reports of the music they heard during Near Death Experiences (NDE). It was beautiful – eloquent, haunting, rising and falling in crescendos. It is only on for a few more days, so I strongly recommend heading along if you are in Melbourne. Link here

Hearing about the process of creation of the symphony afterwards was perhaps even more interesting than the symphony! Saskia’s background is in fine arts, as a sculptural artists. She eventually moved across to working with sound and composed a piece on the coalescing of music with memory. There is quite a voluble body of work within the field of psychology on state dependent memory and the use of music to cement memories and trigger later recall. I remember utilising this in my first year of psychology by playing the same CDs whilst doing my weekly readings and studying for the exam. Unfortunately, I neglected to account for the fact that I would not be allowed to listen to music during my exam!

During a Q&A session after the performance, Saskia gave us some background about the project and said she commenced interviewing participants in Britian. However, she did not have much luck as apparently British people don’t talk about death! This doesn’t entirely surprise, I think it can be safely extended to say that PEOPLE don’t usually like talking about death. Whilst I can’t safely say it is the last taboo, it is certainly looked upon with a mixture of terror, fear, suspicion and superstition. When you think of it, most of our little rituals, anxieties, fears and compulsions centre around avoiding danger and thereby avoiding death. Within the annals of psychology, Terror Management Theory (TMT) explains this well and suggests that culture was created to stem the terror that arises from the conflict between the desire to live and the knowledge that death is inevitable. It is interesting to view culture through this lens, when in this instance it was used to bring home to all of us, the reality of death.

Whilst talking to E about it after the performance, I realised that death has little fear for me, nor is it something I think of as taboo. The latter, I attribute to my familiarity with talking about mental health, death and suicide at a crisis helpline. The former, to a very wise saying by a very wise man, “To the well organised mind, death is but the next great journey.” (Dumbledore).

Say NO to divorce, or, how to choose a good Honours supervisor

As the thesis whisperer, Dr. Mewburn said during her pre-PhD seminar today, a supervisor-supervisee relationship is like a marriage. Choose wisely, or the consequences will be expensive, traumatic and protracted for all concerned. I am glad I didn’t hear that 8 months ago, or I would have panicked!

Honours supervision is an entirely different kettle of fish due to the time-limited nature of the degree. However, it is still very important to pick a good supervisor. After all, they will be your primary portal into the world of academia and will be providing you with references for post-graduate applications! How to choose a good supervisor, what to look for and what topic to work within were some of the questions that consumed me during the few months leading up to commencing Honours. When I say consumed, I do mean consumed, it was no small anguish.

Whilst I did not yet anticipate entering a career in research or academia, I wanted to spend my Honours years (part-time student) learning as much as possible and throwing myself into the work I was doing. I saw it as preparation for a post-graduate degree and as training in academic rigour.

As with most other large decisions in life, I turned to the experts for answers. I have the luxury of working with a large cohort of psychologists employed in varying fields, as well as people who have been heavily involved with psychology education and training. I sought advice from a number of them. In no specific order, the tips they gave me are listed below:

1. Pick a supervisor who knows how to get you ‘over the line’ i.e. someone who understands the intensity and short duration of an Honours year and how to work within those limitations to formulate a good project.

2. Choose the supervisor not the topic. Honours is a pre-cursor to a PhD. Whilst you need to be interested in your topic, you don’t have to love it or see yourself working within that field forever. Far better to focus on picking an appropriate supervisor, who has solid knowledge and good interpersonal click with you. Save the ‘sexy’ stuff for the PhD (my supervisor’s words, not mine)!

3. Pick a small, simple project, not a large one that will be unwieldy in the limited time available.

4. Under no circumstances should you select a topic that requires work with a clinical population (too difficult to recruit in the limited time available). Also, choose a project that is likely to receive ethics approval reasonably easily. The last thing you want is to be emailing back and forth with your HREC until August, because you are working with a high-risk population (as an aside; if you do choose a high-risk population, ensure you apply for ethics approval early!).

5. The most well-known researchers may not be the best Honours supervisors, simply because they may too many HDR students and not enough time for you.

With all of that in mind, I set about finding a supervisor. I had a clear idea of the interpersonal qualities I wanted in a supervisor. This may be something you find useful to reflect on before making a decision. I knew I wanted someone who mirrored my working style, i.e. fast, brutal (yet kind), intense, organised and deeply engaged. I do not take very kindly to being left hanging for weeks waiting for feedback, nor did I want a micro-manager. I was seeking autonomy and flexibility, and someone who would push me to be the best student I could be. I was also looking for an academic mentor, not just a supervisor.

I decided to contact a lecturer who coordinated a first year psychology unit I was enrolled in, way back in 2010. I remembered being very impressed by how organised and available she was as course coordinator and sensed that we might be a good personality fit. I told her all of the above and asked if she was taking on any students. As it turned out, she was happy to work with me in conjunction with a colleague, offered me the choice of a few projects and the luxury of creating my project from scratch. In addition, as a part-time student, we worked out that I could pace myself with my research and engage more deeply with the material over the span of 2 years than the quick wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am 7 months most Honours students have.

I admit to being ambivalent about my choice. I did not expect to be working in the field of developmental psychology or cognition, had no experience with children and did not know a lot about them! However, I followed my gut and chose a supervisor I clicked with who understood my working style and was as eager for me to learn as much as possible as I was, as well as a project that was reasonably interesting. 7 months in, I have fallen in love with my area of study and the scope for exploration and theoretical integration it offers me and am planning a PhD with the same supervisors, if I stay at the same university.

It is important to reflect on what you want from an Honours year before you enter it, so you can select the most appropriate supervisor for you. Here are some of the answers people have given me to this question: to get through it, as a pathway to future study, to gain research experience, to start networking and building industry links.

BUILD your supervisor criteria on your goals for your Honours year. If you want industry linkages, find supervisors who work within the field and may be able to open up networks to you. If you want to get through it as a pathway to future coursework study and nail excellent grades with minimal effort, perhaps an easier ‘Ikea’ (pre-assembled, data collected) project is for you.

After you work that out, decide which interpersonal characteristics you want your supervisor to have. If you are laid-back, you may want someone who will largely leave you to your own devices. Type As might want a similarly oriented supervisor. Use this list to narrow down the faculty members you know. Even if you haven’t met all the faculty members at your university, an initial interview and email contact will usually reveal enough about their working style to help you make a decision. However, I realise this may not be possible if you are commencing Honours at a different university to your undergraduate university.

Next, familiarise yourself with the research possible supervisors are involved with. Then, email them and ask if they are taking students in X or Y research areas. After that, narrow your research topic down by subject area. Hate kids? You probably don’t want to be working in dev psych. Love dogs? Perhaps a project in animal-assisted therapy is for you.

Be flexible, stop to reflect upon and evaluate what YOU want. I have a friend who wanted to work on a neuropsychology topic, so she waited till the list of possible supervisors and projects was released and pounced on an interesting looking project. This is working for her as well as my rather more involved mechanisms have worked for me. These guidelines are just guidelines and as future psychologists and researchers, the emphasis is on clear, critical thinking and evaluating one’s own decisions intelligently.

Good luck with your decision!

- Ahona

Data vis for data whizzes

I am a brand new data visualisation fan-girl.

As I have (grudgingly) learned to embrace and enjoy statistics over the past 4 years, I have also learned more about ways of representing large-scale data. Some of these are very familiar to all of us, pie charts, graphs, histograms etc. Data visualisation extends this a step further and represents data in a schematic form, by coalescing design+data. I have apparently been utilising this principle for a few months now with mind-maps, but just learned that an entire field of study exists devoted to it! Hurrah for amazingly nerdy friends studying applied statistics (thanks, R).

My favourite find so far is a wind map. It is lyrical, mesmerising and beautiful. Another common example of data visualisation most of us Melbournians will have utilised is the BOM radar map (4 seasons in one minute; if I sound bitter it is because I am).

My own use of data vis is far less aesthetically pleasing, yet very intellectually productive – X mind for mind-maps. I created the mind-map below a few months ago to map out my systematic literature review. It hugely helped me to simplify and systematise a large number of inter-relationships between variables and mediating/moderating patterns.


I have seen some stunning hand drawn mind maps, in technicolour. However, my artistic skills are limited, so I have resigned myself to the lateral-lineraity of computer aided mind-maps.

I look forward to new data visualisation finds, as I delve deeper into the field. Finally, statistics I can get excited about! If you know of any good data visualisation resources, I would love to hear from you!

- Ahona

The ‘…version’ dilemma

The ‘…version’ dilemma

i.e. – are you an introvert or an extravert?

This debate fascinates me and annoys me in equal measure. The introversion/extraversion debate is ubiquitous in the annals of popular psychology and has been embraced with fervour by people who seem keen to fit their personalities into pre-defined categories!

Where are these constructs derived from? Do they have any scientific basis? If yes, how do we use our knowledge of our space on the spectrum to create a more holistic life?

Introversion and extraverison were first popularised as personality traits by Carl Jung and quickly adopted by the creators of the MBTI (a quick segue here – the MBTI has very little psychomteric validity i.e. it may not actually measure what it purports to measure and does not product stable results over time, so approach with caution!). These traits were then adopted by Cattell in his theory of the ‘Big 5′ personality traits we all possess in varying measures.

These traits have usually been viewed on a continuum, so you can typically only sit at one point of the spectrum and the higher you are on extraversion, the lower on introversion by default. This philosophy has been embraced with great fervour by the pop psych movement. I cannot speak about this movement at much length as I usually ignore it as a blood-pressure control mechanism. However, I think we do ourselves a disservice by adopting this dichotomous view of human nature. In reality, we all embody varying levels of traits across different situations. This is called type II consistency within personality psychology and indicates that people differ on levels of different traits, across different situations. For instance, I might be confident, assertive and outgoing in a class-room based situation, whilst more introverted at a party where I don’t know many people. Research supports this view of personality traits, with people generally displaying low cross-situational consistency (correlation coefficients of .3 – .4 for fellow psychheads)

This view of personality and the …version debate also allows room for movement, with extraverts embracing introverted characteristics on occasion and vice versa. As this article suggests, introverts can be happier if they occasionally play at being a sociable extravert. I imagine extraverts would be more balanced and fruitful if they adopted introverted mannerisms of thought, reflection and quiet pondering on occasion.

Research indicates that there is a biological basis for this split, with introverts having stronger cortical arousal, which leads them to feeling over-aroused in busy situations. Conversely, extraverts can sometimes display lower cortical arousal, leading them to seek more stimuli. However, research is inconclusive on the extent to which these traits are neurally defined and immutable.

I am always curious about the motivations of people who insist on strongly pigeonholing themselves into a particular category. Are you really introverted, or are you hiding behind that label because you suffer from social anxiety? Are you really an extravert, or are you just impulsive and rash? These are questions I have grappled with in my quest to make sense of my inner world.

Research indicates that the happiest outcomes for both introverts and extraverts emerge when they practice traits from the opposite pantheon to balance out their natural bents. This is a philosophy I have embraced with success. As a natural introvert, I have worked at embodying extraverted traits and learning to speak up and interact in group situations, like classrooms and meetings. I have even learned to enjoy this process of interaction and to seek out roles that involve responsibility and leadership. However, I maintain my introverted self in social situations, preferring to socialise with groups <5, choosing quiet conversations over large parties and allowing myself space and time for recuperation, reflection and thought. This has brought balance to my life and allows me to know I can be flexible in how I respond and react. By accepting my temperament and actively seeking to acquire skills I lack(ed), I find that I am better able to balance my professional and personal life as well as seek situations that enhance my happiness.

Where on the …version spectrum do you sit? How do you deal with situations that require you to be the opposite?

- Ahona

PS for those who are interested in this debate and on learning to balance their …versions, Susan Cain has a wonderful TED talk and book on the power of introverts.

So what is studying psychology really like?

This is an interesting question and one I have seen plumbed ad nauseum on various discussion forums, during university Open Days and in social discussions with other students. There is of course, no one answer. It is dependent upon your personality, your individual learning style and your levels of motivation. As an intrinsically motivated person with an internal locus of control, I love it and relish the challenge.

Psychology education in Australia is difficult, challenging, intense, involved, statistics and empirically focused and an utter joy – IF you love learning and thrive on knowledge.

It is not a course of study for the meek or the time focused. I estimate I will have spent 10 years studying by the time I complete my PhD, with the addition of another two if I complete a masters degree down the track. As a mature-age student, I will have hit 30 by the time I am qualified to enter the field. Meanwhile, I work part-time to support myself through study and spend most of the time I am not at work or on campus, studying! Holidays, relationships and hobbies have fallen by the wayside, whilst my friends remain so simply because they are loyal and tenacious!

However, I enrolled in my first degree at Deakin with a solid knowledge of all of this; the competitiveness of the field, the preponderance of statistics in psychology and the time commitment that would be required of me. I often speak to younger students who have commenced studying psychology out of a rather naive desire to ‘help’, with little understanding of what this path entails. These students are frequently met with disappointment down the track.

If you are considering studying psychology, I urge you to spend some time learning about psychology education and practice in Australia. I know a few students who have received a nasty shock at the end of their undergraduate degree when they realise how selective entry into Honours and postgraduate degrees are! A few excellent avenues to investigate are the different education pathways, postgraduate specialisations and areas of endorsement open to you, as well as accredited psychology courses in your state. University websites, the APS and APAC websites are excellent places to commence this search. If you choose to commence studying psychology, use your undergraduate years productively. Network with lecturers, attend APS CPD events, volunteer as a telephone counsellor, intern at university postgraduate labs and spend as much time as you can learning and defining where your passions lie. This is a beautiful time of pure learning and exploration, without the pressures that postgraduate learning bring. Use it.

When I started studying psychology, it was with the aim of becoming a clinical psychologist. I believed I had the interpersonal skills and the interest in people and in helping required to work in this profession. Whilst I am still service-oriented and enjoy counselling, my love for research has overtaken my love for clinical practice. The beauty of a (few)(many) degree(s) in psychology is the flexibility they offer you, with regard to your future profession! Clinical practice, academia, research, government roles, work in policy, HR, human services management – these are but a few of the avenues you can explore.

Do you have any specific questions about studying psychology in Australia? If yes, drop me a line and I will be happy to answer your questions -


Social Media: Pleasure or Peril for psychologists?

After my foray into personal+food blogging in 2006, I desisted from any engagement with social media (barring Facebook) for years. My engagement with psychology and desire to become a practicing psychologist had much to do with. I am very aware of the need for appropriate public presentation within the field of psychology, as well as the importance of reputation. I definitely did not want a future client to stumble across my strongly expressed views regarding KRudd’s deposition of JGillard or the idiocy of anti-vaccinationers!

I dealt with this by carefully watching and amending my public internet profile to create a distinction between my personal life and self and professional self.  I changed my Facebook profile name to a pseudonym, set my privacy settings to their highest possible and ensured that I regularly reviewed them. I also refused to join LinkedIn, Twitter or to blog under my real name. This allowed me to maintain a complete separation between my personal life and professional life.

So what changed?

At the start of the year, I decided to change career trajectory from clinical work to academia+research. Academia and research allow more scope (and indeed encourage) development of one’s personal views, public profiles and learning-oriented argument. There is no need to be a ‘blank slate’ in academia, as there is within clinical work.

Concurrently, I began reading and following some excellent psychology related twitter feeds and blogs. I also delved more deeply into the psychology world, into research, publishing papers, ethics applications and academic committees at my university. I began to feel like I had more to share and contribute. I also realised that whilst my negative attempts to maintain social media separation were bearing fruit, it was also important to make positive attempts at creating a professional online profile – i.e. to engage with social media in appropriate formats, with appropriate content, instead of just withdrawing from it.

So I joined LinkedIn with my real name and the sky didn’t fall in. Twitter and this blog followed shortly thereafter.

I believe it is very important to carefully evaluate one’s online presence and assess the level of comfort one has with public information. This process is highly individual and can never start too soon – so psychology undergraduate students, now is the time you begin thinking about this. Personally, I have low tolerance for my personal life being transacted publicly, so I continue to maintain Facebook and Instagram with pseudonyms and friends-only settings. My twitter feed is public, with LinkedIn being semi-public. This allows me the luxury of maintaining privacy around my social and personal life, whilst still sharing pertinent professional information via social media (it also saves the public at large from being subjected to my minimal diplomacy-dyke, but that is another story!)

It is important to assess the profession you intend to work within before making these decisions, as well as reflecting on your individual need for privacy vs urge to share. Work through this systematically, by deciding what information you will keep private, semi-private and public, as well as the different platforms you choose to use and privacy levels associated with each of these. This will allow you to make well-formulated decisions, based on sound knowledge.

Psychology students intending to work clinically need to be especially cautious regarding their online presence for a few reasons:

1. Personal reputation is paramount in this field, you cannot separate your person from your professional persona. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk – and that includes what you post online.

2. A strong personal online presence may be located by a client and may impact on the course of the client’s therapy. It is your responsibility to reflect on this and take steps to avoid it.

3. Be aware of the possibility of being stalked by a client. The responsibility to prepare for it and avoid it lies with you. If you are concerned about this, the Melbourne branch of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has conducted some excellent workshops on this issue, contact them for more information about future workshops.

4. You have a professional code of ethics (the APS Code of Ethics, 2007) to adhere to in all your communications, including online social media. Be informed and proactive.

Other human service and politically oriented professions will have similar concerns.

On another note, there has been much debate in recent years about the negative psychological effects of social media, especially Facebook (Feinstein, 2013; Jelenchick, 2013). Results have been ambiguous and appear to tentatively link the use of Facebook to depressive symptoms in certain populations. However, other research (Johnston, 2013) indicates that social media use can provide ‘social capital’ that is especially useful for people with low self-esteem and few social relationships.

I am undecided on this matter and would like to see a prospective study as well as a review of the literature before drawing any conclusions. Personally, I have a rich in-real-life world and use Facebook and other forms of social media as adjuncts to it. I certainly find I have a lowered mood if I spend all day in bed on Facebook, or start comparing my life with those of my social media contacts. However, as long as I utilise Facebook judiciously and use it to connect with those who I have real and strong relationships with, I find it productive.

What are your thoughts on this? What decisions have you made regarding social media use?

- Ahona




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