So You Decided to Study Psychology? Things I Wish I Knew in the First Month of My Degree.
So you decided to study Psychology?
At the time of writing this, I have just completed my last Psychology exam of the first year of my degree. It feels amazing, I love Psychology, both as a subject I study and as a way of observing the world around me. If studying Psychology has changed one thing about my life it is definitely my perspective. I view everything in a different way now, both consciously and subconsciously which makes my perspective on things a lot more interesting!
However, there are a few things that I wish I had known about my subject when I first arrived at university, so I am going to endeavour to make the first month of your degree a little easier with a few hints and tips on how to survive a psychology degree!
The APA Manual, aka your new best friend.
When you arrive at university (or before in some cases) you will most likely be given a list of all the textbooks you are expected to buy for your course. I, like most people, bought them all. Here's a little money saving tip: you don't need to. Luckily for you, your university will have a handy building called the library which will contain every textbook known to man. Okay it won't but you get the idea, it will have a lot of textbooks, including all the ones you were meant to buy. If it doesn't then there will be books there that will be just as good.
However, this isn't to say you shouldn't buy any books. In fact, you only really need to buy one: the APA manual. My advice to you is to buy a decent copy of this book and keep it safe. It is the guidebook that will take you all the way through your degree and if you decide to pursue a career in research, it will continue to guide you. The APA manual is full of information about everything you could ever need to know about report writing. If you don't know how to reference, check the manual. Don't know if your title should be underlined? Check the manual. Is that caption supposed to bold or italicised? Check the manual. In fact, every question related to report writing I have ever asked my lecturer had been countered with "have you checked the manual?"
It's okay to change your mind!
Another piece of information I wish I had been given when I first arrived at university is that it is okay to change your mind. I came to university with my mind set on Clinical Psychology. I had a whole plan for my future career set out in this specific area of my subject. What I didn't anticipate was that I'd find a new area of Psychology that I prefer.
After attending the Clinical module in my first semester I realised that I actually didn't want to specialise in this area after all and that scared me. What was I supposed to do now?! I was studying a subject I actually didn't like and was spending so much money on the degree, I didn't know what to do. What I wish I had been told was that it is absolutely okay to change your mind.
In my second semester, I started studying the brain. I fell in love with my subject again and became entranced by the neuro aspect of Psychology. It was then I realised that this was what I wanted to study, so I changed my degree to Neuropsychology the next day.
What I am trying to tell you here is that you shouldn't feel trapped by what you are studying. Psychology is a huge subject. Most people come from studying A-level psychology which is tiny in comparison and doesn't give you a huge amount of options. You aren't expected to know exactly what you want to be doing as soon as you get here so keep your options open. That's why they teach you such a wide range of modules, to open your eyes to the vast amount of things you could do with your degree.
So, don't worry if you change your mind. That is absolutely okay.
Just remember, Don't Worry!
If you have a problem there is always someone you can talk to, don't try and solve all your problems by yourself. If you think everything through and take your time, it will be a breeze!
The first year's guide to successful citations
Ah yes, the dreaded citations. Don't worry, when I got to uni I had absolutely no idea how to cite anything. It was completely foreign to me. Now I am not going to take you through it step by step because your own department will probably have their own way in which they want you to learn (also there is a great set of instructions in that handy manual!) however, I will give you some tips that will make it a lot easier.
- Write everything down. When you read an article you think you might like to reference in your work take down all of the information you can find. E.g title, author, year, journal (name and number), publisher etc. I can't tell you the number of times I have read a really useful article and then don't remember a thing about it. Write it down, it will save you a lot of time and hassle!
- Highlight the citations in your work. It makes checking your essay a whole lot easier when you can see instantly where all of your citations are. This will let you look at them a final time before submission and check that you have formatted them all correctly.
- Don't rely on technology. No matter which platform you use to write up your essays, there is usually a handy little button that keeps track of your citations for you, and when the time comes, makes a quick and easy reference list. It is so easy to just press this button a minute before submitting and not double checking your work but don't. This isn't to say you shouldn't use this button (I use it constantly) but please make sure you check that the references are formatted correctly before you submit! Trust me you don't want to lose marks because you took a two-minute shortcut.
You will find that the words "APA formatting" are used a lot when you start writing formal psychology assignments and although they seem complicated, believe me, they really aren't! All these words mean are that your work should look a certain way. Once again you will find all the details of this in the APA manual, but the main points are: use size 12 text, use a serif font such as 'Times New Roman', Indent the first line of each paragraph, and use double line spacing.
There are of course other details that you should make sure you look up and edit into your document, especially when including items such as tables and diagrams. These points not only make your essay easier for your tutor to mark, but it also means that when you proofread your work it will be in a different format and you are more likely to notice mistakes.
Finally, formatting is the easiest way to gain marks and it quickly becomes a habit. I can't remember the last time I wrote a piece of work that wasn't APA formatted.
So, to conclude: buy an APA Manual, remember it's okay to change your mind, don't stress, and remember to format! Good luck!
© 2018 Tilly Scott