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Unexpected career paths in psychological science

Many students emerge from high school interested in a career in psychology, only to realise that the path to become a registered psychologist takes around six years of study, including a year of honours and a two-year masters degree. Making the commitment to study for such a long time is a big ask.

Deakin University Senior lecturer in psychology Sandra Hooper says there are plenty of career paths available to students that complete a shorter three-year undergraduate degree in psychological science or four-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours). Non-registered psychology specialists are in demand in many industries, and can always go on to register later.

Working with people in organisations

The human resources field encompasses a wide range of opportunities for psychology graduates. Many organisations support their own internal HR function where others will outsource to external firms.

Hooper explains: ‘These environments provide differing work contexts, but in either you may find yourself working in sub-specialties such as recruitment and talent acquisition, learning and development, employee engagement, wellbeing, health and safety or policy development. Or you might take on a generalist role encompassing all this and more.’

As an internal generalist you could find yourself advising and supporting managers and employees on any recruitment, HR or people related queries and coaching and guiding them through challenging situations.

Specialising in recruitment involves matching the right people to the right jobs, whether that’s internally for your own company or for clients of your agency. You’ll be managing relationships with clients and providing advice about the best way to attract and source candidates as well as determining suitability of those who apply.

‘Assessing candidates for organisational cultural fit, and what motivates and engages them, will draw on your various studies in psychology,’ Hooper explains. ‘Several past students who have undertaken placement in this sub-specialty have gone on to fulltime employment as recruitment consultants or talent acquisition advisors in consultancy firms.’

Since retaining talent is so important for organisations, human resources professionals are sought after to develop policy and programs to ensure that organisations are meeting the needs of their employees. This can encompass designing and implementing learning and development opportunities, developing polices relating to working conditions such as flexible working arrangements, or introducing mindfulness programs to enhance employee mental health and wellbeing. ‘Wellbeing is a big growth area in human resources,’ Hooper points out.

Market research and analysis

Although psychological science students don’t often see an immediate link, there are many opportunities in the field of marketing – and market research in particular. Market researchers help interpret and anticipate the needs and reactions of consumers, customers and clients in all walks of life, including the community and not-for-profit sectors, which are often keenly valued by psychology graduates.

‘A lot of organisations use analytics and insights to inform their decision making and maximise business opportunities or to help them develop their strategic plans,’ Hooper points out. ‘Psychology students develop research and statistical skills during their degree so they’re well-placed to use science to understand consumer and client behaviour and motivation, and to therefore help shape organisational decision making in a wide variety of areas.’

For example, prior to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, many community organisations that provided support in this space wanted to determine how best to meet the needs of their clients under the new scheme. Some consulted with and surveyed their clients, then analysed their needs before making decisions about how to set up their new service structure.

'Psychology students develop research and statistical skills during their degree so they’re well-placed to use science to understand consumer and client behaviour and motivation, and to therefore help shape organisational decision making in a wide variety of areas.'

Sandra Hooper,
Senior lecturer in psychology, Deakin University

Understanding criminal minds  

There’s an array of jobs suitable for psychological science graduates in the justice system, such as community corrections officers, prison officers, and victims of crime support workers. Some students may want to specialise in supporting victims of crime, Hooper suggests.

‘For example, as a court support worker who is responsible for providing information about the criminal justice system as well as offering emotional support throughout the process,’ she says. ‘One of Deakin’s past psychological science graduates was appointed as a case manager for the Victims Assistance Program run by St. Luke’s (Anglicare) in the Mallee region.’

Others may prefer to specialise in working with offenders in roles such as prison officers or community corrections officers.

Prison officer

The main responsibility of a prison officer is to assist in maintaining the security and good order of the prison. ‘It is also about the modelling of appropriate behaviours and thinking that assists the individual prisoner’s ability to change their behaviour and contribute in a positive manner to the community upon release,’ Hooper explains.

Community corrections officer

Community corrections officers are responsible for managing and supervising involuntary clients (offenders) and providing them with opportunities to cease offending and reduce re-offending.

Community corrections officers monitor the offender’s compliance during their court order and refer them to rehabilitation and social services. ‘It’s also about being a positive role model and supporting the offender to motivate them toward positive change,’ Hooper says.

There is also the opportunity to become a forensic disability residential worker, specifically helping offenders with disabilities. Those looking for a different employment experience might work in residential housing services.

‘In this role workers live in the house with low risk offenders, ensure they are connected with appropriate services to facilitate their rehabilitation and independent living and make sure they go to court ordered appointments,’ Hooper says.

Supporting people in the community

Working with vulnerable people in the community requires well-developed people skills, which psychology graduates are well equipped with. If you’re a particularly compassionate soul, you might find your calling in one of these areas.

Child protection practitioner

Child protection practitioners receive and assess reports of alleged abuse and neglect of children and young people. They undertake investigations and develop plans to bring about the changes necessary to ensure the safety, stability and development of those children and young people.

‘Several third year students have undertaken placement in child protection with the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, with some going on to gain permanent employment in these or related roles,’ Hooper explains. ‘They have found that the ability to make such a positive difference to children’s lives is a very challenging and rewarding experience.’

AOD counsellor

AOD stands for ‘alcohol and other drugs’. There are many community-based organisations providing support to individuals who are working towards breaking their pattern of addiction.

‘These organisations can work with individuals, families and communities to reduce drug use, improve mental health and reconnect people to their family and the community and often do so within a harm reduction framework,’ Hooper explains.

‘In supporting clients to establish healthier relationships and lifestyles free of problematic alcohol and drug use, alcohol and drug counsellors screen and assess client needs, provide counselling and case management, advocate on behalf of their clients and make referrals to different treatment services where necessary.’

Being a psychology graduate is well regarded by employers in this sector, however further study of four AOD core competency units is required before you can practice as an AOD counsellor. These can often be undertaken in your first year of employment in the sector and are often paid for by your employer.

Support worker

Many charity, not-for-profit and community care organisations offer various support worker roles, which mainly focus on providing support in times of crisis to children, families, people with disability, older people and those experiencing homelessness, mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction.

‘A large percentage of this support is person-centred care and aims to maximise consumer or client independence and autonomy,’ Hooper explains. ‘Support workers are often involved in advocating on behalf of their clients and ensuring connection to appropriate services so they can live in the community.’

So many choices

There are so many career choices that Hooper teaches an employment preparation unit at Deakin to enable students to determine their strengths and interests and which industry or career might be right for them if they don’t plan to become registered psychologists. This is followed by a 140-hour period of placement in third year, which provides further awareness of the vast array of employment possibilities for psychology graduates. . ‘We do focus on it because we’re aware that students can leave at the end of third or fourth year and not be aware of where to go next,’ she says.

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Sandra Hooper
Sandra Hooper

Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Deakin University
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