Psychology 101: What's It Like to Study Psychology?
Article written and edited by Tusshara Nalakumar.
Find out what it means to scientifically study why people think, feel and behave the way they do.
What psychology is (and what it’s not!)
At its core, psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. It can take on many forms, with three main broad sub-categories:biopsychology, cognitive psychology and sociocultural psychology.
Here’s a quick table to give you a glimpse into these general areas:
The exciting thing about psychology is that these areas of study are not mutually exclusive interests. Different avenues of investigation constantly overlap and influences from other disciplines mean that researchers keep producing innovative ways to study the way humans think, feel, and act. Take the fields of cognitive neuroscience, social cognition and psychological anthropology as examples of this.
“Through studying psychology, you’ll learn theories about the human mind and behavior and foster your own curiosity in the field.”
Now for some mythbusting. If you choose to study psychology, you won’t be taking a crash course in how to read minds! You also won’t be sitting around,the way movies often depict, asking people “How does that make you feel?”. Here is an idea of what you will ACTUALLY be doing, not as seen on TV:
What do you get out of a psychology degree?
Through studying psychology, you’ll learn theories about the human mind and behavior and foster your own curiosity in the field. This includes building great skills like how to read and understand research papers, how to go about designing studies and how to run statistical tests to analyze data.
Through it all, you learn how to think critically. This is one reason why psychology is such a flexible degree, providing a desirable foundation for going on to study in seemingly different fields like law, as Millie mentor Amira Nassar mentions in her Millie's Guide to Law UK vs. US webinar.
“As you take courses that interest you, gain experience in research, and explore other passions, you’ll understand how to put your psychology degree to use.”
As you take courses that interest you, gain experience in research, and explore other passions through internships or other opportunities, you’ll grow to understand how to put your psychology degree to use.
For example, as a psychology student you can sample different disciplinary fields through introductory electives that focus on areas such as developmental psychology or perception in biopsychology. To build on those interests, you can apply to become an undergraduate research assistant at a professor’s lab. Depending on the progress of any given study, you could be trained in collecting data or analyzing data that has already been collected.
However, the lab is not the only place where you can explore what it is about psychology that appeals to you. It’s valuable to continue pursuing your other passions, whether that be teaching at a non-profit organization, making art, advocating for your community through student council or clubs or something else entirely! No matter how disconnected your other interests may seem at first, you’d be surprised how growing in these areas can enrich and inform your path in psychology.
For example, Chelsea Boccagno, a PhD candidate in clinical science at Harvard University, shared in Millie’s Guide to Psychology webinar how her own specialization in psychology was inspired by her time volunteering at mental health hospitals and non-profit mental health organizations.
Is it right for you?
In deciding whether studying psychology is right for you, Chelsea’s journey offers some insight into what the experience is like. Chelsea talks about how the most eye-opening takeaway from her psychology course was that she could study emotions scientifically. Before that, she had been relying on storytelling forms such as reading fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as writing and acting to try and understand the human condition. The psychological scientific method helped Chelsea renew hope in her journey to understand why people behave the way they do and eventually use that knowledge to support people in a clinical capacity.
Now that you have an overview of what it’s like to study psychology, you can think about whether it appeals to your own interests and aspirations. Consider how different career paths in or related psychology may align with what you see yourself doing in the future and whether the kinds of questions asked in psychology are the ones that you feel passionate about exploring!
If you want expert advice in crafting your academic career path, register now for our free 1x1 consultation!