If Knowledge Is Power,
Experience Is the Key: Internships
and Service Learning Opportunities
Kaitlyn Louise Nasworthy, Georgia Southern University
All serious psychology students are aware of how important their degree credentials will be to their future. Their alma mater, GPA, chosen courses, and CORE course levels will be examined every time their transcript is submitted for potential jobs and graduate schools. This is why many programs on campuses nationwide push students to succeed in their degrees and earn the highest grades they possibly can earn. Psychology students get an abundance of resources that include tutoring and mentoring, research mentors, how-to guides from online schools, free pdfs of APA writing guildlines and research methods, and loads of extra credit from very kind and understanding professors. As long as students apply themselves, succeeding in getting a psychology degree presents very little difficulty.
But, being a psychology student should be more than just getting a degree. It needs to involve service learning, volunteer work, gaining experience in several areas of psychology, and taking a more hands-on approach to their career building. Although some colleges do offer service learning courses for psychology students and many offer internships, academic excellence is pushed above all else. This, combined with the lack of paid and/or part-time internships, sets up students to defer hands-on work experience in favor of studying, earning extra credit, and focusing more on lecture material than applying it to their future careers. As a result, many psychology students ignore the importance of building tangible real-world skills for their chosen careers, or miss out with experimenting in potential psychology fields they may not have considered otherwise.
Challenges to Obtain These Opportunities
Academic excellence is highly important, and I have always pushed myself to do my very best for both of my degrees. Likewise, I encourage all my peers and colleagues to do the same. However, I do wish I was more involved in service learning opportunities while in school. The few internships and service learning course slots filled up quickly, were highly competitive, and had very strict entrance criteria to meet before being considered. I have heard many other psychology students voice similar opinions on the matter as well. For example, a colleague of mine applied to one of the internship opportunities that my university offers twice, but could not get it because of no prior work experience within the field (clinical psychology). Another colleague of mine applied to this same internship and did not get it because they were 0.2 of a GPA point away from the official GPA requirement, despite having three years of experience. Then, there are students who cannot afford to work in unpaid internships because they are paying for school, and even their own bills!
Strategies to Succeed
So, how do we fix this problem? In my opinion, internships should be gateways to skill-building, and prospective students should not be required to have prior experience to be considered for them. But, internships should not be the only service learning to be presented to students. Professors and faculty could always make sure students are aware of community events that could use their help, centers that need volunteers, and part-time work on and off campus that could help students hone their psychology skills. There should always be a chance for students of all walks of life to apply themselves and learn more about what to expect from their chosen careers.
I also understand that all internships cannot afford to pay students. That being said, internships should offer more than just class credit for students because many students would have to balance class and another job with it. Perhaps they could be treated like graduate assistantships; in lieu of giving the students a paycheck or stipend, offer them a tuition discount for the semester after completing the internship. This would make paying for school easier and allow the students to perform their internship duties relatively stress-free, increasing job performance. This would be especially helpful for on-campus internships and volunteer work because both the students and the university would benefit from it.
As psychology students, we know our field has, can, and will continue to change the world. We learn this in lecture, online work, while writing research papers and reading peer reviewed journals, and creating and carrying out our own research and peer-reviewed writing. Nevertheless, learning should take place outside the classroom as much as it does inside the classroom. So apply to that internship, volunteer at your local psychology clinic, shadow a classroom, type in data for a colleague’s research, and always look out for new opportunities to learn in every psychological field. If knowledge is indeed power, than experience is the key to utilizing that power.