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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2013
Searching for a Research Topic? Study Your Transition
From College

Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University (IL)

Do you need an individual or group project for your capstone course, senior thesis, research methods course, or independent study? Why not explore a subject that is directly applicable to your future? Whether you plan to enter the workforce upon graduation or attend graduate school first, sooner or later you will seek employment in an organization (starting again as a freshman!) that will probably reflect a culture, expectations, and practices far different from what you currently experience, especially if your work record is limited.

If you feel confident in your ability to succeed in a profit or nonprofit environment, consider the following remarks contained in the conclusion of Recruiting Trends 2012–2013, published by the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute ( Principal investigator and psychologist Philip Gardner articulates a very disturbing observation about current college graduates:


After four years of rough seas, the college labor market will probably not reach calmer waters for several years. The most troubling aspect of this year’s report is the consistent and damning rhetoric from employers that students’ sense of entitlement, expectations, and level of preparedness is totally out of sync with the reality of the workplace. These Bachelor’s degree students who graduate this year entered college at the onset of the recession and have had plenty of time to be coached about their expectations, encouraged to engage in professional experiences, and prepared to handle their first job experience. Yet, students remain as naïve as always about focusing on their future. (Gardner, 2012, p. 41)

In this column, I identify several variables that influence the quality of your preparedness, variables that could serve as anchors to a highly informative and rewarding project. In fact, the field of psychology rests on a relatively unexplored gold mine of concepts, theories, and research capable of generating a highly practical body of knowledge, guidelines, and insights for students in transition to the labor market. In spite of their importance to graduates who face high loan debt in a tight job market, studies on workplace readiness and transition issues are alarmingly few; perhaps you can help this literature grow.


The transition to work for younger-age students is probably the most significant change they will have encountered to date, but just one of many to come. Certain aspects of a transition can be characterized as an emotional wilderness. What does the literature tell you about the processes involved in a transition? What obstacles do recent graduates encounter, and how long does a transition last? Does a transition differ for persons who enter the workforce immediately after graduation compared to individuals entering graduate or professional school? What have William Bridges and Nancy Schlossberg contributed to our understanding of transitions?

Philip Gardner comments on graduates’ "sense of entitlement.” Psychologists are actively investigating millennial, Generation Y issues, so what do their studies reveal? How do entitlement attitudes manifest themselves during college and later in the workplace or graduate school? How can entitlement attitudes be changed? Do millennials really feel entitled, or are employers just crabby, old people?

Unrealistic Expectations
Employers also criticize students’ unrealistic expectations of the workplace. What are the specific expectations students hold about their first job and how do those expectations compare to those of employers? What can be done to bring the conflicting sets of expectations in sync? To what extent can internships or prior work experiences generate realistic expectations about that first post-graduation job?

Lack of Preparedness/Readiness
Gardner’s comments also include complaints about graduates’ lack of preparedness/readiness. What exactly is workplace preparedness, and how do employers, academics, and students differ in their definitions? What specific activities can students pursue during college to improve readiness, and what is the evidence to support these activities? How does research in vocational psychology and organizational behavior inform workplace readiness? What offices and departments in your institution offer opportunities that promote preparedness?

Academic Skills
During a job interview, employers want to know more about the specific skills you acquired during college than the content of the courses you completed or the papers you wrote. What particular skills do employers seek in an applicant? To what extent are these skills taught in your institution’s general education requirements and in your psychology major? Which skills are best developed outside the classroom? Does psychology prepare students for work better than other liberal arts disciplines do? How important are leadership and interpersonal communication skills to employers and how can these skills be acquired during college? How helpful are part-time jobs for acquiring and succeeding in full-time jobs after graduation?

Psychosocial Development After College
Graduation is certainly not the end of your psychosocial development. How does current theory and research inform us about developmental issues encountered after college? What types of experiences promote or impede developmental progress during a transition? To what extent does unemployment or a boring job influence motivation, career planning, and psychosocial development?

Relationships play a key role throughout a transition. Friendships are usually more challenging to establish after than during college. What issues does a new graduate encounter when forming relationships in the workplace? With a high percentage of graduates returning home to live, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement for graduates and their families? Does living at home cause a graduate to become more or less active during a job search or too selective about accepting job offers? How do helicopter parents help or hinder the process of establishing independence?

Personal Issues
Personal problems (e.g., anxiety, relationships, excessive stress, addictive behavior, and bipolar conditions) that interfere with a student’s daily life can multiply rapidly when that person becomes an employee trying to master a new job and the multiple stresses that accompany it. To what extent can college counseling services prepare students for the stresses of workplace or graduate school? How are mental health issues dealt with in the workplace?

Job Satisfaction With a Psychology Major
You probably chose to major in psychology because it would lead to a satisfying career either with a baccalaureate or graduate degree. To what extent do baccalaureate level psychology graduates feel prepared for and satisfied with their jobs compared to other liberal arts majors? Are psychology graduates with high GPA’s more successful in their jobs than psychology graduates with lower GPA’s? What do Borden and Rajecki say about these and related issues regarding satisfaction with a psychology major?

Career Planning
Career planning should become an essential component of your educational experience, especially during your final two years. What particular theories of career planning help you understand your situation, and to what extent does the research literature support these theories? Are students who begin career planning before or when they declare a major better prepared for work compared to those who wait until their last academic term? Numerous career-related assessment instruments are available in your institution’s career center. How do these instruments differ in their objectives, applicability, and in the research that supports them?

Other Factors
Several other factors may influence success in your first post-college job. To what extent does your motivation to learn in the classroom transfer to a work setting? How can theories of workplace motivation be used to explain student behaviors? What specific components of a job are most important to college students, and why is it important to know that? Are students who pursue graduate school really more interested in psychology than those who seek jobs after graduation in order to use their psychological knowledge?

Throughout your coursework, you have encountered several fascinating concepts, theories, and research studies from diverse areas of psychology and other disciplines. As your college experience moves to its conclusion, be sure to connect and apply that body of knowledge to the exciting and challenging journey ahead of you. Transition happens! Make it happen successfully.

PS: Please tell me how you applied transition concepts to a project so I can share your experience in a subsequent column. E-mail me at

Gardner, P. (2012-2013). Recruiting Trends 2012-2013. East Lansing, MI: The Collegiate Employment Research Institute and the MSU Career Services Network. Retrieved from

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a "real world” foundation for his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices.

Copyright 2013 (Volume 18, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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