What can I do with my Psychology degree?

Lucy Nightingale: July, 2012

Psychology Graduation

In my final year at Manchester University (2009) people began asking me the dreaded question, ‘So after you graduate, what are you going to do with your Psychology degree?’ They asked the question so flippantly, as if they were asking which graduation after-party I was going to, and not the question that ultimately determined what I would do for the rest of my life.

So I began researching my options; I visited the Manchester University Career advisers, who I began treating more like therapists, wishing they had a red leather couch I could lie down on. I was asked whether I had thought about a career in Clinical Psychology, which would involve completing a three year doctorate and, on average, three years work experience prior to being accepted onto the course. This sounded like a daunting prospect, as although I enjoyed completing my degree, dedicating more of my life to academia straight away was not something that excited me.

I was also told about other well-suited occupations for Psychology graduates, such as social work and roles in advertising or management. Additionally, with many secondary schools offering Psychology as an A level, teaching was also an option. For a complete list of psychology related careers check out BPS.

Graduation Blues

After a few gruelling months stressing out and wasting away in Blue 3, John Rylands University Library, I graduated. After the celebrations died down I became afflicted with the disorder that I later heard described as ‘Graduation Blues'. I am not sure if it is in the DSM-V book of disorders, but it should be. Common symptoms include:

1. Hearing Voices: Lying down on your bed in your parents’ house trying to ignore the voice in your head screaming “what are you going to do with your life?”
2. Avoidance: The inability to pick up a newspaper for fear of the regular headline ’Graduate unemployment rises again!’
3. Detachment: Practicing the fake smile in the mirror to give to your granny as a way to hide the angst when she asks you “so what are you going to do now?”
4. Nostalgia: Starting to miss aspects of Uni that before you hated, such as the taste of slightly off milk in your coffee, staying up all night on Redbull to meet essay deadlines and never being judged at waking up at a time when the local kids are finishing up their school day

Psychology Work Experience 

The most valuable advice I received was that for whichever route I decided to follow, I would need to get some work experience beforehand. At that time I was most suited for volunteer roles within charities and support services that could offer me the chance to gain basic first-hand experience in the Mental Health sector.

I was successful in my application to work at a charity offering computerised CBT packages, whilst other fellow grads in my position found opportunities through local hospitals and student services such as Nightline. A couple of my friends opted for community and youth work with Community Action Network and Community Service Volunteers. 

Getting Away

Although I felt my volunteer role was fulfilling and I felt useful, I wanted more. I felt compelled to travel, but I didn’t want to island hop, covered in glow paint and drink out of buckets – though I knew that would be fun, it would mean that I would be in exactly the same position when I returned. For me, avoidance was not the solution.

I decided I wanted to direct my energy purposefully and volunteer, but all I could find was overpriced gap year organisations that would not offer me the chance to gain the relevant experience that I needed and was so hungry for.

So I got back in touch with people that I had met in Sri Lanka when I had volunteered there, in 2004, before I went to university. I made the decision to not just find my own volunteering opportunity, but also to create opportunities for other students and graduates in a similar situation.

It turned out I was not alone in my desire to ‘get away’ and I was joined by fellow graduate friends from my Psychology course who were also wondering "what can I do with my Psychology Degree?". Together we worked with local charities and NGOs, and found local projects that would benefit from collaboration with foreign volunteers.

We asked national social workers to support us and train our volunteers to ensure that we worked with cultural sensitivity in Sri Lanka. We also worked tirelessly, testing out different beach bars along the beautiful coast of Sri Lanka, as clearly this kind of local knowledge was key to a successful placement.

Since setting up this organisation in 2010 we have worked with over 2000 student and graduate volunteers. The majority of them being Psychology graduates like myself, and in the same position I was. It’s the hands-on experience I gained through carving out an exciting, worthwhile placement for myself that’s inspired me to create the same opportunities for other graduates.


Lucy NightingaleLucy