As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

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As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

Post by robininthewind » Fri Jul 19, 2019 2:19 pm


I've currently finished my second year of undergrad psych at the University of Bath. My second year was really stressful because I was (and still am) set on a clinical psychology path, and with the knowledge that it is very competitive, pushed myself excessively hard academically and was oftentimes anxious. In an effort to not drive myself insane in my final year (after a one year placement), I'm currently trying to educate myself on a) a more accurate picture of career paths in clinical psychology and entry requirements and b) alternate careers so that if things go sideways I may not think it's the end of the world. This post is mainly concerning topic (a). I know a lot of prominent posters on this forum, who in my mind have already 'made it' in their career path advise undergrads to focus on their current degree and not be so rigid in their career planning. I understand this and so am trying to avoid having a plan that is to the year and to certain job titles, so instead I would really appreciate some thoughts on whether the following expectations are realistic or not.

Note: For the sake of theorising, lets imagine that I graduate with a mid 2:1 (my current avg. is 66.7), with a year on placement including clinical and research elements, helpline volunteering and some form of research assistance in my final year (I would also appreciate opinions on whether this is sensible to seek during final year, as I've heard the focus should be on doing your best academically, and would voluntary research roles be too overwhelming?)

1) Should I expect to have a paid job shortly after graduating - perhaps after a few months or up to a year - that provides experience relevant to a DClinPsy application. On the other hand, should I expect to have to spend some time doing only voluntary/honorary work before being successful with paid jobs.

2) Should I expect to not be required to immediately do a Masters after graduating. I suppose this ties in closely with the first expectation, because the choice to do a Masters (at least for me) is largely determined by the availability of relevant paid work. Ideally I would do a part-time Masters in conjunction with paid work, but if I'm not getting paid, a full-time Masters to boost my chances of future employment becomes a better idea.

3) Should I expect to be going in and out of paid employment after graduation (a lot of contracts are fixed term and short-term) or can I expect to either hold down a job for sometime (2 years perhaps?) or jump from job to job (i.e., no downtime in having a salary).

4) If I am restricting my job search to only London and places within 90 minutes commuting distance, should I expect my opportunities to be markedly restricted. The reason I ask this is I may choose to only look in and around London because my parents live here, so it makes sense financially and my girlfriend is an international student who wants to stay in the UK after graduating. One of the options we discussed was to go for an Unmarried Persons visa, which requires us to be living together for 2 years. If we decided to take this route, logically our place would be in London.

I understand that there's a lot of uncertainty in job and DClinPsy applications and even in having expectations, I should take things with a grain of salt. However, it is important to me to have some sort of idea what the future holds, even if it is a vague one.

On another note, I notice that in some DClinPsy and postgrad paid jobs, they require the person to be able to drive. Now this makes sense, and I suppose I need to kick my fears of learning how to drive and get it over with, but I was wondering if this is a universal requirement or just in the occasional. I know I would kick myself if there was something I wanted to apply to but couldn't because I don't know how to drive, so I think I need to learn anyway, but I really have been putting it off for a long time.

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Re: As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

Post by Iggy1 » Fri Jul 19, 2019 3:36 pm

Before I offer my perspective I'll reiterate the main message I have got from this forum: there is no one path to Clinical.

What you can get from the threads here is a good idea of what other people have done in the run up, but again comparing yourself to others may not be helpful if you're hanging your own self confidence on it (not saying you are, but just a caution).

Re volunteering in third year- I know people who did it and got great grades, I know others who volunteered and had evening work (paid) alongside their degree (not necessarily psychology related) and I know people who focused solely on their degree as doing anything else may have made studying difficult- given the anxiety you report in second year it appears to me that you had to work hard to get your current 2:1 average so I would think hard about taking on any extra responsibilities.
1. in respect to work- I think this depends on your expectations, where I'm from paid support worker type jobs are relatively easy to come by (and very relevant!) but we know the pay isn't great, a paid AP role may be harder to obtain but not impossible with a good reflective application.
2. Masters- this thread often cites else where that a masters is useful if you need to improve the evidence of your academic ability, but not necessary to gain a place on the course.
3. depends what you apply for and who with (i.e. NHS or private organisations); NHS AP roles are often fixed at 12 months but that doesn't mean they can't be extended (the service I'm in very much values AP input and will continue to keep us unless the funding is pulled!)
4. the alternative handbook states whether trainees think it is necessary to drive for the course they are on so might be worth looking up any courses that you might apply for in future. I cant tell you whether or not to learn but I can sympathize as learning to drive was a very stressful experience for me!

As you mention lots of advice constitutes focusing on your current degree- don't dismiss this advice, it's nice to think about the future but stop and smell the flowers too, my undergrad years were awesome but over before I knew it! Good Luck :)

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Re: As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

Post by Mathan » Fri Jul 19, 2019 8:51 pm

I’m not a CP (although I have my eye on it as an option) but I am training in a sister profession: speech and language therapy and I’ve started thinking towards the final goal of employment now that I’m moving forward into my final year.

When I applied for that degree I was advised to tailor my application as if I were applying for an entry level band 5 job and to look at the person specification and expected competencies in order to match my experience to that. Given where I was – a graduate with a few years of work behind me – I was able to evidence that I had the foundations of those competencies in place and I got 3 offers out of the 5 places I applied to. I definitely wasn’t perfect (given I sent my application in within twenty minutes of the UCAS deadline) but having that idea in my mind really helped me focus my thinking. If I’d got rejected I would have had a measure of where the gaps in my preparation were.

The thing about my experience and NHS training programmes is that they never expect the finished article. You never can be. All you can do is look at what they’re looking for as a minimum and see how best you can live up to that. It’s not about accumulating as much experience as you can, it’s about developing those skills and competencies and presenting them as being what heyre asking for.

CP is a research focused, people facing role that requires excellent communication skills and an understanding of the profession and what you’re letting yourself in for (and that’s just what I can reasonably fit into a single sentence). So think how could you start meeting the basic criteria?

Prepare yourself for a research career. CP will be about reviewing and producing research and ensuring that your practice is evidence based and up to date. Prove to them you have an excellent foundation in research skills, maybe with some publications under your belt. Probably the most direct way, albeit not the only way, would be to look into doing a Master of Research (MRes). Some of these can be done part time and you could probably fit in part time work around this that’s clinically relevant. You might even be able to fit part time work around a full time position. You’ll gain many of the basic skills and more that they expect you to pick up in your first year of a doctorate so that will equip you for the role without having to dress it up as anything it’s not.

Most training programmes for CP specify a year or equivalent in a paid clinical role or similar. This is getting harder to get but you could make a good start by getting something basic like work as a care assistant or support worker – maybe in a dementia specialist care home or secure psychiatric facility – and this would not be hard to get. I could get work like this tomorrow if I wanted to and I’m not even looking. You could then leverage this to something in the NHS later on, potentially, or move on to work with a different client group after a year. I used to work a night shift in a residential home for two nights a week and study alongside and it was doable. Three night shifts a week for a year would have been equivalent to a year’s full time work. And it all counts because you’re developing skills and gaining experience, skills and knowledge all the time that you can reflect on.

To evidence your communication skills working in a voluntary role on a hotline is all good experience too. But do call these roles what they are: helpful, but not essential. A voluntary listening role with the Samaritans is never going to replace a paid clinical role so don’t be trying to do everything. Do it because you want to do it, not because you feel you have to.

In terms of considering alternatives, maybe think about simultaneously working toward those as well. Working toward an alternative – especially a more achievable one – won’t mean you’re ruling out CP. It just might mean that you take a longer road to get there. Say you also put in an application to do Mental Health Nursing (graduate entry) ir Speech and Language Therapy. Those roles bring you into contact with a lot of the same client groups you might hope to work with as a CP and would be gaining you new experiences all the time that would support an application to CP. Doing these training programmes at Master’s level would also equip you with some research skills as well. Your psychology degree won’t be going anywhere and you could be working with the client groups you want to work with but in a different capacity without constantly scraping together low paid and vaguely relevant experiences. After a few years in that role you could always revisit CP as an upward or sideways career move.

Just try to have a positive incline in your life. I worry about some people I’ve seen scrape around for years with their eye on a goal like CP or becoming a writer or medicine but without actually moving onwards or upwards. They just tend to be on something of a treadmill in life where everything is on pause until they can reach the dream job or training position. And it’s not healthy. There are so many ways to work with the same client groups, to do similar jobs, even to practise the same skills and deliver the same therapies and interventions as CPs do without actually becoming a CP. It makes very little sense to blinker yourself to every other option but CP. Ultimately it is just another job. Yes it’s maybe a bit better paid than some of the alternatives but anyone can grow make their salary work harder for them if they want to.

It’s so important to enjoy the journey and keep your horizons broad and dotted with possibilities. If you do this, none of your preparation will be wasted. If CP is your only acceptable destination you may end up becoming just as anxious if not more so than you already are and that’s not the aim.

Anyway, I’ve rambled for quite a bit so I’ll stop (soon!).. I’ve had a bumpy year where I’ve had to look at a number of possibilities beyond my intended goal and it has been scary. But whilst I took some time to do that I had my eyes opened to all of the possibilities that existed out there and it’s focused my thinking. What I really want to do with my life is to work in the interests of people who struggle to communicate their needs. I’ve realised are a hundred ways to do that without becoming, in my case, a speech and language therapist. As it happens, I will be doing that (if I can make it through my final year) but the year out has given me that space to develop plans B through Z. That’s taken the pressure off me a lot, to the point where I was able to just enjoy my placement and my learning and relax. And it’s helped so much.

I hope you enjoy your next two years. Regarding your clinical psychology journey, try to apply when you are ready and not focus too much on making yourself ready. When you meet the minimum criteria without stretching or bending the truth, that’s when you’ll be ready to make a first go of it. You may find yourself ready to apply to something else beforehand. Remember to make a life for yourself as well.

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Re: As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

Post by miriam » Sat Jul 20, 2019 1:50 am

I'd say you can expect paid employment fairly continuously and from quite soon after graduating, but not initially in something as prestigious as an AP role (unless you spot one outside the NHS and write a really good tailored application). Not driving is a very big problem outside of major cities, and for many clinical training courses that have large catchment areas, but may not be essential for first rung on the ladder jobs like care work, or within London. But bear in mind London training courses are amongst the most competitive. MSc is not essential, and can definitely wait until you have employment to fund it. I'd say prioritise degree grade over volunteering.

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Re: As an undergrad, what expectations are realistic regarding my post-grad path (plus should I learn to drive)

Post by mungle » Mon Jul 22, 2019 6:03 pm

Good luck with your studies. It is usually fairly straightforward to get some work but it is unlikely to be AP roles straight away or continuously. Once you do get to the 'highly relevant' pre-training roles you might find you have gaps between contracts but can fill these with agency care/support work, especially if you end up doing this after training.

If it's a choice between a better degree grade (and mark as lots of courses distinguish between high and low 2:1s) always prioritise your degree grade for the a career in CP. You can gain experience later (and post-graduation work experience hours rack up much faster and are more valued) but you can't change your degree grade.

Yes - definitely learn to drive if you are able to do so. It will widen the number of posts and then training courses you can apply for. Some courses have a driving licence as essential (unless a disability prevents this) and I remember a few years back someone receiving an offer from such a course and then frantically having to pass their tests before a set date.....they made it, just!

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