Investigating Psychology Students’ Professional Development Needs

Investigating Psychology Students’ Professional Development Needs

Samantha Kent

For the past four weeks, I have been working on a research project as part of my Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placement. Alongside Dr Alana James, I am conducting research into the professional development needs of Psychology students. This project initially appealed to me as I have a strong interest in developmental psychology. I have also worked in recruitment, which taught me how important it is for university students to develop skills that will help them in the competitive job market. As a career-driven Psychology undergraduate myself, I am keen to explore Psychology students’ understanding of their professional development needs.

It has been found that Psychology graduates continuously rate their professional development training as much lower compared to graduates from other disciplines (Borden & Rajecki, 2000). Why is this the case? Perhaps it is because there is such a wide range of job opportunities available to Psychology graduates, which makes it difficult for them to describe the specific careers that they are equipped to undertake (Borden & Rajecki, 2000). The open-ended nature of the Psychology degree means that students have various different professional interests (Lantz, 2011), which could make it more difficult for psychology students to become employment focused. Therefore, it is important to carry out research into what students perceive is important for their professional development and how this can be supported. Findings from this study will hope to inform how universities can support the development of Psychology students.

A particularly interesting aspect of this study is that it is a qualitative research project. Most of the project work I have encountered on my degree so far has been quantitative research. Therefore, this project will give me a valuable insight into how to conduct interviews, focus groups and qualitative data analysis.

The project so far has been fast-paced and I have learnt so much, from applying for ethical approval to designing an interview schedule. As with any project, there have been ongoing challenges. For instance, recruiting Psychology students over summer when they are not at the university is difficult. We have overcome this challenge by offering to conduct online and telephone interviews with those students who cannot make it to the university. In fact, I completed my first interview this week with a Psychology student via a Skype call. Running an interview for the first time was an exciting but challenging experience. I am looking forward to building my confidence as I run more interviews, and hopefully a focus group, over the next few weeks.

Going forwards, I will continue to recruit undergraduate Psychology students whilst simultaneously conducting interviews. I will also use what I have learnt from my training on thematic data analysis, starting with transcribing my first interview. After familiarising myself with this qualitative data, I will then begin the coding process before searching for potential themes. I am excited to see what emerges from the data and what we uncover from the analysis. I am hopeful that this will give us a valuable insight into how Psychology students understand and perceive their professional development.

Samantha Kent preparing for Skype interview

Ready for my next interview!


Borden, V. M. H., & Rajecki, D. W. (2000). First-year employment outcomes of psychology baccalaureates: Relatedness, preparedness, and prospects. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 164–168. Doi:

Lantz, C. (2011) Psychology Student Employability Guide: From University to Career. York: Higher Education Academy.