Congratulations, you have been offered a place to study Psychology next term. The summer months stretch out before you and you’re exciting for your new life to begin in September. Usually, this would be a great time to relax, travel, earn some money or do an internship. However, the current pandemic and the restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of the virus make these plans impossible. You may be stuck at home for most of the summer. You may be wondering what else you can do to prepare for your Psychology degree. Well, I’ve got you covered.
#1 Immerse yourself
Over the course of your degree, you’ll become a. bona fire psychologist. That means that you’ll be a member of an active intellectual tradition. It’s not just about learning what bearded men two hundred years ago wrote, psychology is an active field that plays a key role in many current topics. You can immerse yourself in these topics and learn to think like a contemporary psychologist. One of the best and most approachable ways to do this is to listen to podcasts. For example, The Australian and British Broadcasting Corporations both produce programmes called “All in the Mind” (ABC link: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/, BBC link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qxx9). Each programme discusses relevant contemporary topics. Further, each episode features interviews of people with lived experience and scientists working on the topic to give you an insight from both the researcher and stakeholders perspective.
Another way of immersing yourself is by following inspiring psychologists on Twitter. By reading their 140-character Tweets, you’ll see which topics matter to them and see the discussion of current topics unfold in real-time. Many inspiring academics are very active on Twitter. If you came across psychologists that struck a chord with you, try finding them on Twitter. You can also start by looking up your future professors at your university. To get you started, you can also follow some general interest channels. For instance, the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Association for Psychological Science (APS) run Twitter accounts with the latest research highlights (BPS Twitter: https://twitter.com/ResearchDigest?s=20, APS Twitter: https://twitter.com/PsychScience?s=20).
#2 Read some pop science
Many professional academic are a bit snobbish about popular science books. That’s because popular science books often simplify topics rather than presenting the full complexity of the subject matter. However, that is also a major strength for someone just starting. Popular science books can provide you with a broad overview of a topic. They are usually well written and present the topics in a much more engaging way than textbooks. For a general introduction to contemporary psychology, I recommend Robert Sapolsky’s “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”, Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works”, and David Eagleman’s “Incognito: The Secret Life of our Brains”.
There are also books on almost any specific topic in psychology. For instance, if you are interested in brain and mental disorders, Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” is a fantastic read. Or, if you are interested in what drives people’s decisions, you could pick up Daniel Kahneman’s “Think, Fast and Slow”. Just browse through your virtual or, if possible, local bookshop’s science section to get some inspiration.
#3 Brush up on your study skills
In all likelihood, the year will be intense. It differs slightly between countries, but you’ll probably be expected to be a lot more independent in your learning than you were at school. That means that content does not get repeated much. In lectures, you’ll have to take your own notes and extract the most important information from the background. All of this will happen at a faster pace than you are probably used to. So, if you have the time, you could brush up on your study skills. For instance, you could learn how to use the Cornell note-taking method. You can also learn about time management for students. There are countless videos on YouTube on these and more topics. If you want more detailed instruction, there is an entire specialisation on study skills from the University of Sydney on Coursera (Coursera link: https://www.coursera.org/specializations/academic-skills) and numerous courses on Udemy (Udemy link: https://www.udemy.com/courses/search/?q=Study+skills). Of course, you can also pick up a book study skills and work through it. I found the Macmillan Study Skills series helpful when I was a student.
#4 Get a head start on new skills
Apart from general study skills, you may also want to get a head start on content-specific skills. One of the most challenging aspects of psychology for many undergraduate students are the more methodological aspects. You’ll learn a lot about statistics during your psychology degree. Depending on your university, you may also learn some programming to either create experiments or analyse data. If you haven’t done any maths in a while or never learned to program, now might be a good time to lay the groundwork before you have to juggle a full university schedule. For brushing up on your maths skills, Khan Academy is a fantastic and free resource. For instance, the course on Statistics & Probability will give you a massive advantage in your first year (Kahn Academy link: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/statistics-probability). If you want to pick up some programming skills, I recommend learning either some R or some Python. R is a programming language that is widely used in Psychology for statistical analysis and Python is a general-purpose programming language that is used across many scientific fields. Regarding the choice between the two, I recommend starting with Python. It’s more versatile and easier to understand. Plus, once you know the ropes of programming in one language, it’s much easier to learn another.
I learned Python through Codecademy (Codecademy link: https://www.codecademy.com/learn/learn-python). You learn by completing short interactive exercises. If you are getting stuck, help is always available, which takes a lot of the frustration out of learning to programme. You also earn points and level-up, which adds a bit of extra motivation. However, you’ll have to pay for a subscription if you want to complete the full course. Alternatively, you can follow the course “Python for Everybody” for free on Coursera (Coursera link: https://www.coursera.org/specializations/python). Similarly, you can learn the foundations of R via the “R Programming” course on Coursera (Coursera link: https://www.coursera.org/learn/r-programming) or through interactive exercises with DataCamp’s “Introduction to R” course (DataCamp link: https://www.datacamp.com/courses/free-introduction-to-r).
#5 Connect with others
The first year of your degree is usually a great time to connect with your fellow students. Making connections with others, discussing different points of view, supporting each other, and learning from each other are vital ingredients to your university education. Due to the corona crisis, campus life will probably be quite limited for a while. Most university will have to deliver the majority of their teaching online and are only able to provide limited in-person teaching due to the health risks associated with larger gatherings. To not miss out on the connection with your fellow students, you can already join or set up online groups via online platforms or chat apps. This way, you can introduce yourself and talk about your current situation, your hopes, fears, and expectations. You can also start setting up study groups that will help you keep motivated while you’re stuck at home.
These are my top tips for getting ready for your Psychology degree. I hope you found these suggestions helpful. I wish you a fantastic start to your degree!
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