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“Don’t give up!” Reflections from our Assistant Educational Psychologist.

Louise Rodgers started with Applied Psychologies in September 2018 as a graduate psychologist. Her passion and work ethic meant she was soon promoted to Assistant EP. Not surprisingly, Louise’s hard work has paid off and she has secured her Doctorate place at the University of Nottingham. Here’s Louise’s reflections on her journey to becoming an EP…

This September I am delighted to be commencing the Applied Educational Psychology Doctorate at the University of Nottingham. However, I’ll also be un-delighted to leave behind my role at Applied Psychologies as an Assistant, which I’ve been in for the past (almost) two years. I feel as if it’s been a very long journey for me to get to the final phase of my training, probably longer than most, but if you are an aspiring Educational Psychologist (EP), maybe what I’ve learned along the way could be useful to you too.

My advice to any aspiring EPs is twofold: immerse yourself in psychology and don’t give up!

Immerse yourself in psychology

As we’re in lockdown, this might be a great time to expand your knowledge. Do you remember all that reading you did in your undergraduate days? Do you still do it? Lots of EPs I have spoken to say that after all the reading involved in a research doctorate they are determined to keep up to date with the latest literature and research…but then other demands of the role (and life) seem to get in the way. Instead, they rely on colleagues, CPD events or social media to find out any new developments in our field. All of these are valuable sources of information, but this is probably a great time in your psychology journey to regularly tap into research publications and find out what’s going on in the world of educational psychology. This may also spark an area of particular interest for you and you’re in a great position to pursue that in your own way, in your own time. You don’t have to write an essay or answer questions on the subject (unless you want to!) but you can just enjoy the pleasure of learning more about it.

One of the things I really enjoy about being a BPS member is reading The Psychologist magazine, as it’s fascinating how much you can pick up about the differing (and similar) cultures and approaches that are revealed across all branches of psychology. If you’re not already a member I would recommend becoming one!

Over the past couple of years in particular, when I have been working as an Assistant EP, I have really tried to broaden my involvement in psychology as a profession. For example, writing blog articles (like this one), reviewing a book for the DECP ‘Debate’ magazine, putting myself forward for a Task and Finish Group for Assistants and participating in ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!’ in the BPS’s Relationships Zone, to engage young people with psychology. In short, just saying ‘yes’ to something new can open up your horizons and experiences.

You also might find you are surprised by pursuing contacts you make with psychologists or people in education in all sorts of ways. I have discovered areas of psychology I had never heard of from conversations with strangers on courses or from remarks on social media. Even if it doesn’t fit neatly into the world of educational psychology, all psychology is interesting and the boundaries between different disciplines aren’t always real. For example, listening to a TED talk a couple of years ago (one colleague makes a point of listening to one of these each day with breakfast!) about sports psychology, I was introduced to the Chimp Paradox work of Prof. Steven Peters, which is highly relevant to work with children and young people. It was something we all talked enthusiastically about at my interview for the Assistant EP post and ultimately fed directly into the work I would go on to do with schools.

Don’t give up

If I was to write my ‘negative CV’ here, it would make a lengthy article of its own, but just through the last four years of doctorate applications I’ve often had to dig deep to keep going, relying entirely at times on my intrinsic motivation or (uncharacteristically) on the supportive words of others. The process is gruelling, although on the plus side, this must ensure that only the most determined candidates keep putting themselves through it!

I’ve worked towards becoming an EP for over ten years, and whilst I have met trainee EPs recently who went from a teaching role to the doctoral training, I didn’t succeed along that path. Even though I tried to use and apply as much psychology as I could in my teaching role (and was fortunate enough to be able to shadow our incredible school EP at the time), teaching is such a consuming and demanding profession that I felt I was unsuccessful at getting a training place because I just wasn’t immersing myself in psychology enough. I remember telling my headteacher at the time, ‘I feel like I’m on the outside of psychology looking in.’ I didn’t want to be an outsider!

I then made the risky (and slightly impulsive) decision to hand in my notice without any role to go to. The Assistant EP post (then a Graduate Psychologist post) at Applied Psychologies had been advertised, but I knew I might not get it and I also knew how rarely such opportunities arise. I worked hard on preparing for the interview, secured one of two Graduate posts and never looked back. Ironically it made my last term as a teacher the most psychology-based of all, as I gave myself permission to focus even more on the emotional wellbeing of the class, and some pupils in particular, with less focus on the academic pressures.

Since then I have applied for the doctoral training each year and had some interviews, but not getting a place on the course last year was a tremendous knock to my confidence, as I felt ready and prepared and I couldn’t have put any more effort into the whole process. Failures are a great opportunity to develop your reflective practice and also to really take on the challenges of having a growth mindset. How do I move on, take the positives from this, identify all the learning points, decide what I need to do next and accept the uncontrollables? The process - from applications opening on the AEP website to offer releases – takes about six months, so it seems to come around again very quickly.

So, if you are passionate about using psychology to help children, young people and those around them, and you are determined to become an Educational Psychologist, don’t give up! Every bump in the road on your journey will seem like a learning point when you look back on it, and a part of your success story.

Those of you who have had the pleasure of working with Louise will know, she is an asset to our team and will be missed as she starts her studies, but we hope to have her as part of the team again in the future!

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