For my second placement, I worked as an Assistant Researcher in a Teaching Hospital. I worked in the Cognitive Psychology Division of the Department of Population Health and Infectious Diseases.
One of the projects I worked on was a study aimed at improving the cognitive development of HIV affected children in low to middle-income countries (LMIC). I spent the first couple of weeks familiarising myself with the literature on this subject. This meant a lot of hours sitting in front of a computer screen, reading pages and pages of information and making notes.
5 things I learned
1. HIV can affect the cognitive development of young children
Whilst being sat in front of a computer all day isn’t exactly my idea of fun, I learned a lot! It was hard to imagine that babies can be born into the world already infected with HIV which could affect their brain development. Being part of this project showed me how working in research gives you the opportunity to affect the lives of hundreds, thousands and potentially millions of people. For instance, a successful outcome of the study could be that it provides the empirical basis for evidence-based treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
2. I prefer a mixture of interacting with people and working behind a computer screen
My first placement in Clinical Psychology involved using evidence-based treatments such as CBT with patients in a real-life setting. This meant more face-to-face communication with service users which I did miss.
3. Computer Science and Psychology are strongly linked to each other
I conducted background research from which I gained insight into how Computerised Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy (CCRT) has previously been used to treat cognitive impairment of HIV affected children in South Africa. This gave me insight into how Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology strongly interrelate and encouraged me to think creatively when it comes to problem-solving for psychological issues.
4. Importance of creative thinking in research
Working closely with my supervisor I researched computer tasks that had been shown to develop various cognitive skills. We then brainstormed innovative ways these could be replicated for young children in LMIC in a simple and cost-effective way. I was given the opportunity to present the project to a big charity, who work with HIV+ mothers and their children in South Africa.
This meant I got to practice my presentation, public speaking and communication skills. And most importantly, I learned the importance of creative thinking in research, as it widens the scope of possible interventions and interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities.
5. Applying theory to practice
Following initial research, I worked with my supervisor to plan a randomized control trial which developed my quantitative and experimental design skills and allowed me to put into practice what I had learned in my research methods and statistics modules at university. Since the study was to take place abroad, I was asked to design a manual that could be used in South Africa. Designing the manual was my favourite part of the project as I was able to use my creative skills with my newly acquired research skills.
The best bits and the worst bits
I learned a huge amount of transferable skills that are super helpful for me now that I am completing my dissertation. The projects I worked on increased my awareness of world problems, namely in LMIC, and have further inspired me to pursue a career in Psychology with a philanthropic focus. However, being bound to a desk all day is not ideal for someone who likes to be active such as myself.
My advice to you
Consider doing a work placement as it gives you the opportunity to experience Psychology in the real world. It might just help you realise what you want to do later in life, but more importantly, what you really don’t want to do! And even more importantly, it can significantly improve your career prospects.