Case study

Education studies graduate — Joanna Wilkinson

Joanna hopes to become an educational psychologist and reflects on how a psychology Masters has helped to get her on the right track

What degree did you study?

I studied for a BA in education studies with a special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pathway at the University of Derby and graduated in 2020.

I then did an online MSc in psychology.

How did you get onto your education studies degree?

Initially I was unsure if I would be able to go to university as I had very little academic background. However, staff at the University of Derby advised me that as a mature student there were options I could take on my way to achieving my ultimate career goals. After a telephone discussion, I was given the opportunity to apply for the education studies degree. The optional SEND pathway helped me make the final decision, as I had a strong interest in SEND due to my personal circumstances.

During my education studies degree I was able to broaden my knowledge of educational history, sociology, special educational needs and disabilities and psychology, among other things. The staff supported me well and I really started to believe in my academic abilities, this gave me the confidence to consider pursuing a career in educational psychology.

Where did your degree lead you?

After completing the education studies degree, I decided that I would try and pursue my educational psychology dream. To do this, I needed to complete a psychology conversion course. The University of Derby offer this in the form of an online MSc in psychology. The course is considered part time, this means that despite having a family with complex medical needs, I was able to study at a pace that suited me. The course can be taken over a two or three year period and allowed me to develop an understanding of the scientific measures appropriate to psychology.

It was a marked shift from the education studies degree, as education often requires an element of inference, due to differing learning styles and academic goals. Whereas psychology is mostly focussed on using technology and science to better understand how and why differences occur. For example, using MRI technology to demonstrate changes in the brain during an activity. 

What challenges did you encounter during your Masters course?

As this course was an online only degree, I had to be very specific when planning my work and ensure I was in a quiet space. The course also required an element of working with peers in some of the modules. This was sometimes tricky as some of my peers were in different time-zones and we had to plan online virtual meetings around work and time differences. That said, we were given support from our lecturers in establishing contact and once we had allocated ourselves roles within the team, the flow of work seemed simple and manageable.

Did you need work experience for your Masters degree?

Yes, postgraduate qualifications usually request that you have some experience in an appropriate field. I had gained experience by completing a work placement in my undergraduate degree and then working as a teaching assistant in a school before enrolling onto my MSc in psychology.

Also, if you plan to go forward and complete a Doctorate the experience needs to be more subject specific and, in my case for educational psychology, it should amount to the equivalent of 12 months, full-time work. This may vary for different Doctorates so it's always worth looking into this before signing up to any postgraduate course.

What are your plans after your Masters course?

My goal was to become an educational psychologist however, due to my son having complex medical needs, I have had to put this dream on hold for now. I now plan to gain more work experience to give me as many opportunities to build on my knowledge. Then, when I can commit to full-time study/work again I will re-evaluate my position and investigate the educational psychology degrees again.

In the meantime, having only just completed my MSc and obtaining a merit grade, I will look for other opportunities. Many schools find psychology a favourable qualification for roles such as teaching assistants. There are also opportunities to work as an assistant psychologist, and with a little more on the job training, jobs in wellbeing services will be achievable.

What advice can you give to others?

  • Listen to your lecturers when they suggest reading materials, whether optional or not, read them.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Many of the staff are more than happy to oblige by offering guidance and there are support avenues within the university which can be utilised.
  • Enjoy it but ensure that you have a clear study plan in place before you begin. Do not forget to pencil time into that plan for enjoyment though.

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