Case study

Research fellow — Holly Walton

From her initial degree in psychology, Holly has followed a path in health-related study at University College London

What steps did you take to get to where you are today?

I graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2014 with a BSc in psychology, and went on to study for a 1+3 Economic and Social Research Council-funded Masters and PhD at University College London. As part of this I undertook my MSc Health Psychology, graduating in 2015.

I then undertook my PhD in Health Psychology between 2015 and 2018. My PhD research focused on evaluating the implementation of social interventions to improve independence in dementia. I was awarded my PhD in December 2018 and will graduate in July 2019.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently a research fellow at University College London, working on the Coordinated Care of Rare Diseases (CONCORD) study. The job was advertised during the final stages of my PhD. I felt that I had gained the relevant experience for this position from my degrees, so decided to apply.

Were your degrees essential for your job?

My degrees are extremely relevant to my job - and my PhD research too. As I've stayed in academia, many of the skills I learned are relevant to my role. Throughout my MSc and PhD I've developed these skills further. I definitely wouldn't be able to work in this role if I didn't have these degrees.

What does a typical day look like?

My days as a research fellow are extremely varied. I undertake many different activities, such as attending meetings, writing protocols for research projects, reviewing previous literature, conducting interviews and focus groups, analysing data and writing up findings. I'm also involved in some teaching activities and sit on a couple of committees.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I really enjoy going out and talking to people, working with my colleagues and the variety of day-to-day tasks that academia has to offer. I'm a big people person, and I've always had a great interest in learning more about people and how they behave. This is one of the things that drove me to apply for psychology.

What are the challenges?

It can sometimes be challenging to juggle lots of different activities and jobs at once, but this is also what makes it fun.

What would you like to do next?

In five years' time I would like to still be working in academia, but will hopefully have started to develop and submit grant applications to pursue my own line of research. I would also like to be doing more teaching.

Any advice for someone who has studied a psychology degree?

Build a group of friends and colleagues who you can share your experience with - this group of people could be on your course or a committee that you've joined. The support you can give each other will help you to keep going and finish your course.

Think about what else you want to get involved in during your course - whether you're volunteering or working part time, the skills you develop from extracurricular activities can be really helpful in securing your dream job. You may also develop a passion for an area that you can develop further in your career - I volunteered at Mind and the Alzheimer's Society during my degree, which gave me a passion for dementia research and directly shaped my PhD.

Things may not always go to plan - whether you haven't got into your university of choice, or have found that the degree that you chose isn't for you. This is absolutely okay, and it's okay to take a slightly different path if this happens. Things may work out even better than the initial path you had planned.

Courses aren't meant to be easy and it's okay to find certain aspects of the degree difficult. If this happens, ask for help - don't struggle alone!

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