Matters to a Degree

You're probably studying psychology because you desire to help people or systems by teaching, consulting, conducting research or providing direct services such as assessment, evaluation or psychotherapy. Other reasons might include a mentor's encouragement, your interest in the mind-body connection or because you wonder what motivates behavior.

Most graduate students would probably say that psychology is their passion for at least one of the above reasons. But, how comfortable are you admitting that you're dedicating several years to this graduate endeavor because you want to have a rewarding career, earn a decent-maybe even lucrative-living or perhaps gain public recognition as a respected scholar, researcher, practitioner or educator? Or are these the "wrong" reasons? Is it socially acceptable within the culture of psychology to pursue your degree for some of these economic and ego-gratifying reasons in addition to the less "selfish" reasons?

The goals of making money, achieving fame and benefiting personally from your work make some people uncomfortable. In fact, most only offer these as secondary reasons, sometimes even unintentional consequences, for simply doing what they love to do, and what they may do well. Why is this so? Philanthropic intentions are praised, while self-interest is shamed. These traditional beliefs and appraisals may trap us, and we may not be able to move forward-and do what we are trained to do-if we do not rethink our positions and practices.

THE MARKETPLACE

It's important to start thinking now about how your economic and personal needs fit into your career pursuits. Otherwise, you may not have the competitive edge necessary to survive and thrive in the current marketplace. Your outrageous loan payments will become due, you may want to buy a house, pay your electric bill or even take a vacation. But you will be unable to meet these obligations or re-enter your life in the real world, outside of graduate school, because you favored the altruistic aspects of your professional development over the practical elements. Quite seriously, if you don't begin thinking about yourself as a businessperson who must market your product, you may be headed for some tough times. This conceptual shift isn't always easy, but it's necessary.

Those pursuing academic positions or jobs in medical settings, private practices or institutional careers, just to name a few, are all finding it increasingly difficult to secure the job of their dreams. This isn't just true for the field of psychology; it applies to many of the advanced-degree professions. The situation isn't hopeless, but it does call for a new approach to planning your career. It's indeed possible to create your ideal job, enjoy your work, help people, contribute meaningfully to the field, develop as a scholar and earn a reasonable income that will allow you to pay all your bills and still have money left over to spend on life!

MONEY AND BUSINESS

I'm sensitive to the fact that talking openly about money and ways to earn it is awkward, and in some instances even a legally restricted topic for many people in our field, and for many valid reasons. For example, antitrust laws prohibit certain types of discussions about fees for service in order to avoid price-fixing among competitors and the restraint of our free-market society.

On the other hand, discussions that focus on ways to earn money, develop products and services that can be sold, and pursue new markets are all legitimate and important. You provide a product or service as a professional (with years of preparatory education) working as a faculty member, private practitioner, program evaluator, researcher, professor or organizational consultant. You are involved in business exchanges, you serve a consumer population and you have competitors. You are, in a word, a businessperson or entrepreneur. Overcoming the idea that business and marketing are for those trained in business administration is critical for success, as is getting past uncomfortable feelings associated with overt intentions to be paid fairly for what you do. Also critical for success is thinking creatively about adopting some entrepreneurial strategies. Characteristics like independence, self-confidence, innovation and action-orientation contribute to creativity. Entrepreneurship involves the creative pursuit of an opportunity. Your attraction to psychology may not be primarily based on the desire to make money, gain recognition, meet your individual needs or become an entrepreneur. Yet, to secure the job of your choice or your making, it's wise to consider how some of these goals can fit into your career preparations so you can begin to develop your creative potential.