When a friend from a dot-com start-up called Frederica M. Hendricks, PhD, and said, "I need an information architect," the graduate from Loyola Marymount University immediately rose to the challenge.
"I can be that person!" she exclaimed, although she wasn't sure what someone with that title actually did. But as she talked to her friend about the company and its mission, she discovered all they needed was someone with critical thinking skills who could write well and put consumer-friendly information on the Web. "Who better than a psychologist who works with people, understands their needs and behavior, to do the job?"
Industry, communications companies like dot-coms and think tanks are beginning to appreciate psychologists' skills, she explained at the APA Annual Convention session "Redefining ourselvescareer perspectives from a new generation of psychologists." Indeed, students need to imagine the various ways their psychology degrees can be used outside the traditional fields of clinical work and research, agreed the session panelists.
Some psychologists, they said, can combine counseling psychology with business. Others can use research and practice skills in a medical setting.
Felissa K. Lee, EdD, University of MissouriColumbia, said she is living proof that cross-training can happen by integrating counseling psychology and business through a dual program. Lee said she uses her counseling psychology experience to help managers with business degrees understand why some people are more motivated than others.
"By teaching organizational behavior this summer in the management department," said Lee, "I could offer students a perspective on psychology they probably would not have gotten from the faculty in the management department."
Wanda Grant Knight, PhD, from the Boston University Medical Center, said that merging research and practice could lead practitioners into a new and exciting field.
"One way you can combine clinical and research focus is to formulate intriguing questions about the work you do, and ask the population you serve to answer them," she said.
A clinical researcher in New York, for example, founded a clinic for children of HIV-infected mothers in a medical school. She came up with the idea after listening to many mothers talk about life stresses. The researcher's question was: When did these mothers start getting depressed? Before or after their own or their children's HIV diagnoses? She conducted interviews with the children and their mothers to get more useful information. The results? Many women experienced first bouts of depression at the time of the HIV diagnosis.
"As a result of the findings," Knight says, "she advocated a public policy for people to receive services prior to their or their child's HIV testing."
To conclude the session, the panelists urged students to talk to university faculty members about how to best combine their psychology degrees with other degrees. But they also warned students that not all faculty members will support their interest because it doesn't "tow the line."
That shouldn't stop them, however, from examining creative career paths outside academia and practice.
Marcela J. Kogan is a writer in Chevy Chase, Md.