The Working Life of a Third Year Psychology Student
I’ve tried to think of a few good tips and pieces of advice for those about to embark upon their final year of their Psychology course, particularly for those studying straight Experimental Psychology. I think that, compared to second year, your final year can be much more relaxed than second year, so long as you stay organised and work consistently throughout the year. There will probably be periods where you have nothing scheduled for weeks, and it’s easy to think you have nothing to do, but don’t think this way! You can always be reading and preparing for something, and if you work in this way you can have a really enjoyable and successful last year at Oxford. Stay calm in the run-up to exams; you will already have a significant proportion of your grade under your belt. Now you need to not only maintain a high standard, but to also try to push yourself that little bit further.
Your first point of contact is usually your college tutor. They are easily accessible by email and are always extremely helpful with any issues or queries you might have. If your query is more specific, for example if you are completing an essay for a particular tutor and need to contact them, you could email them directly. The contact details of tutors are available on the Psychology department’s website.
The tutorial system
Oxbridge is renowned for its use of the tutorial system- and with good reason I think, as they are a potentially invaluable resource. The key thing to remember with tutorials is that you will get out of them what you put in. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to clarify any issues on a particular topic which you’re unclear about, expand upon the knowledge you have and consider issues from others’ points of view.
In final year, tutorials can be especially useful as you delve deeper into your topics, much more so than you would have in the first two years. That’s why it’s essential that you understand your topics thoroughly. The material is much more dense and often more complicated, and your tutors are there to help you and guide you through this change. As an EPist, you’ll probably not have very many tutorials in your last year, which is all the more reason to take advantage of them when you do. Use them as a way of chatting to your tutor to make sure you have a grasp of the principles of a topic, ask their opinions. These kinds of things can really help improve your confidence, which is invaluable in the run-up to and taking of final exams.
Essays will also come to be extremely useful for your revision. It’s important to do as much reading as you can in the time given, because when you come to do your revision you won’t have much time to read much new material.
By third year, you’ll probably be accustomed to reading for and writing essays quickly and efficiently, but in your third year it’s a slightly different ball game. You need to understand the topic you’re studying in much greater depth than you did in Part I. Start by doing some background reading; ask your tutors to recommend some to you, or have a root around in Hilda’s library for some basic texts. Once you’ve got your head around the basics, think about which areas or aspects of the topic you’re going to focus on in the rest of your reading, and choose texts appropriately. Try to construct your essays as clearly as possible, so that when you come to revise you’ll find it easier. Maybe you could write sub-headings throughout. When you do get feedback about your essays, try to make any necessary changes as soon as possible while it’s fresh in your mind- you’ll be glad you did this come revision time.
The Oxford terms are short and sharp, and so it’s important that you use the vacations as a way of catching up on sleep and relaxing a little. You may need to work part-time, although in your final year there probably won’t be too much free time to do this. It’s easy to fall into the habit of not working every day, but from the outset try to do a little bit of reading each day, even if it’s just an hour or so. Try to catch up on things you haven’t read from last term. It’s also a good idea to re-read everything you’ve done, to keep it all fresh in your mind and to prepare for any Collections that you may have. Don’t stress yourself out though, the most important thing is to be relaxed but also prepared for your next term.
The Working Week
You’ll find your timetables will probably change dramatically in your third year. If you’re an EPist, you’ll probably have several options, a research project and possibly a dissertation to do. There are fewer tutorials and lectures, and much more independent work is required of you. The key tip I could give here is to be very organised. If you fall behind with one topic’s work, this may have a knock-on effect on the rest of your work. Try your best to keep on top of things.
Another important tip is to start your research projects and dissertations as early as possible. Ideally, start to plan ahead in the summer holidays before third year so you can get straight into it come Michelmas term. If you can try to get all the testing done either immediately in Trinity of the second year or over the summer vacation. If possible, get some of the reading for both out of the way in the holidays, too. Once you actually start writing them up it’s not so bad, so just try to start as soon as you can, once you feel you’ve done enough reading.
A great way to stay organised is to create a plan, and ensure you stick to it. Work out exactly what you need to have done and by when and then calculate how much work you need to do each day. This way, you won’t get to Hilary term and have no idea how you’re going to get both your Project and Dissertation in by the end of term!
By now you’ll probably have come under the pressure from those around you that you need to have a job sorted for when you leave. Whilst it’s great to have an idea of your desired career path, it’s equally fine not to. Don’t think you have to spend your final year worrying about this and applying for anything and everything. Your priority should always be your work, don’t let this suffer. If you have some free time, do a bit of reading around the areas you’re interested in, or go to the Careers Service.
If you think you might be interested in a career in Psychology, there are lots of places to go to for advice. The careers service has a lot of useful information, as has the British Psychological Society (you may want to consider becoming a student member). Ann and Jenny are always helpful when it comes to careers advice too.