So You Want To Be A Psychology
Although she always had a strong interest in psychology, it
was not until college that Lisa Son really began to explore
the research side of psychology.
Son, who works as an assistant professor
of psychology at Barnard College, now specializes in learning
and memory, or more specifically–metacognition–a
field that's really starting to grow.
"I was always interested in psychology," Son said. "I
was interested in more abnormal psychology, which is what a
lot of people think of psychology as–they think of the
clinical side–but when I got into college, I started
working in an animal lab. As I was working there, I became
interested in the experimental questions of psychology." Son
describes her field of metacognition as "the study of
how people know what they know," or "thinking about
thinking. This includes things about studying strategies, monitoring
learning, and how children know what strategies to use when
they're studying for a particular test," Son said.
But a psychology major who is still
new to the field cannot study such a narrow, focused field
as metacognition without first learning the basics. "In terms of requirements,
at most schools you start with an introductory psychology course
and this really goes through all different topic areas of psychology," Son
Some of the topics that students will begin to learn about
in an introductory psychology course include neurology, perception,
social psychology, abnormal psychology, learning, memory, personality
and clinical psychology. After a student gets a sampling of
these areas, then he or she can pursue a topic of choice.
Students will generally get the chance to study an area of
psychology not only through lecture courses, but also by conducting
experiments of their own. Son said that lab courses are really
the best way to apply theory.
"That's where you gain the most experience and [you learn]
what it means to be an empirical researcher," Son said. "You
also learn to write up lab reports because later, if you're
really going to be a psychologist, you have to publish." But
not all psychology majors are interested in research or clinical
practice. Marcela Vallarino, a senior and psychology and French
double major at Barnard College, hopes to pursue organizational
psychology upon her graduation in May.
"I took an organization psych class in Barnard and that
teaches you about behavior in companies," Vallarino said. "You
understand decision-making, you understand how to motivate
people and you learn how to work in a group environment." Vallarino
said organizational psychology is appealing to her because
it allows the individual to deal closely with people while
still working in a corporate setting.
"I don't totally identify with money or economics, but
I'm not the total opposite of that either, so I feel this [organizational
psychology] is in-between," Vallarino said. "You're
in a company and you're dealing with people–You get to
see the human side of everyone."
According to Son, a student graduating
with a degree in psychology has a lot of possible career
options. These can include anything from research, counseling,
and social work to marketing, law and finance. "Psychology is such a broad field that just
being able to learn about it, and having a background and becoming
an expert in this area gives you a lot of different options," Son
said. But Vallarino said that majoring in psychology is also
good because it provides knowledge that is useful in the everyday
world. "If you learn psychology, you can understand people," she