What kinds of careers does majoring in psychology prepare you for?
Psychology is relevant to a wider variety of interesting careers than just about any discipline one can think of. It can help you in any career in which you have anything to do with people. Any career in which you want to understand or predict people and their behavior. Any career in which you might want to lead, persuade, teach, change, heal, sell to, buy from, work with, attract, learn from, or inspire others. Our majors have gone into successful careers in, for example, business, law, medicine, public health, education, criminal justice, marketing, advertising, wellness, negotiation, human resources, sports, journalism, and on and on. If you go to this link, you can get a sampling of some of the specific careers that our former psychology majors have had since graduating from Williams, along with their brief descriptions of how their psychology education at Williams has helped them.
How can I get involved in research?
The Psychology Department puts great value on students getting hands-on experience with research. First of all, it’s built into our curriculum. In Psych 101 students get extra credit when they volunteer as participants in the research studies conducted by fellow students and faculty. In Psych 201 (Experimentation & Statistics) students learn how to conduct research and analyze data, and they get practice by designing their own surveys and experiments. Most of our 300- level seminars have a lab in which students individually or in small groups design and conduct their own studies. Beyond that, students can get involved in research as paid research assistants (typically for 5 or sometimes 10 hours a week), for course credit through Independent Study Projects, for Winter Study credit by signing up for Psych 22 (or applying to do a “99” project), as a Summer Science student, or by doing a senior honors thesis. You can get more information about these opportunities here.
But once you look at what these different opportunities are, how can you get started trying to work with a professor through one of these avenues? For many students, this happens naturally as they begin to get to know a professor in a course, especially if they begin to do some research with them through the course. For other students, they should look at the research interests of each of the faculty on our department website and find which of these professors they should contact based on these interests.
A few things to note: First, in any given year, particular professors may not be able to take on any new students, for a variety of reasons, such as prior commitments. We can’t guarantee that every student who is interested in working in someone’s lab can do that, as there are limitations of resources, space, and time. Second, you don’t need to have a specific research idea before approaching a professor. You may be interested simply in some general area or types of questions, for example, but have no clue how to pursue that. Don’t let that stop you from asking a professor if they might have some ideas that you can discuss. Third, if you need any help figuring out this process, don’t hesitate to ask the department’s administrative assistant, Christine Russell; she’d be happy to offer help, such as contacting all the faculty to see who might be available.
Information about Summer Science research at Williams is available here. The deadline for faculty applying to pay for students for this program typically comes in February, so if you’re interested, approach faculty well before that deadline.
Do I need to take Psych 101 before taking 200-level classes?
If you placed out of Psych 101 (such as by scoring a 4 or 5 on the AP Psychology test), you can skip 101. For all other students, if you’re interested in taking a 200-level course that has Psych 101 as a prerequisite, contact the instructor and ask permission to take the course, and explain why you’re interested in that. Most, although not all, professors often grant this permission.
If you major in Psychology but don’t take Psych 101, you need to take an additional 200-level course in its place to fulfill the requirements for the major. One advantage of taking Psych 101 is that you would get exposure to five different professors, each of whom is an expert and is most passionate about the sub-discipline that they introduce in the course. You may realize that you especially like (or not) particular areas of the field that you didn’t know much about, as well as particular professors, and this can guide you in choosing subsequent courses in psychology.
When can/should I take Psych 201 (Experimentation & Statistics)?
We strongly encourage students interested in majoring in Psychology to take this course in their sophomore year. We think it is ideal that students take at least one other 200-level course before they take 201. Exceptions are possible, but this is what we encourage.
Is it OK to take a Statistics course (such as Stat 201) and also take Psyc 201?
Yes, this is not at all uncommon, although it certainly is not necessary. Although there can be some overlap between a Stats course in Math/Stat as with the Stats course in Psychology, they are approached in very different ways. Psych 201 focuses on how to design studies and analyze data to test psychological hypotheses.
Can Study Away courses count toward the major?
Each year we have a professor who is our Study Away advisor to help students with this type of question. This year that professor is Kate Stroud. More information regarding study away is available here.
How are advisors assigned?
During the Spring Preregistration Period of Sophomore year (when majors are declared), students sign up with a Psychology professor whose advising time slot works with their schedule. At this time, students can select the professor who they would like to be their future advisor, or they can indicate areas of Psychology that they are interested in and an advisor will be selected based on that information. If no professor or area is selected, then an advisor will be randomly selected from the Psychology faculty for the student. However, students should be aware that in the event that their advisor is on leave, another professor would be selected as their advisor. Students may also switch advisors if they would like at any point; we’re very flexible about that.
How do I get advice about graduate school?
Every year, and often every semester, the Psychology department offers an evening information session about grad school for psychology students, so be sure to look for announcements about that. In addition to attending that, the best thing to do is contact professors in the area(s) of psychology in which you are most interested for graduate school. Each area in psychology is very specialized, and what might be a terrific program for one area (e.g., clinical psychology) might in fact be inferior for another area (e.g., social psychology), and vice versa. For that reason, don’t pay too much attention to any rankings of overall best graduate programs in psychology. Unlike for undergraduate programs, the overall reputation of a psychology grad program often is not very relevant; what matters most are two things: (1) how good that school is in the area of psychology you want to specialize in, and (2) how good a fit that program is with your own specific research interests. So talk to the professors of the areas of psychology in which you want to specialize, and they can give you information about both of those dimensions. That is absolutely the best way to begin your process of considering graduate programs in psychology. You can also look at sites such as this one from the American Psychological Association, but it’s no substitute for talking with faculty.
As for the question of how to best position yourself to get into the top graduate schools, perhaps the best thing you can do is to get experience doing good research in psychology. There are many ways to get research experience, including in the projects you do for 300-level psych courses and even Psych 201. Take those projects seriously and do the best job you can with them, so that you can eventually discuss and write about them well, and your professors can refer to them in letters of recommendation for you. Going beyond empirical projects and doing independent research is, of course, a plus. Other things to note: The GRE’s (which are similar to the SAT’s, but are used for grad schools) are something you should study for, especially the Generals (verbal, quantitative, and analytical); the subject tests don’t matter as much, although you should try to do reasonably well on them, of course. Finally, do your best to get to know some professors who can write you strong, specific letters of recommendation.
Do you need to take time off after Williams before graduating?
Not necessarily. It can help if you get some extra relevant experience post-Williams, such as doing research in the area of psychology you will be applying for, but if you know you want to go to grad school and you have a good record and good research experience, it’s absolutely not necessary to take time off, and that’s especially true if your time off is doing something not very relevant (hey, I always wanted to backpack along the Amazon!). The one exception to all this is in clinical psych, where it tends to be more important than in the other areas to get post-Williams clinical-related experience before applying to graduate school.
Finally, if you are concerned about how to pay for grad school, the very good news is that for most good grad programs in psychology, you don’t pay to go there — they pay you, through grants or jobs such as Research Assistantships or Teaching Assistantships. (Some of this might change with some of the tax plans that are being proposed in the government at the moment, but hopefully it won’t.)
How can I learn about fellowships, internships, and job opportunities?
Information about fellowships, internships, and job opportunities is available in the office of the department’s administrative assistant, Christine Russell. Emails are also sent out to Psychology majors and students who have requested to be on the department mailing list.
How can I get more involved in Psychology department activities?
You should learn about the Student Liaison Committee and the Class of 196o’s Scholars Program! Information about both is available here.
I might like to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a course. How can I pursue this?
You should contact the instructor of the course well in advance and indicate your interest. If you’re not sure who the instructor will be in a given semester, or if you’re interested in being a TA for a course with multiple instructor or sections, like 101 or 201, email Christine Russell.