Study Psychology

Advice from three GEMS Alumni who have gone on to study in the United Kingdom

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Fern Harris is a former pupil of Jumeirah College who works as a Senior Therapist at Child Early Intervention Medical Center. She has a Masters of Science in Forensic Psychology from the University of Kent.


What led you to study Psychology at University?

When I was applying for Sixth form at Jumeirah College Psychology was one of the newer A-levels that were being offered and it was something I had always had an interest in. Even though before my A-levels the interest was only as deep as reading Psychological based stories, and watching documentaries based on Psychological concepts and idea.

I knew that my future at University was going to be something I had to be interested in and so Psychology seemed like a new and exciting topic to pursue.

Did you study Psychology at school? If so, how is the subject different at University level?

Psychology at A-level is very interesting and new to most students. The topics were based on pretty much the same area from school to university, however at university a lot more depth of knowledge was expected on each topic. So for example at A-level you might learn about the Biological/Medical model for Schizophrenia, whereas at university you would be expected to know all the research relating to that model, how it compares to other models and be able to argue for and against each model. Additionally at university you are expected to go away and get this information for yourself, you may be given the basics in a 300 person filled lecture theatre, but then your own responsibility is to go and find the research necessary to complete your coursework.


Courses in Psychology differ from university to university so be aware as to whether you are doing a BSc or a BA. The BSc (Bachelor of Science) is more scientific in nature and there are whole modules on Statistics and Methodology (maths!!), whereas from what I understand the BA is an Arts/Humanities based degree with less statistics and slightly different modules.

What do you think are the benefits of studying Psychology?

I have found that due to the wide spectrum of psychological areas, the benefits can be huge. Psychology can be applied to a business setting (i.e working in marketing and advertising), Teaching and education (working in schools, special educational departments, research), Criminal and Law settings (prisons, courts, young offender units etc), Occupational settings (personality assessments for companies looking for employees, improving workplace
environments), and medical settings (hospitals, clinics, counselling, guidance, psychiatry). I'm sure there are many more areas I cant even think of right now but there are LOTS!!!!

What were some of your favourite/the most interesting things you learnt at university?

After I finished my BSc in Psychology I actually stayed on at university to continue my MSc in Forensic Psychology, and I have to say this was my favourite part. By staying on for my Masters I got to focus in on the part of Psychology I had always enjoyed, criminal and forensics. The masters was hard work to say the least but getting a more in depth learning experience on the criminal justice system, visiting prisons and law courts, conducting my own research and designing it all for me was worth it.

The most enjoyable experience at university was having the freedom to choose what to do your coursework on, what to research and getting to choose what interests you the most.

How important is your study of the subject in your current job/career?

I am currently a Senior Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) Therapist for children on the Austism Spectrum and children who have related developmental disorders. So Psychology is most definitely related to my current job, however I had not planned to pursue a career in education and therapy. That’s how diverse doing a Psychology degree can be! Even though I did my MSc in Forensic Psychology, there are things I learnt during the course that I use every day at my current position.


What do you do on a day to day basis in your career and how useful is your study of Psychology in that?

My job consists of delivering ABA therapy to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other related developmental disorders.

Within this role I need to consider a child's developmental milestones, when they should be met at and how delayed the child is in meeting these milestones. Additionally on a day to day basis I deal with behavioural aspects of a child's development that I need to be aware of in order to properly deliver therapy.

With a background in Psychology I have been fortunate enough to understand these particular milestones as they are covered in the developmental Psychology modules at university.

I also have to take data on all the therapy I deliver, including producing graphs of progress. The statistical side of my Psychology degree has enabled me to confidently be able to fulfil this aspect of my job, and my Psychology degree has also enabled my critical thinking and analysis skills to improve.

Any other careers paths you might have considered given your background?

I am still very much interested in pursuing Forensic Psychology and working within a prison setting, I would also consider becoming a researcher and producing articles on Psychology.
What advice would you give to a high school student considering studying Psychology at university?


As I mentioned previously, I would strongly recommend knowing whether the degree you intend to read is a BSc or a BA. This does make a difference in the course content offered and when applying for jobs, I have noticed that some jobs ask for a BSc over a BA. However, always choose what suits you best and what course content most appeals to your interests.

Overall I would say that Psychology is a hugely diverse and interesting degree and stands you in good stead when applying for jobs due to the skills gained from the degree.

Dilini Sumanapala is a former student of Cambridge International School. She is currently a PhD student in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Wales, having studied a Bachelor of the Arts in Psychology at Concordia University.

What led you to study Psychology at University?

In high school, I did well in most of my subjects, so choosing a specialisation for uni posed some difficulty. I had a strong passion for art, but felt that the sciences would suit me better as a vocation. I had an inkling that I ultimately wanted to be involved in studying the brain at some point in my career, and a psychology degree appeared to fit this goal. (Undergraduate programs in neuroscience were not as common at the time.)

Did you study Psychology at school? If so, how is the subject different at University level?

I originally did want to study psychology in my AS Level year, but schedules conflicted with other subjects that I intended to take at the time. I also received information that high school psychology was beneficial - but not essential - for entering the undergraduate psychology program.

What do you think are the benefits of studying Psychology?

Studying psychology has drastically changed how I function in my immediate environment on a daily basis. For instance, research has shown that we are better learners when we tackle small chunks of information at a time, switching to other tasks when we feel our concentration beginning to wane. I no longer try to read chapters of information in one sitting because I know that my retention for the material will ultimately be poor. Similarly, sleep avoidance has been linked to poorer retention before exams, so I avoid sleep deprivation whenever possible - even though I am currently pursuing a challenging PhD in neuroscience. Ultimately, psychology attempts to counteract "intuitive" but possibly inaccurate beliefs we may have about ourselves in an attempt to improve our overall wellbeing.

What were some of your favourite/the most interesting things you learnt at university?

Some of the most interesting classes I took within the program focused on the neurobiology of psychological drives that are essential for our survival, such as hunger, thirst, sleep, and reproduction. In later courses, you learn that the bases of these drives tie in closely with behaviours involving addiction, where your brain pays too much attention to the reward factor of a particular thing. For instance, many "junk" foods have the ability to overstimulate centres in your brain that would normally induce a sense of fullness following a meal.

The ultimate result is overeating - and for certain individuals - serious cases of obesity. Certain drugs, such as cocaine, also have the capacity to act in place of normal chemical messengers in the brain, overstimulating reward centres in a way that cannot be matched by other naturally occuring chemicals in your body. Increasing tolerance to the drug could then spiral into serious addictions with painful withdrawal symptoms that are impossible to break without professional assistance.

What do you do on a day to day basis in your career and how useful is your study of Psychology in that?

At the moment, I study the neural bases of dance performance - an altogether fascinating field of neuroscience that has just been gaining momentum in the past few years. Although many in neuroscience have entered the field via alternative backgrounds (computer science, biology, anthropology, neuroinformatics, etc.), I feel that my background in psychology helps me grapple with fundamental constructs of human learning and performance. My undergraduate project in psychology assessed piano-skill learning, and this experience was considered directly relevant to my current project examining the neural differences in physical and visual learning for dance choreography. Any other careers paths you might have considered given your background?

Since I am expected to graduate with my doctorate in 2016, I hope to take a somewhat alternative route into full-time science journalism. I believe science entertainment can be a primary vehicle for public education if transformed into mesmerising HD content, rivalling the intensity of most cinema offerings. Given its growing base for media production, I have considered potentially returning to the UAE to pitch ideas along these lines to networks that are eager for original content.

What advice would you give to a high school student considering studying Psychology at university?

To any student who would like to take psychology, I would encourage considering the full scope of career opportunities available following graduation.

Clinical psychology itself is a fairly limiting field, and students would do well to consider all manner of other careers in journalism, political science, law, business, advertising, communications, neuroscience, etc. following graduation from the program. Ultimately, a degree in psychology should be seen as a flexible tool that could be used to build any career path of one's choosing.

Nicolene Holder is a Junior Therapist at Child Early Intervention Medical Center in Dubai. She studies Psychology at the University of Stirling. She is a former student of Dubai American Academy.

What lead you to study Psychology at University?

I decided to study Psychology because it gave me the avenue to do what I enjoy most - helping people. I was introduced to Psychology when I took IB in High School and it just made sense for me.

Did you study Psychology at school? If so, how is the subject different at university level?

I studied Psychology when I did The IB Program. At University I found that I was very prepared as much of the first year was essentially a review of what the IB Program had taught me. After that it became very different in terms of content and volume of information and assignments.

However thanks to the structure of the IB programs I felt very able to manage it.

What do you think are the benefits of studying Psychology?

This depends entirely on your career path I think. For me the benefits are that I get to learn more about myself and how to help others. There are aspects of psychology course at University that would be good for people in the business world as you would learn a lot about people and what makes them tick so to speak.

What were some of your favourite/the most interesting things you learnt at university?

I am a big fan of lifelong learning so I loved everything. In terms of Psychology I enjoyed the volume of information I had access to and the opportunity to take what I'd learnt in IB and investigate it more. The most important thing I learnt, in terms of a career in Psychology, was how to write a report and how to critically evaluate journal articles and experiments.

How important is your study of the subject in your current job/career?

I currently work with Autistic children so psychology plays a really big role in what I do, especially when it comes to therapy and interacting with the parents. What do you do on a day to day basis in your career and how useful is your study of Psychology in that? My job title is a Junior Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapist, so on a daily basis I am applying theories of behavior, reinforcement and cognitive processes. My study of psychology has been invaluable in this.

Any other career paths you might have considered given your background?

Ideally I would like to get back into the more clinical side of psychology as that is where my passion lies. I have plans to look into counselling more, especially with expat teens. Outside of that I did consider going into HR or corporate training but the love of psychology kept calling me back.

What advice would you give to a high school student considering studying Psychology at university?

My advice is two fold. Psychology is amazing to study but it is also really hard work. It will open your mind to many things and you will have a deeper understanding of why people do what they do. I would also suggest that you take IB Psychology if that is what your school offers (or the British Equivalent) as it really helps you prepare for first year.

The second part of my advice is for those who want to take Psychology all the way through to a PhD level: Do lots of research into where you are going to study. I am only now discovering how hard it is to get licensed as no one told me before. Every country in the world has different regulations and requirements. In most places you will need to do a certain amount of supervised clinical practice so make sure you pick a place you wouldn't mind living in for a while.