Why study Psychology?

I became fascinated by human behaviour and human relations when I participated in the Ruta Quetzal. So, instead of studying Computer Science or Mathematics, the two options I had in mind when I was 16, I decided to explore a discipline that was more human. Many members of my family thought I was making a bad decision because I was going to let my “talent go to waste” studying a discipline that, first of all, was easy, and second, would not help me get a job afterwards. Every time someone tells me Psychology is easy, I tell them what Physics Nobel Prize Winner Murray Gell-Mann said: “Imagine how hard physics would be if electrons could think”. There you go: there is nothing in this world more complex than the human mind. As such, I am proud of having studied Psychology and using what I have learnt to help others.

I started my Psychology undergraduate studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid  in September, 2012. I didn’t know what to expect on my first day of classes, since I had been warned about not liking some of the modules of the first years. However, my biggest fear was not liking the discipline as a whole. I was afraid of realising that, after all, maybe Psychology was not for me. But that didn’t happen. The moment the professor started giving the first lecture of the semester, I realised that was where I was supposed to be. I cannot explain what I felt at that very moment in my own words, so I will use Richard Castle’s wise words instead: “one day you will look back and you will realise that every experience you ever had, every seeming mistake or blind alley, was actually a straight line to who you were meant to be“. At the end of that day, I went home with a huge smile on my face and told my parents I had found my passion.

During my first year in college, most of my modules were an introduction to behavioural science (e.g., Research Methods, Introduction to Psychology I & II, History of Psychology). It was in the second semester, when I took a class on Social Psychology, that I fell in love with the discipline. In short, Social Psychology argues that the main determinant of our behaviour is not our personal traits, but the situation in which we are immersed in. As such, it believes that there are no such things as bad apples, but rather bad barrels. That is, there no bad people, but people who make bad decisions. If you are liking what you are reading, you might like this video by Derren Brown about his experiment “Remote Control”. Do you remember the movie 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda? Well, for our Communication and Persuasion module we did a short role play showcasing the processes that influence group decision-making.

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On my second year, most of my modules were focused on cognitive psychology (e.g., memory, language, decision-making, neuropsychology) and, even though I enjoyed them, I could not wait to reach the third year, in which students can choose electives. We could choose up to 7 electives, and most of my choices were modules related to Social Psychology, like Communication and Persuasion, Conflict and Negotiation, Human Resource Management, Environmental Psychology and Political Psychology. I also chose Criminal Psychology and Eyewitness Testimony. Honestly, I did not really choose the electives based on the area of psychology they were based on, but rather on my degree of interest towards them. For example, I knew I did not want to become a Criminal or Forensic Psychologist; nevertheless, I was extremely interested to know and learn more about it. Same with Eyewitness Testimony, an elective focused on the memory of eye witnesses and victims of crimes.

It was on my third year that I realised I wanted to focus on human behaviour at work. I had been learning a lot about the processes that shape human behaviour and I thought I could be very useful if I could apply that knowledge to understand and predict human behaviour at work, since people spend half of their lives in the workplace. That is why I enrolled in a PG Certificate on Human Resource Management on my last and fourth year of undergraduate studies. The lectures and workshops of this PGCe took place in the afternoon, while the lectures and seminars of my core modules took place in the morning. From September to November of my senior year, I spent a total of 12 hours at school. As demanding and tiring as it was, I really enjoyed learning more about organisations and HRM thanks to the PGCe, especially since one of my core modules was on Organisational Behaviour. Also, the PGCe was taught by alumni of the programme who had become HR business partners, which gave us a deeper insight on business and HR related problems. Moreover, thanks to this PGCe we were all able to get 6-months-long paid internships at many of the companies that sponsored the programme. I ended up doing my internship as an International Graduate Recruiter at Management Solutions, and I could not have asked for a better start of my HR career.

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Class of 2015, PGCe “Organisations and Human Resource Management”

Not content with juggling between the lectures of my core modules and the lectures and workshops of the PGCe, me and some close friends who were also enrolled in the PGCe, decided to form a Graduation Committee and be in charge of organising the graduation ceremony for our Psychology class of 2016. I believe we really did not think through the huge amount of work and stress that the organisation of this event would bring, but looking back I am glad we did it. However, the only support that we received from our university was financial. Considering that a graduation ceremony is the official end to 4 years of undergraduate study, I think we all expected the university to get more involved in the process and provide us, if not with a theatre to hold the ceremony in, to assist us in other ways. But I guess we expected a lot from our beloved institution. The other big challenge was to satisfy the students’ expectations. Almost 300 students graduated that year, and each one wanted something different for their graduation. We knew we could not please everyone, so we made the most rational and pragmatic decisions to make the graduation ceremony fast and formal but emotional and memorable. We had to hire a room at Aranjuez’s Casino and manage a tight budget, but all of our hard work paid off.

After four years of studying Psychology, I realised how little did I know and how much I had yet to learn. However, this I know: there is nothing in this world as complex as the human mind. Behavioural scientists are trying to unravel its mysteries, but how can you make a science out of a phenomena that cannot be replicated because its very essence is its uniqueness? One of the things that surprised me the most when I got to college was that most of my professors answered our questions with a: “it depends“. Nevertheless, I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.

I am proud of the person I have become after these four years. If you had told my 2012 self where I would be in 2016 and what I would have learned, I would not have believed you. But the most important thing was while I learned about human behaviour, I learned about myself. I learned to explain my own behaviour, and that self-awareness and self-discovery made me a more mature, confident and respectful person. I came to know that the more you learn about yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others. That is the lesson I take with me from these fours years.

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