Advice for Psych Majors
From Altoona's Psych-Department Newsletters

Stuff all Psych Majors Should Know

Careers: Why Experiments Matter!
About Professoring: What is their job?
About Professoring: SRTE's
About Professoring: The Sabbatical

Stuff for aimed mostly at Penn State Psych Majors
Choosing the Right Classes
Course Scheduling: Taking the Right Course at the Right Time



So… here is where we should have something for everyone, but we’re new at this, so we only have tips for lower-classmen.

What should Freshmen and Sophomores be doing with their schedule? After you get thru intro psych, and you decide on a Psych major, here are some ideas for your schedule:

First, take statistics—STAT 200 or Psych 200— or a math prerequisite. Before stats, you need to pass Math 21, to do that you might need other classes.

Second, take speech or writing. The skills you learn in CAS 100, ENGL 15, and ENGL 202A will help in your later classes.

Third, take a psychology class. Until you take Research Methods, 301W, concentrate on 200-level courses.

Fourth, take a Gen Ed course. Look at non-psych GS, or maybe GN or GH courses.

Fifth, take a BA or BS course. If you are thinking BA, work on a foreign language. If you are thinking BS, take a science or business class.

Well, that’s it, five classes, 15-17 credits!

If you can’t do that every semester, don’t worry! You still have a lot of flexibility in your schedule. Change whatever doesn’t fit into another Gen Ed, or maybe just a fun elective!

 


About Professoring: What is their job?

Teaching is only one component of any professor's job. The others are research and service. Every psych prof is an active researcher, using experimental methods to explore psychological phenomenon, and publishing their results in articles and books. In other departments research might be mathematical proofs, works of art or performances, published fiction, or theory development, so long as it represented an original contribution in the field. Every  prof also performs service — to the University, profession, and community. This can range from advising clubs or determining campus policy, to organizing workshops at national conferences or being an officer in a professional society, to helping with the local Rotary Club or Downtown cleanup efforts.

At Altoona, they say teaching is more important than research (but not a lot more), with service a clear third. This means that teaching makes up less than half of your professor’s job description! As much time as is spent on three courses a semester, they need that much again for their other job requirements.

 


Careers: Why Experiments Matter

Many psychology students get a weird shock around the middle of their degree progress: They realize that they are being asked to do a lot of math, and to understand a lot of experimental data. Most notably, the psych major requires statistics (Stat 200 or Psych 200) and research methods (Psych 301W). Some students put off these classes, because they are scared by them. The truth is that while these classes are difficult, you should try to take them as soon as you can.

Experimentation is the heart of psychological science. Which patients respond best to therapy and which to drugs? How do you improve morale at a company? Which types of people are most likely to be incorrectly blamed for a crime? How do you identify and reduce covert racism? Which kids are likely to recover if put in which therapeutic situations? Which types of incentives motivate employees?  How accurate is eye witness testimony? All of these questions, and all questions about psychological phenomenon, are best answered by looking at the scientific evidence.

This is why, as you get further along in your psychology training, your instructors focus more and more on going directly to the source of new knowledge—published research reports. Your 400-level classes will expect you to be able to read and understand published experiments. If you go onto graduate school in any field of psychology, your graduate program will expect you to be able to read and understand published experiments. This is also part of the reason we encourage students to take stats and research methods as early as possible, and to keep their books. If you start taking 400-level classes without them, you are likely to feel behind.

Beyond just your time at Altoona, the ability to deal with data will still matter. Many types of professional psychologists require certification by state agencies. To keep up these certifications, you must take continuing education courses. These courses focus on recent studies, and you need to be able to incorporate the results of these studies into practice.

Remember, sometimes we make the requirements because we have some clue what you will need to do the jobs you want.

 


About Professoring: SRTEs

SRTEs—Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness– you know, those bubble sheets you fill out at the end of every class? Probably you’ve just assumed they give us feedback on how well we are doing in the classroom. They do, sort of, but that’s really not their main function.

It turns out that these in class evaluations are one of the dirty little secrets of University. Sure, SRTEs can help teachers figure out how to improve, but their major function today is administrative. They are one of the major determinants of who to hire, fire, keep on, or promote. When you fill out those forms, you aren’t saying something to the professor, you are saying something to their boss.

Penn State specific facts: 1) The two questions the admins really care about are: “Rate the overall quality of the instructor” and “Rate the overall quality of the course.” 2) We don’t get our scores until more than halfway through the next semester… and you think you need to wait a long time for your grades! 3) Coming soon to Altoona: Electronic SRTEs. 4) Written teaching feedback, to your professor, a program chair, or a division head can make a big difference. If you feel strongly that one of your professors is great or terrible, tell someone. Feedback to higher-ups is always kept anonymous.

 


About Professoring: What is their job?

Teaching is only one component of any professor's job. The others are research and service. Every psych prof is an active researcher, using experimental methods to explore psychological phenomenon, and publishing their results in articles and books. In other departments research might be mathematical proofs, works of art or performances, published fiction, or theory development, so long as it represented an original contribution in the field. Every  prof also performs service — to the University, profession, and community. This can range from advising clubs or determining campus policy, to organizing workshops at national conferences or being an officer in a professional society, to helping with the local Rotary Club or Downtown cleanup efforts.

At Altoona, they say teaching is more important than research (but not a lot more), with service a clear third. This means that teaching makes up less than half of your professor’s job description! As much time as is spent on three courses a semester, they need that much again for their other job requirements.

 


Course Scheduling: Taking the Right Class at the Right Time

Most people’s scheduling questions can be answered with a little bit of general advice. You can make your life easier by taking courses in order. Sequencing is important, because your instructors might expect you to begin class having learned certain things in your previous classes. Sometimes the natural ordering is not obvious, so here are some tips to keep in mind while you are scheduling.

Tip #1: Take a math class. — All psych majors are required to take a statistics class (Psych 200 or Stats 200). Math classes are much harder if you have taken time off of math. Prioritize any math prerequisites you need, and take statistics as soon as you can. Try to fulfill this requirement by the first semester of your junior year,  at the latest! (Ditto with the foreign languages requirement for BA students!)

Tip #2: Pay attention to official prerequisites. — Official prereq’s are listed in the Schedule of Courses, but the Registrar doesn’t stop you from signing up without them. If you sign up for a course without the prereq’s, and the instructor is nice enough to let you stay in, expect to put in a lot of work. 

Tip #3: Pay attention to unofficial prerequisites embodied by course numberings and namings. — If there is a 400-level class called Advanced Social Psychology, and a 200-level class called Introduction to Social Psychology, don’t be surprised if you feel behind when you jump straight into the 400-level class. Similarly, Research Methods (301W) is our only 300-level class. You want to take that after you have had some 200-level classes, but before you have taken too many 400-level classes.

Tip #4: Take Psychology Courses! — Sure, this seem obvious, but many people try to take all of their electives early, and they put off taking classes in their major. This is a bad plan. You should take one or two psych classes most semesters. Taking psych classes early helps you get an idea what part of psychology you are interested in (or lets you figure out early on that you are interested in something else). Spreading out electives also allows you to save some easy classes for senior year. Believe me, you don’t want to be stuck taking 5 upper-level psych classes at a time in order to graduate.

Tip #5: Read the newsletter! — Not just this one, there are scheduling tips in every issue! Back issues are under the TV in Smith and online.

Tip #6: Get to know your advisor. Talk to your advisor if you have more questions! 

 


About Professoring: The Sabbatical

It says in the bible that thou shalt keep the Sabbath, resting on the seventh day.  It also says that farmers should leave their fields fallow, every seventh year, that the land may rest—and that seventh year is called the “sabbatical year.” Professors also get time off every seventh year, and this is called a Sabbatical. Professors at Penn State can take a semester off at full pay, or a full year off at partial pay.

They do not get this time off automatically, and it is not really “off.” Professors submit proposals explaining major projects they will complete over the course of their sabbatical, and the proposals are evaluated competitively.

A fallow field is not unchanged after a sabbatical year. The growth of wild plants rejuvenates the soil, returning key nutrients and making the field better able to handle the crops of the future. In the same way, your professors are expected to engage in projects that will allow them to return to the classroom rejuvenated—ready for the students of the future. Often the projects involve completing research projects, writing books, presenting at major national or international conferences, and attending workshops to enhance skills.

Most professors at Altoona take a semester-long sabbatical, and most stay in the area. You will probably still see them around campus, and they will still respond to email. They are still very busy, but are not teaching any classes. True, the sabbatical is one of the biggest perks of being a professor, but the university expects a good return on the investment.

  


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