Below is an interview with Anna Mattia who shares with us her experience as a post-graduate in Liverpool. She is studying the Investigative and Forensic MSc.
1) Anna, tell us a little bit about yourself
I enjoy travelling, immersing myself in other cultures and exploring new things. When I’m not studying (and writing my dissertation) I enjoy video games photography, Warhammer (table-top fantasy strategy game) and investigative crime programs (favourites are Luther and Criminal Minds –even though I cringe at the psychology they use). I also like keeping an eye out for good places to get a decent coffee! I enjoy learning for its own sake, so after A-level I ended up taking two years to work. I earned money, gained experience of a working environment, got time off to travel and gradually came to the realisation that I was ready to commit to University. My psychological interests are pretty broad and varied, including: cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, social and cognitive psychology and, of course, forensic psychology.
Wish I could be as nonchalant about paperwork.
2) What are you reading at the moment?
Quite a few things actually! I’m almost finished with 1984 by George Orwell, a book anyone interested in obedience to authority, group conformity or the definition of insanity should read. I’m partway through Why the West Rules for Now: The Patterns of History and what they reveal about the Future by Ian Morris, but I’m finding it heavy going as it’s a book you have to devote a substantial amount of time to. I’m sporadically reading this month’s issue of The Psychologist (by the BPS), and so far I’ve been particularly interested in an article on successful psychopaths, and psychopathy as an adaptive trait. I’d recommend postgraduates and undergraduates to get BPS membership –worth it for the free access to articles and reduced course rates.
3) So, what first inspired you to study Psychology?
That’s a really good question. I’ve always been interested in understanding how things work and asking awkward questions. I was originally interested in Biology and Zoology –understanding how animals think and behave; the nearest A-Level I could take was Psychology, which contained elements of animal psychology. I realised over the course that the human mind was even more complicated than an animal one and that there were far more things to learn and understand about their inner workings. Things followed on from there really.
4) In 1 or 2 sentences, why did you decide to do a postgraduate course in Investigative and Forensic Psychology?
I tend think in terms of ‘how can we stop that being a problem?’, rather than ‘how do we treat this problem now it’s happened?’. Investigative and Forensic Psychology explores proactive approaches to dealing with criminal behaviour, which appealed to me.
5) What would you say have been your top 3 highlights of this year in Liverpool?
That’s hard to narrow down…I really have loved my year in Liverpool. I think they would have to be:
- Listening to the experiences of a professional hostage negotiator. Being able to ask questions and engage in the scenarios based on real events was fascinating. I don’t think I’ll forget it.
- Discovering ‘Almost Famous’ the best burger restaurant in the UK. They have a burger with bacon frazzles and triple-candied bacon!
- Taking part in an applied research project involving a range of emergency services personnel. I had the opportunity to interact professionally with actual practitioners and having direct experience of how they respond to incidents was an amazing experience.
5) What do you think are the main challenges postgraduate students face at the moment?
Funding. It’s easier to get funding for a PhD than for a Master’s degree, It’s worth speaking to lecturers or researchers in the field you’re interested in to see if there’s any available funding they are aware of, prior to applying to the course.
Jobs. Developing employability skills for graduates can be difficult. The job market is growing ever more competitive and making sure your CV has more than just academic qualifications is important before graduating. I’d recommend getting involved with as much as you can manage within the department during postgraduate studies and working on translating it into marketable skills. If you can get work experience so much the better.
7) What do you hope to achieve in the next 10 years?
Hmm…Well, having the opportunity to travel and develop my understanding of different cultures is very high on the list. I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese and Eastern culture, so I hope I’ll have visited Japan! For at least four years however, I’ll be engaged in the UCL SECReT PhD program, which involves a one-year Masters in Security Science at the start. I’m very excited about the modules I’ll be taking, which include: Global Security Challenges, Risk and Contingency Planning, and Crime and Terrorism. For the remaining 3-4 years I will develop and conduct my PhD research. My research interest centres on extremism and violent extremism, specifically understanding why some extremists become violent, while some don’t. I would hope to publish my research, while developing risk assessments tools and interventions for vulnerable individuals. After finishing my PhD I’d like to have gotten experience of lecturing, and being involved in collaborative research opportunities. I’d hope that my professional academic knowledge of security sciences would have led me to have become something of a specialist in the field, but it’s hard to say exactly what I expect to have achieved in ten years, because opportunities you could never have predicted occur all the time.
8) Finally, what would be your top 3 pieces of advice to students considering postgraduate study in Psychology?
1) Even though it might sound blatantly obvious, think carefully about why you want to do the course and how it will develop your future personal, academic or career aspirations. Don’t apply out of fear or panic of not knowing what else you want to do. It’s okay to hold off, go work, travel, gain life experiences before deciding to do a postgraduate course. It’s better to wait until you’re ready if there’s any uncertainty.
2) I’d recommend speaking to postgrad students you know especially if they’re doing the course you’re interested in, attend Open Days, read introductory texts on the subject, research what student sites like ‘The Student Room’ have to say, contact course directors and just ask questions. All these things can help you get a better idea and make a decision. Masters level is different to undergraduate. There’s a lot more content packed into a single year, more challenging (and interesting) assignments and less time to plan run and write a dissertation; it’s important that you’re interested and enthusiastic about the topic!
3) Make sure you can afford to fund a Masters (this includes accommodation, travel, living expenses, and course fees). Consider whether part-time study might be more appropriate, and if you need to get a job. Working during a full-time Masters course is difficult and stressful, so it’s best to determine if you need to work before you decide on full or part-time.
Feel free to check out Anna’s blog!