Psychology students praise course that helps develop professionalism and communication skills

Psychology students are learning key skills in professionalism and communication through a course designed for students in the specialized honours program.

The course, Professionalism and Communication in Psychology, helps students develop the skills they need to pursue a graduate school education. By integrating self-directed and experiential learning, the course assists students in developing the capacity for self-reflection, communication and working with others.

The course is deliberately unstructured and empowers students to figure things out together. In this way, the course not only helps students develop skills, but also resembles a graduate-level course.This course helped me become a more resourceful and independent learner through the many activities and feedback I received from assignments,” said student Dana Burlac. “It gave me the confidence to be relentless in my pursuit of higher education and provided me with all the tools I need to prepare for my graduate school applications.”

John Eastwood

Faculty of Health psychology Professor John Eastwood notes that his role is more like that of a coach than a lecturer. “For each objective, we study the relevant scholarly literature and develop the relevant professional skill,” he said. “Students are encouraged to self-reflect on what they need to know about each topic and then are supported as they find the relevant knowledge.”

Students practise skills through applied assignments. For example, students are asked to develop a supervisory contract which helps them to better understand the supervisor-supervisee relationship. The Career Centre staff are also invited to help the students develop their interviewing skills. It was very helpful to gain experience practising different steps of the graduate school application process through the hands-on assignments,” said student Carla Rumeo. Eastwood gives feedback on the assignments and asks the students to reflect on the overall process. “In this way, every didactic and skill-based assignment is supported by self-reflection and is, within the parameters of the assignment, self-directed,” said Eastwood.

“It was very helpful to gain experience practising different steps of the graduate school application process through the hands-on assignments.” – Carla Rumeo (student)

Students then apply the course concepts and skills by volunteering in a research lab on campus or in other related settings. Some psychology students are already engaged in volunteer work in research labs, and those who do not have a lab position are provided some assistance in finding one. Eastwood and other colleagues involved in the development of the course are also exploring opportunities for students to volunteer as writing coaches or mentors for more junior psychology students in courses like Writing in Psychology.

Promoting self-awareness and meaning-making

Critical reflection is integrated throughout the course to help students make meaning of these experiences and to better understand their own learning styles. “The most rewarding part has been observing students mature into self-reflective and self-directed learners,” Eastwood said. “It has also been gratifying to see the high level of intrinsic motivation to learn the material.”

The approach clearly resonates with the students. “What matters is consciously recognizing the meaning the experience brought to you, and consciously recognizing how you brought meaning to the experience as well,” said student Kimya Shahi. “Never underestimate the power of meaningful reflection for your process of learning.”

Preparing students for the post-graduation experience

“I believe this deep engagement comes from the material being highly relevant to where the students are in their academic trajectories and from the chance to learn by doing,” said Eastwood. In some cases, the course helps students to clarify or redefine that trajectory. “[The course] helped open my mind to new and more fulfilling paths I could take as someone who is more interested in practising and working as a psychologist in the community than focusing on research,” noted student Shalyn Isaacs. Whatever their post-graduation may be, many students are commending the course for helping them feel more prepared. I felt that this experience helped me to not only land the job positions that I’ve since held, but to make me a more confident individual in all areas of my life,” said Isaacs.

Asked about their advice to students considering enrolling in an experiential education course like this one, Burlac said, “I would tell them that it is an opportunity for not only academic growth, but personal growth, and that it would enrich their university and life experience in ways they did not think was possible.”

Submitted by Anda Petro, experiential education coordinator, Faculty of Health