Most of us use instant messaging apps on a daily basis without giving much thought about how it influences our behaviour or how it makes us feel. As a psychology undergraduate at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU), Ms Angela Au, 26, decided to examine the use of instant messaging and how personality (extraversion / introversion) and accrual of social capital play a part in affecting life satisfaction for her final year dissertation.
Ms Au decided to explore this topic for her thesis after observing that there was a significant shift in the younger generation's preferred channels of communication in the last few years.
Ms Au went on to present her dissertation at the Student Research Awards held by the Singapore Psychological Society in October 2016.
"This opportunity has provided me with valuable insight into research, and it was a great platform for me to interact with like-minded researchers," she says. "For instance, constructive feedback that I received while presenting my dissertation helped me to see things from a different perspective, thereby improving my ability to think critically to produce better work."
Having industry exposure has helped Ms Au in her current job as a Research Assistant at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, especially in conducting interviews and neuropsychological assessments, literature reviews, data analyses and preparing manuscripts for publication, which are all in a day's work.
After graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a Diploma in Child Psychology and Early Education, Ms Au developed an interest in the former.
"I always found psychology to be rather interesting as it is not the common misconception of 'reading of minds', but rather the understanding of human behaviours and training of oneself to be more analytical and to see things from a holistic approach," she said.
She enrolled in JCU's Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) program because the program is accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC).
"I liked that the honours program is based in Singapore," says Ms Au, "Unlike other Singapore-based overseas universities where the fourth year has to be completed overseas, studying at JCU allowed me to save precious time and money. It also gave me more time for my friends and family in Singapore."
Recalling her time as an undergraduate, Ms Au believes that the programme equipped her with transferable skills that preparedher well for her role as a research assistant at NUS. "Outside of the classroom, I also had the opportunity to explore the field of organisational psychology by interning at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). Under the guidance of Dr. Smita Singh and senior researchers at CCL, I have gained valuable experiences into research on leadership development: women leadership and cross-cultural leadership. The internship provided me with the opportunity to practice what I learnt about research in the real world."
Many of JCU's psychology graduates have gone on to work in a research capacity at various organisations, including the NUS Social Service Research Centre and the Nanyang Technological University Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.
On a world stage
Another graduate of JCU's Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) program is Ms Chua Ru Yuan, 27, who is also working as a Research Assistant at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
Ms Chua, who was classmates with Ms Au at the Singapore campus of JCU, is currently working on a research project that looks into issues that are relevant to dementia among the elderly in Singapore.
"Since my job requires me to conduct assessments and interviews with the elderly, modules at JCU, such as counselling, have equipped me with the interpersonal skills that are useful for interviews," says Ms Chua.
After the completion of her final year at JCU, she was given an opportunity to present her dissertation on acculturative stress among international students at the 13th Biennial Asian Association of Social Psychology Conference 2019 in Taipei. She was among several students and alumni from other Singapore institutions like NUS and NTU who presented their papers.
"It was an exciting event as I got to interact with people around the globe who have greater insights in their area of expertise," Ms Chua says. "As this was the first international conference I had ever attended, I felt nervous and worried; however, I am thankful to receive support and encouragement from my thesis supervisor, Dr Divjyot Kaur, who helped me to present the paper with confidence."
Research assistants play a crucial role in academic institutions like NUS because they conduct interviews and neuropsychological tests, collect data and prepare academic papers for publication. These are done to further understand the nature of disorders and find new methodologies for treatment and/or interventions.
Thanks to the real-world teaching methods she was exposed to at JCU, Ms Chua is able to understand and apply the techniques that work best with each research participant so that interviews and assessments run smoothly and efficiently.
Ms Chua chose to enrol in JCU's Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) program after graduating from Singapore Polytechnic with a Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology. She was attracted to the program because she wanted to understand how the human brain plays a role in behaviour and thinking.
Studying at the Singapore campus of JCU was an obvious choice.
Ms Chua adds, "JCU has high standard of teaching in the field of psychology. As an APAC-accredited program, it doesn't only allow me to explore more career opportunities, but it also provides me a ticket to pursue a higher degree in psychology in both Australia and Singapore in the future."
If graduates like Ms Chua and Ms Au choose to further their studies, they can go on to enrol in the Master of Psychology (Clinical) program at the Singapore campus of JCU. The program, which is also accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council, prepares graduates for enriching and fulfilling careers in psychology and provides a pathway for registration as a psychologist in Singapore and Australia.