From perception to reality: Making a difference with psychology

At JCU, an education in psychology opens doors to new opportunities beyond the field

Ms Nicolette Sara Fernandez, a personal branding coach at Fleek, and Dr Patrick Lin, a senior lecturer of psychology at JCU. PHOTO: TED CHEN

"What's so good about a psychology degree?" - that is perhaps a common question that prospective psychology students weigh heavily on their mind when deciding on pursuing a programme they are passionate about or programmes that are perceived to be more in-demand.

While jobs that require technical and hard skills, such as engineers, are not going away anytime soon, there is a growing demand for graduates with soft skills, such as those taught in psychology programmes, in the job market too.

And they are increasingly getting the attention of international organisations that are increasingly putting great emphasis in hiring individuals with high emotional intelligence.

A 2018 report by Korn Ferry, an international recruitment firm, shows that 92 per cent of human resources leaders surveyed highlighted "emotional and social skills" as crucial in the globalising economy.

Another report titled Workforce of the Future by PWC, an international consulting firm, states that in the increasingly automated job market, businesses still place great emphasis on soft skills such as creativity, leadership and empathy.

Ms Fernandez credits her education at JCU for helping her to understand various human behaviours and to be more observant about how they express themselves. PHOTO: TED CHEN

Multiple pathways of success

Understanding human behaviours can open up doors to many industries, not just the usual suspects such as a counsellor.

According to Hays Asia Salary Guide 2019, a report that tracks salary and recruiting trends in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia, shows that soft skills such as problem-solving, team-working and verbal communications are the most in-demand - skills that psychology students at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) are well-equipped with upon graduation.

Ms Nicolette Sara Fernandez, 26, a 2017 graduate of JCU's Bachelor of Arts (Majoring in Psychology), works as a personal branding coach at Fleek Image, an image coaching agency under the Paktor Group.

She says: "In my current course of work as a personal branding coach, my knowledge in psychology is very much relevant as I help clients enhance their communication and behavioural skills in both professional and personal settings. I am also able to tailor my approach based on the concerns and learning styles of different clients."

She credits her education at JCU for helping her to understand various human behaviours and to be more observant about how they express themselves. This firm foundation into the human psyche has helped her to become highly adaptable, and more patient when it came to handling challenging tasks and individuals.

"If you don't try, you'll never know. It would be good to gain feedback from people. I never thought that being a coach would be a feasible option for my character, but sometimes people see things in you that you don't. Get some constructive feedback, it could guide you down the right career path," she adds.

This is evidenced by the diverse set of career paths of JCU's psychology graduates. For example, Dr Patrick Lin, a senior lecturer of psychology at JCU, shares that some former students, including Nicolette are now working in banking, career coaching, palliative care and even as the head barista of a reputable café in Singapore.

Dr Lin says: "These jobs may not seem related to psychology, but yet there are lots of human elements related to psychology. Psychology is applicable to all career paths. Students should not fixate on the idea that after graduating with a psychology degree, they can only become a psychologist. So my advice to the students is this: take what you have learned in psychology and apply to your future jobs from the human and psychological perspective."

Industry-ready education

To Ms Fernandez, there is no question about which university is better equipped at providing the best-structured programme in psychology.

She says: "JCU was my first and only choice. I've researched multiple schools and found that JCU was one of the top four per cent of universities for its psychology programme. If I were to further my studies, it would be with the best school with the best programme."

Dr Patrick Lin, a senior lecturer of psychology at JCU, whose research includes the study of interpersonal attraction, says: "At JCU, most of the lecturers are from different cultural backgrounds. We bring in our own life experience when we teach.

"Because we're a research-focused university, lecturers also provide real-life examples such as up to date data, for them to work with so they can foresee what will happen when they graduate."

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