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Advice from the Winner of UIC's
Psi Chi Essay Contest

Top Five Things I Wish I Knew as a Sophomore
By: Nicole Kaye

Here is a list of some of the things I wish I knew about or started doing as a sophomore.  Whether your education ends with a B.A. or if your goal is to rack up several Ph.D.’s, I hope the following information will be useful for you on your quest to achieve all of your goals!

1.) Explore different career paths
Now that you’ve decided on psychology, you still have a lot of choices to make.  I would recommend that you pick a few areas that you are interested in and tailor your goals to fit them.  By goals I mean try to find experience in these areas if possible to see if they really are a good match.   You can read books on different careers, search online, take courses in the areas you are interested in, and try out a few different research labs or clinical experiences.  Having a career path in mind will help you set goals specific to what you want to achieve. 

2.) Join Psi Chi!
The benefits of being involved in Psi Chi are many.  First, becoming a member shows that you are committed to the field of psychology.  Even though joining is great- don’t just stop there! Take advantage of Psi Chi membership by attending Psi Chi hosted events so that you can be better informed and more prepared for earning your Bachelors, going to graduate school or getting a job after college.  You can also get involved by becoming a Psi Chi tutor and help your fellow undergraduates.  Another way to step it up is to become an officer.  You will gain leadership experiences by helping make important decisions about the UIC chapter, coordinate exciting events, organize fundraising and more.

3.) Establish professional relationships
Alright, so this sounds a bit intimidating, but all I mean by this is that you should not overlook the importance of getting to know other people involved in psychology. This applies to your professors, the staff involved in the research lab you work for, your clinical supervisors, your advisors, and fellow students.  There are several reasons for this, the first being that making relationships enhances your college experience and links you with people who understand what you are experiencing as a psychology student and can offer advice and social support.  These contacts can also be great sources for networking- finding good classes to take, research opportunities, scholarships, and job openings.  Professors and research supervisors are especially important, and are probably the hardest relationships to foster. These people can become your mentor, and impart their years of wisdom and experience.  These are also the same people you will want to approach for recommendations if you plan on applying for graduate school.  

Getting to know your professors is one of the best things I can recommend for you to do because it is especially hard while attending a large university like U.I.C.  In a large lecture class of 200 students, you will not automatically stand out by getting an ‘A’.  You will need to talk to your professor outside of class and taking advantage of your professor’s office hours is a great way to do this.  Most professors would love the opportunity to hear what you have to say.  

4.) Gain research experience
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get involved in research as an undergraduate research assistant in one of U.I.C.’s many research labs.  For those of you who are interested in continuing your education in a doctoral program or want to become a researcher, this experience is almost essential.  Alright, so research is important, but how do you get involved? Attend a Psi Chi Matchmaker event! Matchmaker usually takes place the first Friday of the fall and spring semesters.  Representatives from research labs make short presentations about what they are researching and what kind of involvement they need from undergraduates. You can even get academic credit!  After you gain some experience being a R.A., some students then choose to conduct their own research while an undergrad.  There are many opportunities to showcase your research, such as presenting your work in poster format at one of U.I.C.’s undergraduate research conferences.  This will really make your resume shine!

5.) Other helpful experiences
There are also a whole host of various experiences that can supplement your college career.  These are some things that go beyond the typical college student’s experience that can really make you stand out.  One of the biggest challenges recent grads face finding a job is their lack of experience.  Most of us are going to college in order to get a job that requires higher education, but what you can do is gain related experience by holding a part time job or doing volunteer service. A great way to gain clinically oriented experience is to volunteer to work for U.I.C.’s  InTouch Crisis Hotline.  Another characteristic employers are looking for is leadership skills.  You can gain these skills by becoming an officer for Psi Chi or other student organizations on campus or in the community. In addition, the world is becoming increasingly diverse and you can increase your marketability by becoming bilingual, building cultural competency skills or by studying or volunteering abroad.  You can also become a student member of professional organizations like the American Psychological Association and attend research conferences and lectures.

One last thing… don’t let yourself get discouraged by this list- you shouldn’t feel like you have to do all of the above things to be successful-that’s simply not true!  These are some ideas that can really enhance your college experience, your resume, and your future career.  Find your passion, and then choose what will be most helpful to achieve your goals.  Most of all, do what makes you happy- that’s what its all about!

Best of Luck!
Nicole Kaye, Senior

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