When most high school students think about psychology, they have a vague idea of wanting to help people,” says Carthage psychology professor Ingrid Tiegel. They envision a career as a counselor or therapist.
Then they come to Carthage, where they’re exposed to research and various other specialties within the field.
“A number of students end up deciding that they want a career in one of the research areas,” Prof. Tiegel says. “Psychology is very, very broad in terms of its emphasis.”
Faculty in the Psychological Science Department at Carthage aim to help students discover which area of psychology best suits their talents, interests and skills. Students are exposed to a classic psychology curriculum that covers the major areas of psychology: developmental, cognitive, biological, and social.
“The strength of a classical psychology program is that it trains students in the experimental methods that are used in those sub areas,” says Prof. Daniel Miller. “We place a heavy emphasis on students being involved in the research enterprise.”
Book Smarts and Street Smarts
“We psychologists often talk about the difference between book knowledge and field experience,” Prof. Tiegel says. “Hopefully you’re getting both of them. You build up a knowledge base about human beings in general, but then also you see how that knowledge base is useful in actual, practical settings.”
Carthage psychology students take courses in experimental psychology, clinical psychology, social psychology, cognition, learning, personality, aging, development and more. Here are some examples:
The course Experimental Psychology introduces students to research methods, from designing experiments to interpreting results.
In Senior Seminar, students complete a research project, analyze the data, present their findings and produce a publication-quality report.
The course Field Work in Psychology sends Carthage students into schools and agencies in the community, where they can “try on” an area of psychology for size. Students have worked with autistic and other special needs children, volunteered in schools or nursing homes, interned in human resources departments, and worked as laboratory assistants.
“We had one student who thought she wanted to go into public relations, but she had a very different idea of what public relations was after she had been in field placement,” Prof. Tiegel says. “She discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted, and that’s very valuable.”
Many options, many choices
Carthage’s Psychological Science Department is small, so students benefit from small classes and strong relationships with their professors. But the department is also very diverse. The department’s professors have very different research interests, giving students further opportunities to explore the diverse aspects of the field.
“We are excellent training for anything you want to do as a psychologist,” Prof. Miller says. “There are those of us who are experimentalists; every student is going to have some experimental exposure. For those students who are more oriented in social service types of work, we have a field work program. Most people perceive psychology as working with other people who have psychology needs, and that’s some of it. But the majority of us are just trying to figure out what normal means. If you can’t figure out what is normal, how are you going to figure out what is not normal?”
“People who go into Master of Social Work programs often have psychology as an undergraduate major. It’s a faster track to clinical work,” Prof. Tiegel explains. “We have encouraged students to be double-majors in psychology and social work. Our Social Work Program is an accredited undergraduate program, so the students get an array of professional skills, and also get a very solid theoretical background by having a psychology major.”
Carthage psychology graduates have also gone on to further study and careers in research, school counseling, clinical psychology, business and law.
When they first come to psychology, “many students don’t know for sure what they want to do,” Prof. Tiegel says, “and that’s one of the things we think a college undergraduate education is for: To allow students to explore a variety of areas that are linked to a potential career.”