By Patrick Creedon
The philosophers of old were driven by their desire to know empirically what made up not only the world but man. This desire oft went unfulfilled due to the mercurial nature of people’s consciousness and the inherent biases of the individual philosophers.
The nature of the mind has always fascinated those philosophers, but it was not until the late 1800s that anyone resembling a scientist began to tackle the problem of ascertaining individual variations in thought. That was when Wilhelm Wundt set up the first psychology laboratory at the University of Leipzig.
Therein lies the goal of the psychological sciences: to measure, model and predict the way people behave, think and perceive in our world. That desire for clarity in regards to understanding humanity remains very popular, as psychology is one of the most, if not the most, popular major in the United States.
In fact, psychology is the most popular major in the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences here at the University of Tulsa. If the major is so ubiquitous in contemporary academic life, it becomes important to discuss its utility.
The purpose of a contemporary undergraduate stint in college is often said to be to develop skills and expertise that make someone more attractive to the world of business.
What does a degree in psychology do for the typical student when the goal of most psychology curricula is to produce competencies and comprehension of psychological theory and studies? A whole lot, actually.
Because most psychology classes focus sheerly on the comprehension of a potentially esoteric knowledge base, especially when few high schools give much of a grounding in the field beyond AP Psychology, students learn to take in a large amount of information and process it in ways relevant to everyday life.
Even outside of the disciplines of mental health and social work, psychology majors are being increasingly sought after by businesses for expertise in working with people. Whether or not those skills actually come from a psychology program is not for me to say, as my experience of a psychology curriculum is limited to the University of Tulsa.
TU’s Department of Psychology has been instrumental to my growth as someone who might one day be considered an academic.
I was originally attracted to the major because I liked the AP class I had taken in high school, and I thought that the experiments in psychology were, and I quote, “hella cool.”
I was quickly convinced by the department’s faculty and older students that the only way to do anything interesting in psychology that did not involve clinical or social work would be to get a PhD and do research.
That may have been a slight exaggeration on their part, but what I developed over the past several years here was a deep reverence for the process of conducting research and communicating scientifically.
This process was ameliorated by TU’s psychology program being so willing to work with undergraduate students.
I once walked into a professor’s office with little to no preamble and asked if he had any projects to work on, and a year later we were on a plane to New Orleans to present research at a national psychology conference.
The study of psychology has exploded in a way that the field’s fathers William James or Edward Titchener could not have foreseen in the early 1900s. However, its study opens up so many doors for students wishing to do a myriad of different things, whether it be academia, mental health, industry, or business.
Getting a degree in psychology gives students the capacity for complex analysis; they just need to take initiative to find what they want to do with those skills.