Psychological research is a fascinating field of study that can have a big impact on the way people think, feel and react. If you’re interested in a career in this field, you may be thinking about pursuing a PhD in psychology.
A psychology PhD can help you hone your research skills, pinpoint the research area you’re passionate about and create a solid foundation for a fulfilling career in this industry.
We chatted to UQ PhD candidate Natalie Craig about her experiences studying a Doctor of Philosophy, what inspired her to choose a psychology research topic, and why a psychology PhD is worth it, from her perspective.
There are seemingly endless avenues to explore when it comes to choosing a PhD topic with a focus on psychological research. As long as you can secure a PhD supervisor and funding, you can pursue your research passions in psychology with a Doctor of Philosophy.
You may wish to explore research topics in:
basic perceptual and cognitive processes
higher cognitive processes (such as decision-making)
Natalie’s PhD topic focuses on trauma recovery research.
“My PhD topic is about understanding how our social relationships influence how we recover from trauma,” she says.
“My thesis is particularly focused on those who have survived natural disasters.”
“The best possible outcome for my PhD is firstly to better understand how our social relationships influence recovery from trauma, so that we can use this information to begin adapting programs focused on harnessing and enhancing social connections after a traumatic event,” she says.
“Ideally, these programs could then be delivered in the wake of a traumatic event at scale, using the resources of the community.”
Many communities in Australia are still dealing with the tragic after-effects of natural disasters such as floods and bushfires, making Natalie’s research more important than ever. She's passionate about using it to create positive and lasting change.
“Overall, the ultimate goal of all of this is to help subvert people away from developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and instead move them towards post-traumatic growth.”
This potential to make a real difference in people's lives is a huge motivator for many PhD candidates and a large part of what makes a PhD in psychology worth pursuing.
What is a Doctor of Philosophy in psychology? And how does it differ from a Doctor of Psychology?
When studying a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with a topic focused on psychology, you’re undergoing in-depth, independent research in an area of your choosing for the duration of your program. A Doctor of Psychology, on the other hand, is a program for those whose interests lie largely in clinical psychology. It involves specialist placements and coursework as well as a research component.
Who can do a PhD in psychology?
Despite what many people may think, you don’t need to study psychology at an undergraduate level to pursue a PhD in the same area.
Natalie’s passion for psychology didn’t develop until her career in public relations was already in full swing.
After completing a Bachelor of Communications, Public Relations and Journalism in 2009, she undertook several communications and PR roles, progressing into management and working with high-profile brands. Despite her success, however, she felt as though something was missing in her day-to-day work.
“I became quite disillusioned with the public relations industry in that it didn’t feel like I was contributing towards something that was truly meaningful to me,” she explains.
Natalie is quick to point out that incredible work is done in PR by a range of very talented individuals, but for her, the sense of fulfilment wasn’t quite there.
“I felt that my skills, ability, and passion could be better used to help people improve their lives,” she says.
Natalie decided to pursue postgraduate education in psychology, completing 2 graduate diplomas before applying for her PhD at UQ. Her research topic was inspired by a natural curiosity.
“I’ve always been drawn towards understanding why people do what they do, and why some people seem to thrive after a traumatic event while others struggle to overcome their traumatic experience(s),” she says.
“Understanding what this mechanism is that puts people on a trajectory towards post-traumatic growth is what has led me to be where I am today, pursuing my particular research question.”
Is a PhD in psychology worth it?
A personally fulfilling career trajectory and impactful research outcomes are not the only things Natalie hopes to get out of her PhD.
Overall, I think my PhD will benefit me in terms of developing confidence and competence across a variety of domains.
PhD Candidate, UQ School of Psychology
During her PhD studies, Natalie has improved her:
research expertise and knowledge
“I’ve also enhanced my understanding of a variety of topics outside of my specific research question,” she says.
“In addition to this, I’ve met some really amazing people and have made some wonderful friendships and connections that I’m sure will remain in my life long after my PhD has ended.”
After her PhD, Natalie hopes to secure a postdoctoral position at UQ, so she can continue to build upon her current research.
“Ideally, I'd like to create interventions that focus on the principles of how our social relationships influence recovery from trauma,” she says.
"I also hope to do my Master of Clinical Psychology here at UQ, so I can work with a population of trauma survivors in a clinical and hands-on capacity (as well as in a research capacity).”
For Natalie, a psychology PhD has opened doors to a new career path where she can pursue her passion for research and find meaning in her work.
Why study your psychology PhD at UQ?
So, what’s unique about studying your PhD in psychology at UQ?
“I chose UQ because it has one of the best schools of psychology in the country and also has a solid standing globally,” says Natalie.
“The School of Psychology here at UQ is a large one with a lot of resources and therefore a lot of capacity for support and opportunity, both as a HDR student and also in terms of future career prospects.”
Ready to follow your passion for research with a PhD in psychology?