Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Psych Classes Did You Take?

One thing that seems to be universal, no matter what college or what major you take is this: other students in your major want to know what classes you took, which ones you recommend and which professors to take-or avoid.

There's www.ratemyprofessors.com, but the site has a few drawbacks. First, you're limited to 250 characters, which isn't enough to give an accurate appraisal of any course or professor. Second, students who expect A's for just showing up to class can write a nasty review-or a person who didn't even take a class can write something up to boost an instructor's rating.

It's one barometer, but not the only one to use. That said, if I'd known about the site before I took my Art History class, I probably would have (rightfully) avoided that professor for that class. That's why the feedback for classmates is so important-especially students you know have similar expectation.

For instance, there's a professor on my campus who is a wonderful person, very astute-but teaches in a very dry manner, akin to the Ben Stein economics teacher in 'Ferris Buehler's Day Off'. Nice person, but not a teaching style that works for me, which is why I ended up taking some classes in Tampa

As important as who is teaching it is the content of the class. If the goal of the student is a career in the behavioral sciences, then the B.A is not their terminal degree. The courses taken should concentrate in their ultimate field, whether it's research, counseling or human resources.

While my goal was to take Industrial psychology classes as a foundation for my Master's, none of those classes seemed to fit in with my schedule. Instead, I took a few courses that I probably never would have considered-and really enjoyed.

A brief summary of some of these classes, in the hope that a little more information than what's provided in a course catalog (from a student perspective) might be useful to others trying to pick from 100+ classes on their spring schedule. I'm leaving out core requirements (Intro to Psychology, Psychology Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology) because everyone has to take some variant of these courses if they're majoring in this curriculum. No, I'm telling you about the other courses I took beyond those.

Tests and Measures This is one of those classes that every student can gain useful information. The main goal of the course is to learn and understand test validity and reliability, what constitutes a good test (and test questions), explore standardized tests and learn how norms are established. It also goes into the history of testing and creating the tests we use today across the business, psychological and educational spectrums.

The best thing about this class (besides a great instructor) is that I now know how to pick apart test questions, which is useful when you've got two questions that might be correct.

Developmental Psychology
This class explores human development from a psychological perspective from birth to death. The main theories of development ( from Erikson and Piaget) are explored in great detail.

This was an online class that had a great professor and she chose a fantastic text. Side note: John Cavanaugh writes some great Psychology textbooks.

Abnormal PsychologyThis was my second time through this course, as I'd had a lower level AbPsych class many years ago. This class explored Anxiety and Mood disorders, Gender issues, Schizophrenia, Body image and so much more. (The only reason why we didn't cover Autism is that the Professor also teaches a class on it, so he skipped the chapter in our book.) Understanding how people think is a main objective of Psychology curriculums, and this class sheds a lot of light on those whose behavior and thinking falls outside societal norms.

I had the benefit of taking the course from the professor who wrote the textbook. He writes a great book and was a wonderful lecturer.

Motivation This class sounds like it'd be easy-but it's not. In motivation, students explore the mental processes involved in motivation, biochemical processes and various theories of motivation. I really expected something different out of the class, like HOW to actually motivate people, but it's more of a dissection of how motivation occurs.

Probably the one class that I really was excited about and ultimately was underwhelmed by the content.


Psychology of Learning
The course content called to me, as it combined elements of both my undergrad and graduate curriculums. The theories of Pavlov, Skinner, Thorndyke (and to a lesser extent, Erickson) and more are studied. If you're anti-behaviorist approach, this class will be torture for you (one of my good friends HATED the class) because it's all about.

The professor was great, the book wasn't, but it's a great class that can be beneficial to those seeking clinical and HR careers.

Social Psychology
This class gave me a LOT of food for thought because it is essentially the psychology of everyday life. We all interact with others every day, so what is learned here is directly observable. This was probably the class that gave me the most insight into GameTeen's Asperger's Syndrome, because it helped me pinpoint societal norms as compared to him. At my school it is one of five course that students choose two from to fulfill a degree requirement, but my opinion is that it should be required for all psych majors because it is a fantastic building block for everything else.

The professor was great, and the textbook (Aronson and Aronson) used a lot of news events to relate the chapter topics (Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect, for instance)

Cognitive Psychology
I was dreading this class, because identifying brain parts, chemicals and what they do was not my idea of fun. I am not a scientist, I don't play one on television and I was convinced I was going to bomb this class. However, a great professor makes all the difference in the world. If you're not a science geek, and need this or Physiological for your degree, wait until your last semester, if possible. Then you can apply what you already know to this course content and it definitely helps.

This class was the one that drove home the point that if you're taking a class you think you'll do horribly in, chose the professor who is passionate about the topic and you'll do better than expected. Hey, it happened in Biology over the summer, so there must be something to it. If I could take every class this professor teaches, I would-even if they all are about neurotransmitters! (No amygdala, no fear)

**Cool thing-When Ed and I went to the Tony Attwood seminar, a lot of what I'd learned in this class (and social psych) made me write out tons of questions all day long. He addressed a couple of questions I had at the end of the day, the main one being that Aspies have been proven to have 10-15% larger amygdalas and much less white matter than neurotypical people.

Psychology of Aging If left to my own devices, I never would have taken this class. I was all set to take Industrial Psych, but the feedback about the professor for that online course was not encouraging (similar to the other professor with the droll lecture style). However, the professor who taught this course encouraged me to follow her over to Tampa and take the class. I'm glad she did.

I saw the title and thought it would be all about 'old people', but it wasn't. Instead, this course covered development from maturation until death, with a focus on issues of an aging population. The professor's focus was on how students (95% of the class was freshman and sophomores) can form habits now to age better and healthier.

There were two pluses to the class: A professor who I was familiar with and enjoyed her teaching style and yet another Cavanaugh textbook that was well written. I'm kind of bummed I rented it, because I found the book extremely useful in many ways.

Ultimately, the advice I have for students in any major is that they should seek out professors who are passionate about the topic they're teaching. I was very fortunate that each class, the professor teaching the class did their dissertations in the subject area they taught. It can make the difference in a class that does not play to your strengths.

When choosing your classes, get the feedback from peers who you feel approach school in the same way. Ask your professors who they'd recommend you take courses with-because they see what kind of student you are and will make suggestions of other instructors whose teaching style works with you.

Finally, don't be afraid to email a prospective instructor with the questions you may have. I did that with one of the classes I took before I enrolled and I'm glad I did-the course was fantastic.

I hope this information helps others who need to make decisions about what courses to take. If I can find the same information about my graduate courses, boy, will I be a happy camper!



1 People talked back:

meghan said...

You make these classes sound fascinating! I'd love to take them. Could there be a psych degree in my future? lol.

And I'm still proud of you :D