By Simon Toms
Achieving a Master’s degree is a massive accomplishment. It reflects a level of education few people reach and demands a range of skills and knowledge to be honed at a high level. OP-related MSc’s are no exception.
OP is a diverse field with a variety of applications. Areas include personnel assessment, organisational development, staff wellbeing, coaching and leadership to name just a few, and an MSc must provide students with insight into all of these and more.
Sitting within this diverse range of study is the dissertation. A culmination of many months of hard work, dissertations contribute a significant portion of your MSc grade. Whilst many people view their dissertation entirely within these terms, it’s important to note that the benefits of your dissertation can extend well beyond MSc course credits.
We’ve compiled a short list of tips on how MSc students can maximise the impact of their dissertations. But before sharing them, a couple of points must be made.
The first is that your dissertation says a great deal about you and your interests. Students would have received the same taught content as their course peers, and BPS accreditation ensures significant inter-university alignment in terms of OP course subject matter.
This means that the topic of your dissertation is arguably the strongest factor differentiating you from your peers.
The second point is to challenge the mindset many students develop throughout their education. At every stage, you have probably been surrounded by peers who were likely to be at a similar level to you, and your MSc would have been no exception. This is usually a great thing. You can share experiences with course mates and engage in mutual learning with others possessing similar interests.
But there is a downside…
It can serve to dampen your understanding of how far your education has taken you, and how much knowledge you now possess in relation to the general population. This mindset is exacerbated by your ‘graduation’, which can make you feel like you are ‘starting from scratch’ in the world of work.
Whilst continuing to learn, develop, and build experience is essential, you must also recognise that your educational achievements already make you a valuable resource.
The knowledge and skills you have built in the context of your dissertation are the strongest manifestation of this value and should serve as a focal point in the early stages of you OP career.
With these points in mind, here’s three tips for making you MSc dissertation go further.
Developing an online presence is more important than ever. Starting is easy and should involve following anyone working in your areas of interest. This will not only help you stay connected to developments in your desired field of work but facilitate future engagement with important people.
Your dissertation represents a rich vein of content in which this engagement could draw from. Explore ways of disseminating the lessons you learned in your research. These can include uploading a series of short blog pieces that breakdown the key themes of your dissertation or engaging interested parties in online discussions with useful insight resulting from your studies.
The most important platform to engage through is LinkedIn, although twitter represents another option. You can even consider creating your own website. Trust us, this is easier than you think!
Whilst the benefits may not immediately become apparent, your online presence could be the most critical factor in furthering your career. Building your profile makes your achievements and expertise easily accessible. It can help the people you need to impress see you, and what you’ve accomplished, at the click of a button.
Present at a Conference
Conferences represent a great resource for psychologists at every stage of their career. They can facilitate hugely advantageous formal and informal networking opportunities, and allow you to hear from a range of thought leaders and researchers in OP and other related fields.
Your dissertation can also allow you to play an active role as a presenter. Events can offer a range of format options. Longer-form options like standard papers and symposiums are one option, but less demanding formats like ‘impact papers’ and posters are also available.
Keep an eye out for upcoming events, and if one takes your fancy, make sure you read the submission guidelines with a fine-tooth comb! Even if your findings will not be ready by the submission deadline, it can still be worth submitting, as reviewers may be flexible on this.
Recent restrictions resulting from the global pandemic have put a temporary hiatus on face-to-face events, but a huge growth in virtual events has filled the void. This removes one of the most prohibitive factors in attending events: the cost of travel and accommodation.
Ironically, this means that there may be no better time to maximise your dissertation’s impact by getting a conference presentation under your belt!
Publishing your dissertation can massively increase its exposure. It can mean the difference between several readers, or several hundred. It’s obviously preferable to maximise your readership, but how?
There are several options for publication open to you. The gold standard for a publication would be in a peer-reviewed academic journal. This option will be reserved for the very best dissertations and may benefit from involving academics with expertise in your topic as co-authors.
Other, more accessible options are available. There are several OP-related publications you could consider; the BPS journal ‘OP Matters’ is a great example. You can also explore industry-specific publications. These will depend on the content and focus of your research and can help you engage with individuals who are best placed to implement lessons emerging from your findings.
Publishing your work not only builds your reputation. It can develop your ability to communicate effectively and professionally. The primary example is writing, which is not a linear skill. There are various styles, and improvements in one style are not necessarily mirrored in others. Your MSc will have trained you to write in an academic style, and whilst this has notable strengths, it may not be best suited to each situation.
When publishing your work, you must consider the requirements and style of the publication, in addition to the target audience. If you’re speaking to practitioners, provide recommended implementations. If you’re speaking to non-psychologists, reflect this in the accessibility of your writing.
Adapting your communication style is an essential skill for every OP professional, and writing for a publication is a great opportunity to develop it.
These are just a few examples of how you can make your dissertation go further. The OP field is incredibly popular, and this translates into considerable competition. This can be most keenly felt at the graduate level, so exploring ways that help you stand out is essential.
Given the dissertation will be amongst your greatest accomplishments, it stands to reason that it should be a key component of your early career strategy.
About the Author
Simon Toms is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. In 2019, he was elected to Full Membership of the Division of Occupational Psychology. He is also a Chartered Scientist with the Science Council, Principal Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology, published author, and PhD graduate. He is a graduate of the Division of Occupational Psychology’s Leadership Development Programme.