Psychology may be defined as the scientific study of behaviour, thought, and feeling. The science of psychology relates to virtually every aspect of people's lives. Psychology plays an important role in solving human problems and promoting the well-being of individuals.
Psychology is both a scientific discipline and a profession. Working within a scientific discipline, psychologists use a variety of research methods for building and testing theories about behaviour. A general distinction can be made between basic research (which builds psychology's base of knowledge) and applied research (which tackles practical problems). The goal of basic research is to identify factors that influence or cause a particular type of behaviour, thought, or feeling. Applied psychologists make use of principles discovered through basic research to solve practical problems.
Students who are considering pursuing a program in psychology should:
- want to understand people,
- be willing to undertake an orderly scientific approach to understanding the rich and complex nature of human behaviour, and
- be willing to invest a great deal of time and effort in their studies.
The Department of Psychology is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and the undergraduate study of psychology is part of a liberal arts education. Briefly, the goals of a liberal arts education are to enhance students' written and oral language skills, analytic and research skills, and interpersonal communication skills. Preparing students for specific careers is NOT a goal of a liberal arts degree.
This may come as a surprise since you may be interested in taking psychology courses in order to prepare yourself for a career as an academic or applied professional psychologist. Indeed, many students do enter psychology with the belief that they will become clinical psychologists who will spend their professional lives giving therapy to clients suffering from mental problems such as depression, anxiety, or paranoia. However, although some students who major in psychology do pursue a professional career in applied or academic psychology, the vast majority do not.
There is nothing particularly special about psychology in this regard. The same is true of other liberal arts disciplines; for example, most people with a History major do not become professional historians, nor do those with a Philosophy major become professional philosophers. In sum, the focus of our undergraduate program in psychology is to meet the goals of a liberal arts education rather than to produce professional psychologists.
Every undergraduate program is organized to facilitate students' acquisition of specific knowledge and skills. Four general goals of the undergraduate program in psychology can be identified.
1. Students interested in psychology should acquire knowledge of the central questions or issues in psychology, of the methods that are used to gather data relevant to these central questions, and of the range and quality of answers presently available.
2. Through written and oral presentations, students should attain proficient language skills.
3. Practice in the close and critical analysis of issues in psychology should improve students' empirical, analytical, and inferential skills, resulting in high levels of problem-recognition and problem-solving abilities.
4. Perhaps most importantly, exposure to a variety of perspectives on central psychological issues should result in an enriched personal, social, and cultural life.