I joined the MEd program and took the Psychology of Education pathway from 2007 to 2008. I chose the Bristol program because it is accredited by the British Psychological Society as a transfer course. My first degree was not ‘pure’ psychology (though I did take Psychology in Pedagogy as an undergraduate in Shanghai), so I had a hard time getting accepted onto psychology programs in most of the UK universities. When I discovered that the Graduate School of Education (GSOE) provided this excellent program for students who do not necessarily hold a first degree in psychology, I thought it was a great chance to apply and hopefully fulfil my academic dream of becoming a psychologist.
I chose Bristol because it has a very good reputation in terms of teaching and research quality. The Graduate School of Education, in particular, enjoys an excellent reputation in the field of educational research. As an international student, I also thought the UK would be a good place to learn English (both every day and academic English). Perhaps even more importantly, out of the three UK universities to which I replied, Bristol responded the quickest to my request and application-related issues. I love this kind of efficiency and attention to potential students!
I had an inspiring dissertation advisor on my Masters course. Although we only met twice (he was a visiting professor at the time), I learnt so much from our conversations that I was confident and motivated enough to pursue my own thoughts and ideas and got a Distinction. This specific educational memory is significant to me because it offers an example of what a good learning facilitator looks like (which is the subject of my PhD research topic).
Many people have influenced me during my time at Bristol, although there is no space here to acknowledge each of them individually. I would like to give special thanks to my Masters dissertation advisor and my two PhD supervisors. They have influenced me in very different ways: one inspires, one challenges, and one nurtures. There is a fine balance between these styles of support that has helped me to grow.
I think my proudest achievement is my overall change and growth as a learner and enquirer after all these years’ experience. I have become more curious, creative, critical and reflective as a person and not just in studying or research. I am able to demonstrate these dispositions in everyday life – in talking with friends, in thinking alone and aloud, in walking and dancing and even in cooking. Yes, my cooking skills have improved so much! And I now have a Zen-like mindset when doing anything.
My Masters degree has influenced my career enormously. My English has greatly improved and the high-quality qualification has put me in a better position on the job market. But, even more important, are the attitude and way of thinking which I developed whilst studying at Bristol. Studying at the GSOE confirmed my decision to be a psychologist in the fields of education and human development. It helped me to focus on developing a track record for applying to certain jobs.
After my MEd, I worked in Kaplan China as an Educational Consultant and in two Chinese universities as a student counsellor. Following a year of this, I decided to come back to Bristol for a PhD in Psychology of Education. I made this decision because, after applying some of the theories I learned at the GSOE to ‘real-world’ problems, I found there were many issues that needed to be investigated further, not least the issue of why students decide to go into Higher Education and how they engage in the process of learning.
When I complete my PhD, I plan to continue working in the interdisciplinary field of psychology, education and human development. I would like to have more overseas academic experiences such as post-doctoral research, early-stage lecturing or developing professional learning with schools and educational institutions. I am also interested in coaching and counselling students in an international environment. I would like to keep exploring my current PhD research from different perspectives and apply my theory to various contexts. I will never get tired of listening to people’s stories about growth, reflection and learning.
My academic advice to other psychology students is this: you don’t have to hold a first degree in psychology, but you must have a strong passion for the subject. Be critical and reflective. The MEd course is intensive and covers almost all aspects of psychology in education. Learn how to analyse topics in-depth, rather than simply acquiring superficial facts. People joke about PhD standing for ‘Permanent Head Damage’. I regard this ‘damage’ as a way to shake away your assumptions, challenge what you think you have already known, and transform your understanding of the world and yourself. It is a positive chance to grow as an individual.
My personal advice would be to sleep well and eat well. This may sound silly, but you need sufficient rest and food for your brain to function well. Also, meet your colleagues and course mates for coffee or drinks after your lectures. Don’t be afraid if English isn’t your first language – talk to everyone who seems nice. You will realise how important the social support network is, especially if you are an international student.
Bristol is my academic and intellectual home. I will graduate, leave and head towards a more complex world; I will never stop exploring.