Spotlight on: Professor Karen McKenzie

Karen McKenzie is a professor in the psychology department, and a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered, Chartered Clinical Psychologist. Karen is the lead of our Research and Practice in Developmental Disabilities (RaPiDD) Group.

Tell us about your career history

I have worked at Northumbria University for almost 7 years. Prior to that, I worked jointly as Head of Speciality (learning disability services) as a clinical psychologist for various NHS trusts in Scotland, as well as on the Clinical Psychology doctorate programme at Edinburgh University. I have been a clinical psychologist for nearly 30 years.

What got you interested in psychology?

I was interested in other people’s life stories and imagined that being a psychologist was a bit like being a psychotherapist. It was a bit of a surprise to discover that it involved a lot of statistics. I became interested in clinical psychology as an undergraduate after hearing a lecture from a psychologist working in prisons. I then obtained summer work as a psychology assistant in a learning disability service and really enjoyed it, so decided to pursue that route. I trained as a forensic clinical psychologist and worked in that area for a few years before returning to work in learning disability services.

Whay are your current research interests?

Most of my current research related to the clinical psychology field, in particular, people with learning disability. My recently funded projects evaluating positive behavioural support (PBS) for this group of people, looking at factors that influence the recruitment and retention of various staff groups, exploring career pathways in mental health and looking at factors which influence student mental health.

What psychology book would you recommend?

A very early book that appealed to me as an undergraduate was called ‘Vaulting Ambition’ by Phillip Kitcher. At the time it struck me as being very well written and I liked that it argued against things such as we are determined and restricted by which sex we are.

What advice would you give to students?

Opportunities often arise in unexpected circumstances, so do not feel that you always have to follow the same path as everyone else, but always try to be honest, kind and authentic.

What would you have liked to do if you have not followed a career in psychology?

I would probably become a nurse, as I was accepted for nurse training but chose clinical psychology training instead. I think I would have liked to have been a full-time author, as I really enjoy writing.

What advice would you give to students who want to study Clinical Psychology?

I know a lot of students are interested in becoming clinical psychologists and my general advice would be:

  • Try to get relevant experience during your time at university – this might be through a placement module, volunteering. or paid work  
  • Try to find ways to show you use/disseminate research – this might be by presenting at the student conference or working with your supervisor to try to get an article published from your dissertation or thesis. 
  • Try to develop an understanding of what clinical psychologists actually do – look at information on the BPS, division of clinical psychology site, speak to clinical psychologists about their role (there a few of us at Northumbria University). 
  • Consider undertaking a thesis/dissertation on a clinically relevant topic. This doesn’t need to be with a clinical population, as long as it is on a topic that would have implications for clinical psychologists and the people they work with. 
  • Look at the Clinical Psychology Clearing House site to get an idea of the types of things that the different programmes are looking for in applicants
  • Be aware that there is competition for clinical psychology places, but don’t let that put you off. Give yourself as good a chance as possible by getting a good degree, having relevant experience, having a good understanding of the role, and showing that you have disseminated research in some way. 

Read More

Want to hear more about the research of the Health and Wellbeing group? head over to the blog

Interested in Careers in Psychology? Read more posts from staff, practitioners and alumni here

You can also look at the British Psychological Society Guidance about Clinical Psychology Careers

Graduate Bio: Naomi Boswell

We interviewed one of our graduates about her career to date. Naomi graduated from the BSc (Hons) Psychology programme, and is now about to finish her training as an Educational Psychologist. Read the full interview below!

You can follow Noami on Twitter

Which course did you do at Northumbria and what have you done since graduating?

I studied the Psychology BSc at Northumbria.  It was the first time I was able to thrive by studying something I was really interested in.  I graduated with a first class honors, before spending the summer on a psychology placement in Sri Lanka with SLV volunteers.  When  I returned home, I started working in an independent children’s home with education for children with autism in the role of an education care mentor before becoming a therapy assistant.  Alongside this, I studied a MA in Autism part time.  Since then I have had roles which have included a volunteer assistant clinical psychologist, a teaching assistant within local authority special school and a assistant educational psychologist before I began the Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology at Manchester University in September 2018.

What is your current job title and what does your job involve?

I am a trainee educational psychologist and I am in my final year of the doctorate.  I enjoy how varied educational psychology can be depending on who you work for, where you work and what your interests are too.  The role involves working with children and young people from 0-25 years with special educational needs.  As part of this I work with a range of professionals, such as speech and language therapists, paedatricians, school special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCos) as well as other local authority staff.  My work can involved individual casework with young people, developing training for teaching staff and other professionals, carrying out research and working systemically in schools to create change.  Some of my recent activities have included carrying out research to understand the barriers children and young people can face in trying to attend school and looking at how to develop relationships and promote participation with children and young people. No day is ever the same and there is always something new to learn. 

What inspired you to follow your career path?

I have a family friend who was diagnosed with autism when I was in my early teens. I found it fascinating the differences between him and his sibling.  This sparked my interest in child development.  I was drawn to educational psychology because it provides opportunity to work holistically with a child, their family, school and other professionals. 

What advice would you give to current students wanting to follow a similar path?

For me, the journey to getting to the doctorate was amazing and just as valuable as the doctorate itself.  It can be competitive to get on the course, which can prove daunting but with perserverance it is achieveable.  I have enjoyed having many varied roles and I feel it is this that has contributed to me being able to get on the doctorate at a young age (I had three jobs whilst I did my undergraduate degree!).  Enjoy each role and think about what psychology you are using.  Psychology is all around us!

What was your favourite thing about studying at Northumbria?

My time at Northumbria was an enjoyable one.  I loved the city, the coast, the locals- I was never stuck for something to do.  The university itself is the hub of the city.  My experience of the course was fantastic with my tutors always been on hand to give advice or a little reassurance.  It can be daunting moving hundreds of miles from home but this might just be the friendliest city in the country!

Want to hear from more of our graduates? Head over to the Careers in Psychology Blog

Interested in Educational Psychology? Look at the British Psychological Society Careers section

Want to hear more work linked to learning disabilities? We have a specialist learning disabilities subgroup in our Health and Wellbeing research group – keep an eye out for future posts from them!