Maria Orlova is currently a second-year student working toward a Masters degree in forensic psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She will graduate in June of 2008 and plans to pursue a counseling license in the state of Illinois. In addition to grueling coursework, Orlova is tuned in directly to the professional side of the field of psychology through her numerous extracurricular responsibilities. GradSchools.com was lucky enough to be able to pick Orlova’s brain to give you a window into the life of a graduate psychology student.
Q: What did you major in as an undergraduate? Did it help your graduate studies?
A: I attended University of Wisconsin – Madison and majored in both psychology and art, and received a certificate in leadership. I believe that pursuing a somewhat diverse combination of majors allowed me to be more open-minded in my pursuit to find a graduate institution that best suited me. I wanted to be a part of a creative-learning environment similar to the one I experienced in my undergraduate studies. Additionally, my leadership certificate helped me gain the confidence needed to successfully interview and eventually enter the program of my choice.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of the program/field? The most rewarding?
A: One of the most difficult areas in forensic psychology is discovering what aspect of the field you wish to pursue. The career opportunities are diverse. If you are interested in counseling, it is challenging to discover whether or not you have the ability to look beyond a person’s crime and see the individual and their personal and therapeutic needs. This indeed has been the largest challenge for me. However, in turn it is extremely rewarding when you see one of your patients make any sort of steps toward progress.
Q: What advice would you give students considering the field of psychology?
A: I would suggest taking a firm look at what you are truly interested in. Any area of psychology may have a strong burnout rate, so knowing that you are passionate about your area of study is extremely helpful. Contrary to popular belief, forensic psychology is quite different than how it’s portrayed in the media. This is a very complex field that deals in great depth with the law and how it interfaces with psychology. Research in the field is key in determining whether or not you are able to work with this population.
Q: What do you expect to get out of the program?
A: I am looking for a strong foundation in my field that is focused primarily on practice-based studies. The majority of my professors have strong field experience and currently work in forensic occupations along with teaching. This real-life experience enhances my understanding and knowledge of the field I am about to enter. I hope to leave the Chicago School feeling confident in my abilities as a future clinician.
Q: How do you view your future given your education choices? How will your degree figure in?
A: Upon applying to graduate schools I had to make a decision as to whether or not I was going to pursue a master’s in art or psychology. I chose psychology, and afterward struggled with what area of the field I was interested in. Through a police training program I participated in, my interest was piqued in the area of law and I was interested in combining this with my psychology experience. I feel that this degree has given me many more career opportunities for the future. My degree will set me apart from other candidates in the job field, in that I have a specialized education in forensic psychology, and have directly come in contact with the tools and knowledge necessary to function in a job within the field to the best of my abilities.
Q: What interdisciplinary electives do you think enhance your education?
A: For the licensure track at the Chicago School, I am required to take some courses that I would not normally be interested in. For example, I have learned about family-systems therapy, career counseling and socio-cultural issues. I found these courses to be extremely worthwhile in my development as a therapist, and helpful in discovering what areas I excel in and the areas in which I could use more direction. Additionally, I have opted to take a hostage negotiations course in my final semester. Since I would like to work in corrections, I believe that this will be an invaluable resource in that environment and any forensic environment I may be involved in.
Q: What is your biggest regret regarding your education?
A: My biggest regret was not investigating criminal justice classes in my undergraduate career. I believe that this would have piqued my interest in the field long before my final year of undergrad, and thus given me a stronger foundation for entering the forensic psychology program.
Q: What are you involved with outside of the classroom?
A: I am currently the Assistant to the Director of Admission at the Chicago School, and serve as a Forensic Ambassador within my program. I also attend my practicum two-to-three times a week, working with men adjudicated “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity” and “Unfit to Stand Trial.” Additionally, I belong to five professional psychology organizations. Outside of school, I belong to the University of Wisconsin – Madison Alumni Association and I am a member of the North Shore Kappa Alpha Theta Alumni Association.
Q: How has all of that involvement outside of the classroom enhanced your learning?
A: Involvement outside of the classroom gives me great opportunities to network both within and outside my field. I continue to learn great leadership skills through all aspects of my extracurricular activities. Within my practicum, I am learning invaluable skills that will directly affect my future career in forensic psychology.
Q: How much has geography figured into your studies?
A: Chicago is a wonderful city full of great culture and opportunities to not only grow personally, but professionally as well. I had always dreamed of ending up in a big city and the Chicago School offered me the perfect opportunity to be in a city I loved and pursue a career I am passionate about.