An Interview with Kelly McCardic
“In order to be a successful forensic psychology student, you must be resilient.”
Kelly McCardic recently earned her online Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and General Studies.Kelly chose to purse a masters degree in forensic psychology because of her interest in mental disorders and abnormal and devious behavior. She decided to study online because she desired a shorter, more convenient program.
In your own words, what is forensic psychology?
Forensic psychology combines the criminal justice and psychology fields to help assess and treat criminal behavior. Forensic psychologists can hold a variety of roles and jobs, but they usually examine the relationship between a person’s mental processes and behaviors and the illegal actions that the person may be compelled to commit.
Why did you choose to get a masters degree in forensic psychology online?
I chose to get an online masters degree in forensic psychology at Argosy University after becoming interested in criminal justice during my undergraduate studies. After taking a class in psychology, I discovered my passion for examining the biological factors that influence a person’s behavior, and went on to take classes in criminology and criminal justice. As a result, I became motivated to pursue forensic psychology as a career, and knew that I needed more than a bachelors degree to be successful.
I chose to pursue a masters degree in forensic psychology online because an online program seemed convenient and fast. Argosy University offered a 1 to 2 year forensic psychology program and I figured it would be a great entry point into the field of forensic psychology.
What did you find most and least enjoyable about studying forensic psychology?
I enjoyed studying forensic psychology because I was able to study human behavior and the biological factors that influence human personality. I love learning about people in general.
Although I enjoyed the subject matter, I found the research aspect of forensic psychology to be the least enjoyable. There is a plethora of research available to the public, and it can be difficult to determine what is credible and what is misleading or simply false.
When you first considered pursuing an online masters degree in forensic psychology what were your major concerns?
When I first considered pursuing an online masters degree in forensic psychology, I was concerned about course content and internship requirements. After being in the program for 2 years, I discovered that a huge percentage of the curriculum is geared toward ethics. Every class contained an element of ethics, and I felt like we were learning the same information over and over again. I understand the importance of learning about ethics, but I wish it didn’t feel so repetitive.
In addition to recycled course information, I realized that the internship process is difficult. Because Argosy University does not require an internship, my forensic psychology program doesn’t offer a list of available internships. Instead I had to be proactive and find my own internship. Unfortunately, it took me almost 1 and a half years to secure an unpaid position at a mental hospital working with violent criminal sex offenders and personality disorder patients.
How did you choose your graduate school?
I chose Argosy University for my masters in forensic psychology over other online schools because of the program’s duration and convenience. Argosy University seemed like an ideal fit because it offered a 1 to 2 year masters program in forensic psychology, which is relatively short, and the online format made it easy for me to study and complete my degree.
What was your program’s curriculum like?
My program’s curriculum required a combination of coursework and research. For the coursework component, I took a lot of classes related to ethics, state and federal laws, types of offenses and offenders, developmental and learning disabilities, personality disorders, treatment plans, the court system and court cases, and the state-to-state differences in care. In addition to completing individual assignments and posting on discussion boards, some of the courses required group work.
The coursework component was crucial in preparing me to do research. Because my focus was on sexual offenders, I conducted a good amount of research on offenders, disorder types and treatment plans.
What parts of your curriculum or particular classes have been most valuable for your goals?
I think my classes in victimology, treatment planning, and maladaptive and abnormal psychology will be most valuable for my future goal of working with sex offenders. These classes provided me with the skills and tools to understand, assess and treat patients with a mental health illness.
Currently, I intern at a forensic state hospital and work with violent offenders in intermediate custody. My victimology classes have definitely helped me relate to and communicate with the individuals I work with on a daily basis.
How did you interact with your professors?
I interacted with my professors at Argosy via online communication. For most classes, the professor-student contact was minimal. I think the level of personal contact in an online program is much less than in an offline program.
Were you able to interact with your peers while studying online?
Although I was able to interact with my peers while studying online, steady communication was somewhat difficult. Because students lived in all parts of the world, including Missouri, Texas and Peru, it was challenging to synchronize schedules and coordinate exchanges of information. In addition to dealing with the different time zones, most students were professionals with careers and busy family lives.
What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in a forensic psychology program and what traits would hinder success?
In order to be a successful forensic psychology student, you must be resilient. Forensic psychologists often interact with patients who can be verbally abusive because of a personality or mental disorder. Therefore it is extremely important to be emotionally strong. If you aren’t already strong in this way when you’re a student, chances are you won’t develop that strength later on in your career.
On the other hand, if you lack empathy, you may struggle in the forensic psychology field. A good forensic psychologist treats their clients with compassion, respect and humanity even if they committed a very serious crime.
Did you have an advisor, and if so, how did your advisor support your academic progress?
Yes, I had an advisor, but because the university had a rotating advisor system, I was periodically switched to a new advisor every so often. Although it would have been nice to stay with 1 advisor, all of my advisors were extremely helpful. For example, at one point, I was struggling academically, and my advisor helped me get back on track and convince the administration board to keep me in the program.
In order to get the most from an advisor, I would recommend selecting an advisor who genuinely wants to help and serve students. Unfortunately, some advisors only perform their duties to fulfill a professional obligation.
How did your on-campus undergraduate education differ from your online masters degree program?
My on-campus undergraduate education differed from my online masters degree program in the level of professor-student engagement. Although my online program provided a guideline, course work was largely self-paced and unstructured. There were no lectures, just weekly instructions and suggestions. And establishing communication and receiving feedback from professors was difficult in certain classes.
On the other hand, my on-campus undergraduate education provided a more interactive and structured experience. Professors not only offered their knowledge during lectures, but assisted students with their research efforts. Because professors were accessible in the classroom, it was much easier to ask for and receive help.
What were the biggest benefits and drawbacks that you have found in pursuing an online masters degree in forensic psychology?
The biggest benefit of pursuing an online masters degree in forensic psychology was the flexibility of the program. The professors were very easygoing and understanding when a conflict or an unexpected issue arose. For example, this past summer I was unable to access my computer because of a power loss, and my professor responded by saying, “Don’t worry, just catch up when you can.”
On the other hand, a major drawback was the fast paced nature of an online program. Most programs cram 16 weeks of work into an 8 week period. As a result, it was sometimes stressful to adapt to a heavier reading and workload.
What was your weekly schedule?
During a typical week, I committed about 40 hours of my time to school work. I was a full-time student, so I attended class 2 days per week. In addition, I completed homework, posted on discussion boards, interacted with students and did research.
How did you balance your studies and your personal life?
In order to balance my studies and personal life, I implemented time management skills to stay prepared and organized. In addition to checking the school website daily for new information or postings by professors and students, I created a study plan to keep me on track. This way, I was able to spread out my workload, avoid cramming and meet assignment due dates.
Now that you have completed your forensic psychology graduate program, if you could go back to college, what would you do differently?
If I could go back to college, I would improve my research strategies. I struggled with finding credible sources and accurate information. Because some appeared misleading, I often had difficulty weeding out poor quality sources.
What advice do you have for students who are considering an online masters degree in forensic psychology?
I would advise prospective online masters degree students to stay informed about the field so that they can narrow down their interests. Perhaps seek out a local connection, find a volunteer internship or research potential classes.
I would also remind students to stay determined. An online masters degree program requires a lot of self-motivation and diligence.