2021 ended with the exciting news that PCL had been nominated by the Association of Business Psychologists for the ‘Excellence in using Business Psychology for Social Impact’ award for our work on the Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP). Born from a desire to further develop our collaborations with academia and engage with emerging talent, the SSP has enabled PCL to support dozens of students during a challenging period of their careers.
Launched in 2016, the SSP is a competitive process open to over 20 UK-based universities supervising MSc courses in business psychology and its related fields. Successful students receive free access to PCL-published psychometrics to incorporate into their dissertations and ongoing one-to-one support throughout their projects. The initiative starts with a multi-session ‘professional skills event’ in mid-December, and the support students receive continues beyond the conclusion of their course. A key goal is to help students develop a practitioner component to their mindset and better understand how their research could offer valuable insight into the world of work.
This aligns with the core ethos underpinning the SSP; with the exception of the small minority who remain in academia (often to start a PhD), graduates must enter and adapt to the world of work as a matter of urgency. We believe consultancies are uniquely placed to provide valuable experience relevant to a graduate’s early career. Helping students to ground our discipline’s extensive theory and research into a commercial context represents an important part of their career transition.
This is perhaps best personified by the professional skills event session on ‘consultancy’ presented by PCL’s Chief Psychologist Gillian Hyde. Over the course of the talk, Gillian draws from years of experience to identify and discuss potential pitfalls to consulting, including unrealistic client expectations, recognition of hidden agendas, and extensive tender processes. The importance of clear communication is emphasised, as is the understanding that the client will always know more about their business than the consultant!
The session continues with findings from a major survey of over 200 HR Managers. When asked what factors influence their decision to meet a consultant for the first time, the top three responses were:
- Recommended by a colleague
- Recommended by another consultant
- Heard speak at a conference
Understanding these points is vital but may feel like a catch-22 situation for MSc students in the early stages of their career. This begs the following question:
How can you position yourself as someone with useful insight for organisations when you are only just starting your career journey?
The SSP addresses this by making the student’s dissertation the focal point of the initiative. Students incorporate a PCL psychometric into a research framework tasked with exploring important issues facing organisations. Students are encouraged to consider their research from the perspective of a stakeholder in an organisational or consultancy role; someone who is facing this problem and how could they benefit from this research? Disseminating outputs tailored by this mindset can help build reputations in spaces relevant to a student’s next career step.
Communicating the organisation-specific implications of research is a priority of the initiative. We encourage students to perceive their dissertation as a vehicle for engaging with the wider profession and to be willing to share their findings with interested parties. Academic collaboration through the SSP has produced a steady stream of practitioner-focussed publications, resources, and conference presentations over the last five years.
PCL have benefited from working with some exceedingly talented students who have since moved into exciting careers with leading organisations. Resources informed by their research have contributed to an already sizable database of information readily disseminated to PCL’s global network of trained psychometric users.
With the sixth cohort now in full swing, we feel confident in our belief that initiatives like the SSP represent a valuable blueprint for collaboration between practitioners and academics, in addition to providing a unique and valuable experience to future psychologists in our discipline.