Work for free!

South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust are taking the piss. They’re advertising for a full-time, one year assistant psychologist post that is completely unpaid.

These jobs usually pay about £20,000-24,000 in London but despite this offer being completely exploitative they could easily fill the post for free.

The reason is because assistant psychologist jobs are one of the key steps to get on to training as a clinical psychologist which is a massively popular career in the UK.

This is partly because psychology itself became a hot topic and universities realised about 15 years ago that the subject was a money spinner, meaning many undergraduate courses regularly have about 200 students a year on them.

This put additional pressure on clinical psychology training places, which for the last decade have had about 20 applications for each place on the course.

As the competition is intense, assistant psychologist jobs are like gold dust. The NHS Trust I work in regularly takes down adverts for these jobs after about 24 hours, at which point they may have received up to 500 applications.

So finding someone to do a £20,000 assistant psychology job for free should be fairly trivial.

You can also see an additional trend at work: while you need an approved doctorate to now qualify for the profession, many hope an MSc in the same subject area – which doesn’t actually do anything except extend your academic knowledge – will help their chances.

Universities are capitalising on this demand and lots of MSc courses have started popping up all over the country, all with ‘not quite clinical psychology’ names like “foundations of clinical psychology” and “clinical applications of psychology”.

I don’t doubt they’re excellent, but that’ll be another maybe 10 grand on top of your student debt.

The effect of all this is that the not-so-well-off are inadvertently filtered out of the profession and we increasingly lack diversity in an already overly-homogeneous profession.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure this unpaid assistant psychologist job is valuable work. But not exploiting young people should also be a priority.

Link to piss-taking job post (via @bengoldacre)

9 thoughts on “Work for free!”

  1. Hi Vaughan,
    Just wanted to add that following discussion over this in The Psychologist’s ‘Letters’ pages and at the Psychologist and Digest Policy Committee, we have stopped accepting such ads – see announcement on p.799 in November issue.
    Jon Sutton
    The Psychologist
    The British Psychological Society

  2. Hi Vaughan,

    I totally agree with the majority of your post, and would add that I’ve encountered people working for free in “honorary” assistant psychologist posts. Whilst it is invaluable experience, it does mean that only those who are able to afford to take what are in effect unpaid internships are able to gain experience in these jobs. This may well prevent people from less privileged backgrounds from getting into clinical psychology.

    One point about the masters in applications of clinical psychology is worth making though. My university (Newman University College) offers a course in applications of clinical psychology, with modules in things like neuropsychological assessment, advanced statistics, ethics & professional issues etc and these modules can be taken to PG Cert (3 modules), Diploma (6 modules) or Masters (6 modules plus masters dissertation). However, most people do not actually do the whole course, as many of them manage to get into clinical training at some point during the course, so don’t complete the full masters.

    Its hard to argue that the course is *causing* them to get into clinical training (as many of the masters students already have assistant psychologist jobs) so it could be that keen assistant psychologists are taking these courses as part time distance learners to try and boost their chances. Full disclosure – I’ve got the PG Cert from Newman, which would have cost me £1200 (£400 per module) although it was free for me as I was doing my PhD there.

    One good thing is that clinical applications from men are now encouraged, as we are under-represented in the profession. Wish me luck! 🙂

  3. They must have taken their cue from huge universities exploiting college basketball players! Seriously though, these internships are popular here too. Is there any indication these volunteers will eventually get a paid position? I tend to doubt it.

    Also popular here are “working interviews” where “applicants” work free, sometimes for weeks.

  4. As an undergraduate psychology student, the gap between completing a Bsc and moving into clinical work is hugely daunting. The idea of working for free for the foreseeable future, with no clear route into a clinical setting is so off putting that i’m considering retraining in a different field. In addition, there is a huge culture of ‘you need experience to get experience’ which is stifling many students as they are desperate to get involved but, technically, qualified for absolutely nothing. C’est la vie, unfortunately.

  5. I applaud The Psychologist for boycotting ads like this – everyone should do that. But they’re a symptom of an underlying disease and we need to tackle that too.

  6. I was shocked, years ago, to see “work experience” (now enshrined as “workfare”, perhaps?) posts being advertised in The Psychologist: I hear from people in other professions here in Spain (architecture, the Law) of similar offers to the job-starved (“help with travel costs”: “experience”…)acrually being promoted by the professional bodies in question. Appalling for various reasons, not least because of the promotion of “voluntarism” and most certainly because of the edging out of the less privileged, as you and one commentator have mentioned. A ghastly business.

    1. I agree with this and other comments. Asking people to work for free does exclude those who are unable to do so, and gradually moves clinical psychology towards being a profession which only those from more privileged backgrounds can enter.

      Nskeptic made a good point in their reply though, that honorary/work experience/work for free posts are a symptom of the underlying disease. The important question here then is this – what is the underlying disease?

      If we accept that salaries are roughly based on supply and demand for the skills and expertise required, then an increasing number of honorary posts suggests that there is either a) an oversupply of psychology graduates or b) an undersupply of assistant psychology posts (and/or possibly trainee clinical psychology places) or c) a bit of both.

      In these times of political and economic austerity, as much as we might like the government to spend more on additional assistant psychologist posts (and trainee places) this is probably quite unlikely to happen.

      This leads us to consider the other side of the equation, possible overproduction of psychology graduates. With undergraduate tuition fees now as much as £9000 per year, a psychology graduate will likely have in excess of £30,000 in debt (once living costs and other expenses are taken into account).

      My worry is that if we continue to produce psychology graduates in ever increasing numbers, at much greater expense/debt to the graduate, into a job market with not enough posts and in which they are increasingly expected to take unpaid work experience, then the value of a psychology degree will become increasingly less, due to diminishing expected returns on an increasingly expensive investment.

      At the moment, young undergraduates are still confident that their degree will give them an excellent return on their investment, but what if they begin to lose this confidence over the next few years or so? A loss of confidence in the value of a psychology degree would be disastrous for our profession, particularly in higher education.

      I’m not sure what the solution is however. Perhaps other readers could offer their opinions here?

  7. I agree with the point that it is precious place to work, learn and enter into the bigger arena. But still I guess instead of making it absolutely “unpaid” they should make it partially paying. Mean OK, don’t pay that much but at least to cover the basic expenses give some. Because the person who don’t have any other source of income or savings can’t join it and can simply miss this precious opportunity.

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