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17 July 2024

Science
& Education

Guldan Turgut (left) in a conversation with her student Liliana Tibuc

‘Shadow a professional before choosing a specialization’

Psychology lecturer Guldan Turgut thinks universities often lack the connection with practical work experience. ‘Shadowing someone in the field for a day provides much more information.’

Many students experience stress when choosing a study direction or a Master’s programme. The information they can find online or in the study guide is too limited to give them a good idea of what it’s really like to be a clinical psychologist, a labour lawyer, or a controller. 

Lecturers often can’t help either. Most are primarily researchers with little work experience outside the university. Lecturer Guldan Turgut sees this as a significant shortfall. 

“Students crave examples and anecdotes from the field”, says Turgut, who, in addition to her work at VU, also works as a registered healthcare psychologist and as a freelance trainer for security guards and police officers. 

Perhaps it’s because Turgut herself switched studies from Law to Psychology, or because she had to wait seven years after her Master’s in Clinical Psychology for a post-Master training spot as a therapist, or because she continues to work as a therapist and freelancer alongside her teaching role at VU, that she is particularly aware of the world outside the university where the vast majority of students will end up after their studies. 

She finds the information students receive through standard channels, such as websites, study advisors, and orientation days, not sufficiently tailored to what students will do with their studies for the rest of their lives. 

Letter to the mayor 

Turgut’s students, Liliana Tibuc and Ugne Ambrozaityté (both third-year Psychology students), have indeed missed practical experiences in their education. They find the material often dry and academic, lacking vision in integrating practical applicability in life after school. “Education can become more engaging and relevant by incorporating real-world experiences”, Tibuc says.  

“Turgut is one of the few lecturers who brings the material to life. She shares her passion for the work with us”, says Tibuc. Turgut also encourages her students to do their own research before choosing a study direction. This can be done in various ways. When Turgut discovered that Law was not for her – “I found the long texts incredibly boring and realized that I was actually most interested in why people sometimes behave criminally” – she hesitated between Political Science and Psychology. She attended several lectures from both studies to discover what appealed to her most. She sometimes advises her students to do the same. 

She also advises students to shadow someone working in the field they are considering for a day or longer. Turgut occasionally arranges such opportunities with fellow psychologists. While an orientation day can provide all sorts of information about the study programme itself, it gives less insight into what it’s like to work in a particular field. 

As a 22-year-old, Turgut once interned for a few months with then-mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen. She knew she wanted to enter politics one daysomething she still desires but hasn’t yet decided when. “I learned so much in those few months”, she says, “and I still have contacts from that time.” 

How do you arrange an internship with the mayor? Turgut says, “I simply wrote him a letter, and he said: Come on over” 

Starting over 

Tibuc returned to studying after years of working. She previously studied Political Sciences and spent seventeen years in various roles in marketing & communication, project management, and human resource management. Psychology was actually her first choice, but she felt too inexperienced at the time to assist people as a therapist. Still, it kept nagging at her, and a few years ago, she decided to return to studying alongside a full-time job. 

She noticed how little the university is geared towards students like her. Despite her extensive work experience, she had to start from scratch, and the university wasn’t always flexible in accommodating the combination of work and study. When facing practical hurdles, she often heard: “Why did you start this study programme in the first place?” Instead, Tibuc believes the question should be: “How can we work together to make this work?” 

Rare involvement  

Experiences like these can sometimes lead students to a real low point, Turgut says, and as a lecturer, she wants to prevent that. She teaches her students to think in terms of solutions. A failed job interview? Turgut advises, “See it as training. Ask for genuine feedback on why you weren’t chosen.” 

And why limit yourself to existing vacancies? When Turgut couldn’t find a training spot as a healthcare psychologist after her studies, she started her own business. She still trains police officers and security guards in recognizing body language to prevent potential escalations or at least be prepared. She got the idea from a professor who, when she had to code emotions for her Master’s, said: “You’re really good at this.” 

That was exactly the push she needed, and now Turgut tries to give her students similar encouragement. Ambrozaityté says that Turgut played a role in her continuing to study. “In the first years, I didn’t get good grades. I started doubting if I was suitable for this field. But then I talked to Turgut, and she was the first lecturer to see me as a person. She said: You are actually well-suited to be a psychologist because you are a good listener.” 

Take initiative, be creative, and look beyond the obvious. That’s essentially what Turgut’s advice boils down to. It may not sound groundbreaking, but her practical involvement is rare at the university, her students have noticed. 

‘Students crave examples and anecdotes from the field’

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