Why Educational Psychology?

I’ve been struggling on how to write this paper for some time. Now that I have prepared a program of studies for my PhD program that more than fulfills the department’s, the college’s, and the university’s requirement, my adviser asked me for a brief statement on how the doctoral degree would fulfill my requirements. That is, a short statement on what I see myself using my PhD. (If all goes well, I will be All But Dissertation in December.)

My goal is to improve the knowledge base of learners, wherever they may be. Therefore, my objective is to earn a Ph.D. in Psychological Studies in Education.

Broadly, psychology can be divided into three general traditions. The first, academic psychology, focuses on a social organization of the science of the mind primarily centered around programmatic research. The second, clinical psychology, focuses on the care and repair of injuries to the mind that are outside of normal variation. The third, educational psychology, focuses on the improvement of the mind by adding to procedural, declarative, and conditional long-term memory. Psychology can thus be thought of as a Venn diagram, with these units both distinct and overlapping.

Educational psychology is the only branch of psychology that provides methods for helping most people most of the time: academic psychology studies people, and clinical psychology helps people if they are injured or otherwise hurt, but only educational psychology delivers broad-based tools to improve what typical people know, what they do, and how they do it. While academic and clinical perspectives certainly are valuable, actually improving the performance of general populations is simply outside of their focus. Nonetheless, in most situations, the best way to help people is to use educational psychology to add to what they know.

For its part, university training progresses through three stages. The first, the bachelor’s degree, provides a learner with enough knowledge to understand the most important terms of a science. The second, the master’s degree, providers a learner with enough knowledge to understand how the science of a field progresses, and to be able to read and criticize new and classic research in their field. The last, the doctorate of philosophy, allows the learner to use the core concepts of the field to develop new techniques. To be as effective an educational psychologist as I can do, I need the training required to earn a Ph.D. in the field. My goal is not simple to learn how to act according to the best research in this or that circumstance, or even to learn how to apply the newest research in a certain situation. Rather, I need the ability to utilize,manipulate, and explore the deep principles behind educational psychology. I need not only to be able to take an article and apply it to learners, but also to device, test, and analyze new approaches.

I have tried to keep this “purpose statement” on a high level. I do not discuss my specific classwork or research here, though I hope their purpose is clear. My objective is to improve the knowledge base of learners, my goal is a Ph.D. In Educational Psychology, and my program of study has been designed to make that possible.