Image from “Brain Science Biology” by Geralt CC0 

Words by Ananya Rao

Ananya likes to claim that books are her best friends because she used to practically inhale them at age fourteen but hasn’t completed one since July 21st. 

In senior high school, I had the option of studying psychology under two different streams: humanities or science. I chose humanities. I knew for a fact that if I studied physics and chemistry, it would have taken me a couple of extra years to finish school. That’s how much I sucked at them. I don’t mind mathematics – and I absolutely love biology – but in the Indian school system, you cannot pick and choose.    

At UWA, I was told that with a background in humanities, I could only study psychological and behavioural sciences as a major under Bachelor of Arts. But, I wanted a Bachelor of Science (BSc). The main reason for this was validation, which has a complicated backstory. Allow me to explain. I come from a family of engineers. By that, I mean parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, and siblings all have pursued some field of engineering. I am the idiot who weeps while studying physics and chemistry. Psychology is unfamiliar territory to my family, I was studying something apart from engineering or finance, at a foreign university, meaning international tuition over a discipline that may never land me the ‘right job’. Oh wow, is that problematic!   

It turns out, the swap over to BSc was quick and easy, just a mathematics unit and I was on my way to science town! Or so I thought… Why was I adamant about pursuing a BSc? Because I wanted to say that I have a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degree. So, imagine my surprise when I found out that some people still do not consider psychology a STEM discipline?! I studied logarithms and am paying $10,000 extra per year, only to get a maybe STEM degree? To be fair, I am not the only one out in the lurch over this. The American Psychological Association (APA) have long been fighting an uphill battle for psychology to be recognised as a STEM discipline. Inconsistent recognition of psychology as a scientific discipline has wide-ranging implications. Psychologists are often denied STEM funding, compromising the effectiveness of scientific and technological innovation as they lack in-depth examination of human behaviour and skills. 

A simple example of a course syllabus can show why psychology should belong in STEM. Under the major I am studying, we are taught two units of statistics (one of which I cried my way through). Do you know how hard it is to do an analysis of variance manually?! Statistics is regarded as one of the most difficult types of mathematics, and that was just a fundamental unit. The next is a level-three unit, that I have not yet studied, but I am dreading it (any tips welcome!) I know they teach psychometric measurement, which sounds scary and will probably break my back.   

Moving on to the neuroscience section, something I find very interesting but also difficult: perception and sensory neuropsychology, otherwise known as Psychophysics. Physics! We’ve already mentioned how much I hate that subject. It teaches you about vision (light), audition, gustation, olfaction, touch sensation, depth, and colour perception. Along with some other topics that my mind repressed because they were too tough. I was studying so much physics it felt like a betrayal since I did not quite know what I was signing up for when I took this. Despite the initial struggle, which only got worse as the semester progressed, I studied in as much depth as my physics-averted brain could take. And I did a fair job. The only tipping point was learning that after all the hard work I did, I still will not be part of ‘women in STEM’?! Like no, this is simply not fair!    

Psychology is the science of behaviour. It is what helps people when their mental health is deteriorating. It helps develop flight safety protocols, and it is absolutely necessary when providing mental health first aid. It is high time we accord psychology the STEM status that it surely deserves, and learn to appreciate the contributions of students, psychologists, therapists, and many other psychology professionals. Psychological science is a part of your life in ways you will never realise. Its absence is more profound than the benefits of its presence ever will be. People don’t realise the value it holds. 

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican is one of the oldest student publications in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you enjoy writing, then Pelican is the place for you! We print six themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content.

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