Having always been a keen observer and a sensitive and empathetic person, Karishma Bajaj’s career path to psychology is not surprising. Her mom had been a licensed professional counselor (LPC) before becoming a full-time author. What her mom knew careerwise carried over into life lessons for Karishma.
On a personal level, “Understanding some of the theories of behavior, especially positive psychology, has helped me a great deal through challenges in my own life,” she explains. Academically, taking AP Psychology in high school led her to major in psychology at The University of Texas at Austin (UT).
Question: How Do You Decide Which Psychology Specialty to Pursue?
During Karishma’s undergraduate studies, she worked as an assistant preschool teacher and as an undergraduate research assistant in multiple labs. These experiences played into her decision to pursue a particular field after graduation: industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology.
“From January 2018 to July 2021, I worked on multiple social media studies in a language psychology lab, and I am actually starting an internship in social intelligence analytics for a market research company soon,” Karishma says. “The two experiences require similar skills and both utilize large, unstructured datasets from social platforms.
“My work experience is definitely varied; I’ve worked in both corporate settings and child care, most recently with autistic children. I think because of that, I applied to both I/O and counseling graduate programs and let the admissions process and the offers I got guide which path I wanted to follow.”
But once she began applying to graduate schools on her own, Karishma realized she needed something to show her drive.
Answer: With the Post-Bacc Program for Counseling and Psychology
“I pursued a post-bacc to boost my résumé and raise my GPA,” Karishma acknowledges.
“I felt my undergraduate transcript didn’t reflect my capabilities and realized I could retake some core courses to show academic growth. I had actually applied to Ph.D. programs for the 2020–2021 school year and made it to the interview stage at two programs, but ultimately did not get an offer.
“The post-bacc program is a great opportunity to learn about different disciplines within psychology and figure out which programs you want to apply to.”
“UC Berkeley Extension’s Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions was an opportunity to strengthen my application before reapplying to both Ph.D. and master’s programs.”
Karishma registered for our program in 2020 and completed her courses before the end of the year. She enrolled in:
“While I enjoyed all of my classes and the instructors, Emerging Adulthood with Dr. Melissa Bayne was definitely my favorite course,” Karishma extols.
“She explained the material in great depth while also being concise and engaging,” Karishma replies. “Her feedback on the written assignments was always helpful, and I enjoyed how the writing prompts encouraged me to think about my current stage in life as an emerging adult. Our assigned reading was from The Defining Decade, and I even recommended it to all of my friends!”
Outside of the classwork and knowledge gained, Karishma is certain that the recommendation letter from the program’s staff was a reason she received two amazing offers for graduate school.
“The Seminar on the Graduation Application Process had great insights on writing a high-quality personal statement and how to navigate the stressors of applying to multiple schools. I am grateful for the instructors and peers I met through the program.”
She adds, “More than anything, the post-bacc program instilled confidence in my academic abilities. I was working full time while doing the program and ended with a 3.96 GPA, which helped me realize I have the focus and drive to succeed in graduate school.”
Onto New York, New York
Karishma applied to six Ph.D. programs in counseling psychology and one Ph.D. program in applied psychology, in addition to a master’s program at New York University (NYU).
“I had two Ph.D. interviews—one in counseling and one in applied—and got an offer from the latter,” she says. But it was acceptance into NYU's M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program that made the future career decision easier for Karishma.
“While I was really excited about the opportunity to do a Ph.D., I was drawn to NYU’s urban setting and professional network,” she says. “I have always wanted to live in New York City and had considered going to NYU for undergrad.”
“The program helped me refine my focus and understand how I wanted to contribute to the field.”
Expected to graduate in 2023 with her master’s degree, Karishma started classes this past summer and is very excited to deepen her knowledge in the I/O specialty.
What about this area of psychology does she feel so connected to? It is a cumulation of her education and work experiences.
“I have worked in corporate settings and did an internship in advisory services at American Productivity and Quality Center in Texas as an undergraduate. I also took courses in organizational behavior and human dimensions of organizations (HDO) at UT that I really enjoyed,” she explains.
“I/O psychology is an exciting field because it covers a multitude of areas like quality of work life, employee engagement, and training and development. With work-from-home and the effects of the pandemic, companies are navigating an unprecedented amount of change right now. Since starting the master’s program, I have been actively exploring career options within I/O. I'm especially interested in training and development, which involves creating effective training programs and evaluating their success, as well as creating organizational learning initiatives.”
For other students interested in pursuing psychology as a career, Karishma has this advice:
“The great part about psychology is that it pulls from both natural sciences, such as biology, and other social sciences, such as economics and organizational behavior. My advice is to let your interests and experiences lead you and take the classes that pique your interest. I would also take advantage of all the resources the program has to offer and get to know your instructors!”
Interested in pursuing psychology as a career? Learn more about the Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions.