The science of psychology is built on a foundation composed of three core elements: 1) a body of scientifically derived knowledge; 2) a set of methodologies for observing and measuring human phenomena, and 3) procedures for the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. Successful undergraduate education in psychology imparts knowledge and skills about these three elements at the same time as it instils values that represent the best of what the science and application of psychology has to offer. Fledgling scholars require more than a disciplinary focus. A good education in psychology immerses students in a liberal arts context that enriches their experience and provides them with broad insight into themselves and into the world in which they live.
Recognizing the importance of defining learning goals and outcomes in undergraduate psychology education, the American Psychological Association appointed, in the year 2000, a task force on undergraduate psychology competencies. The report of this task force has become an influential point of reference for the examination of psychology programs and curricula. At the core of the report are ten goals that capture the essence of the broad objectives outlined above. These goals can therefore serve as an effective way of defining the objectives of all psychology programs at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Goal 1 Students will demonstrate familiarity with the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings and historical trends. Students take a number of courses, starting with an broad introductory course, specialized second-year content courses, and an optional history course, that focus on the concepts, theories, findings and historical trends in all major areas of psychology. Students in neuroscience take broad introductory courses in biology, chemistry, psychology, calculus and physics as well as specialized second- and third-year courses in neuroscience which focus on concepts, techniques and empirical findings.
Goal 2 Students will understand and apply basic research methods including research design, data analysis and interpretation. Students complete two statistics courses and two methods courses in psychology. In addition to statistics, students in neuroscience must also complete second and third-year neuroanatomy and mammalian physiology laboratories. First year courses in chemistry and biology also have laboratory requirements.
Goal 3 Students will respect and engage in critical and creative thinking, sceptical inquiry, and, when possible, the scientific approach to solve problems related to behaviour and mental processes. A primary focus is to train students to “think scientifically”. Scientific thinking requires care in the interpretation of evidence and awareness of the limits of available methods for exploring questions of interest, limits that necessitate approaches that range from inductive to deductive thinking and from qualitative to quantitative analysis. This begins in our large first year courses with online analytic exercises and culminates in upper-level seminar and laboratory courses.
Goal 4 Students will understand and apply psychological principles to personal, social and organizational issues. This is achieved in a variety of ways at different levels of the psychology curriculum, and is a natural extension of the curriculum for psychology, given the focus on the study of human behaviour. From multiple choice questions that focus on the application of concepts to discussions and essays that emphasize analysis in more advanced seminars, the focus is perpetually on creative extension and extrapolation rather than on rote learning.
Goal 5 Students will be able to weigh evidence, tolerate ambiguity, act ethically, and reflect other values that are the underpinnings of psychology as a discipline. Understanding that transcends the immediate “material” is essential to enlightened education. This is achieved by engaging students in critical thought and motivated inquisitiveness. Reflection about ethics is fostered by familiarizing students with unfortunate historical violations of participants’ (human and animals) rights in research, as well as with the potential nefarious use of psychological principles to manipulate others.
Goal 6 Students will demonstrate information competence and the ability to use computers and other technology for many purposes. This is achieved by making it a requirement for students to search for information online, the teaching of computer-based methods for collecting and analyzing data, as well by setting high professional standards for all work prepared by students.
Goal 7 Students will be able to communicate effectively in a variety of formats. This is achieved in very large courses with peerScholar, instructional software that allows students to produce written opinion pieces that are then graded by other students in the course. The curriculum also includes smaller courses dedicated to skills in scientific communication. Upper level seminars, that are required in all psychology and neuroscience programs, invariably require a term paper while supervised research courses require an extensive research report.
Goal 8 Students will recognize, understand, and respect the complexity of sociocultural and international diversity. UTSC, like the other campuses of the University of Toronto, enjoys tremendous diversity in its student body. Psychology is well positioned to help students gain insight in the multitude of ways that diversity affects their lives and that of others. One course, Cultural Psychology, is directly relevant to this orientation, and courses in developmental, social, abnormal, forensic, and cognitive psychology all discuss issues related to diversity in learning and behavioral abilities within and across cultures. Courses in neuroscience explore similar topics at the molecular level of sensory and motivation systems through to larger social issues such as age-related cognitive decline, disease states and the cycle of drug addiction.
Goal 9 Students will develop insight into their own and others’ behaviour and mental processes and apply effective strategies for self-management and self-improvement. The disciplines of psychology and neuroscience have the unique quality of promoting insight into processes that touch students at their very core. Guidance of this insight is, therefore, a constant duty and responsibility of educators.
Goal 10 Students will emerge from their programs with realistic ideas about how to implement their knowledge, skills, and values in occupational pursuits in a variety of settings. The Department of Psychology at UTSC has implemented a number of procedures to help students appreciate the occupational opportunities their program of study has prepared them for. Some of the guidance comes in the form interactions with faculty while other is also provided by a Program Manager and by Associate Chairs who are responsible for program supervision and academic counselling. Importantly, the Department has fostered a close relationship with its undergraduate student association, and provides faculty support for the highly successful career and graduate school events the association organizes.
Having outlined the objectives that are common to all programs offered by the Department of Psychology at UTSC, it is important to highlight differences between them.
Specialist Program in Psychology. This program focuses on processes relevant to normal thought, feelings and behaviour. The emphasis is on scientific inquiry into social, developmental, cognitive and physiological phenomena. Students in this program are often interested in basic research as a means of elucidating psychological processes. The program prepares students for post graduate study, either in psychology or in professional areas that include counselling, speech and language pathology, social work, law, and human relations.
Specialist (Co-op) Program in Psychology. The Co-op component of this specialist program adds two work terms along with ancillary training to provide students with employment experience in areas relevant to their studies in psychology.
Specialist Program in Mental Health Studies. This program focuses on processes relevant to abnormal thought, feelings and behaviour. The emphasis is on psycho-social and psycho-biological processes responsible for psychopathology and its treatment. The orientation in this program is both scientific and applied. Students in this program are often interested in moving into careers in the mental health field. The program does not provide professional training in either the diagnosis or treatment of mental health. The focus is, instead, on providing preparation for further training in clinical psychology, psychiatry or psychiatric social work. Students who do not pursue post graduate studies can work, with appropriate supervision, in the field of mental health.
Specialist (Co-op) Program in Mental Health Studies. The Co-op component of this specialist program adds two work terms along with ancillary training to provide students with employment experience in areas relevant to their studies in mental health. Students in this program usually find valuable placements in mental health centres where they interact, under professional supervision, with the patient population.