By Hardeep Obhi, MA (Gerontology and Human Development and Family Studies Doctoral Student, Iowa State University)
Did you know that older adults (individuals 65 years of age and older) are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population?
Did you know that in 2035, older adults are projected to outnumber kids for the first time in U.S. history?
Did you know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that the majority of the jobs that will have the most growth in the next 10 years are related to aging services?
There is a broad range of exciting and personally fulfilling career opportunities to work with this rapidly growing segment of the population. However, students seldom consider pursuing a specialization and career focused on adult development and aging.
There are a variety of factors that come into play when we explore the major subject and career trajectory we would like to pursue. Many of us tend to major in psychology because it offers a variety of avenues to explore and allows us to help others. Within psychology, students tend to pick niches and frequently veer towards specializations of clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology with an emphasis on early life. Those who may consider pursuing a career focused on the later part of the lifespan often find it difficult to discover information about exploring such a career path.
If you or someone you know is interested in exploring careers in aging, here are five steps to take:
1. Gain practical experiences.
Become a research assistant, a volunteer in a setting where older adults are (e.g., senior centers, senior residences, recreation department classes, long-term care facilities), and partake in internships and practicum experiences with older adults. For example, you can capitalize on summers by engaging in paid internships while being a research assistant during the academic year. In these practical experiences, you can ask your supervisors about their career trajectory to explore if it’s something you might be interested in pursuing.
2. Find mentors – both faculty and graduate students.
Mentors who are supportive and have a personality that meshes with yours are very helpful. It is understandable that your research interests will change over time. Your research interests do not have to exactly match those of your mentors, but it is important that they are parallel to some extent. It’s also helpful to get to know graduate students and potentially have them as mentors because they know what it’s like to be an undergrad and they may be able to relate to you more effectively than a faculty member.
3. Build strong and effective communication skills.
Regardless of whether you’re interested in going into a research or practice-oriented career, it is essential for you to effectively communicate — in both a verbal and written manner. Encourage your mentor or instructor to give feedback on your written work and on your oral presentations.
4. Get to know statistics and how to critically read research articles.
Whether you’re interested in pursuing a research-oriented career or a practice-focused one, it would behoove you to understand statistics and know how to critically disentangle research articles. For example, if you are a manager of a long-term care facility who is interested in decreasing levels of employee burnout, you may look towards research to explore empirically-based programs/interventions to help with this. As such, a strong foundation in statistical and research methodology will help you get through the literature and critically assess how well research findings apply to your employees. In doing so, you’ll encounter issues of reliability, validity, and have the ability to understand what the statistics noted in the research article actually mean.
5. Lastly, take a look at American Psychological Association’s new resource: Exploring Careers in Aging.
These step-by-step educational roadmaps (one for undergraduates and one for graduate students) will help you learn more about career opportunities in aging and ways to prepare for your career trajectory. They also include questions to consider and actions to take at each educational level, examples of adult development and aging-focused careers, and lots of resources.
Figuring out what you should major in and what sort of career path you want to take can be a challenging and exciting process. Gerontology – the study of aging – is a unique field that capitalizes on interdisciplinary work. Students who major in disciplines beyond psychology can also intersect with aging. For example, you can be an engineer who designs technology for older adults or major in business and specialize in later life financial issues. There are endless aging-related career possibilities for you to explore. Using this spiffy and informative APA resource will help you navigate every step of the way.
Hardeep Obhi, MA, is currently a doctoral candidate studying Gerontology and Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University (ISU). She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology and possesses a master’s degree in Research and Experimental Psychology from San Jose State University. Ms. Obhi was recently awarded an F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute on Aging within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her proposal Biopsychosocial Reserves and Dementia: Identifying Life-span Protective Factors, which will help contribute to the understanding of life-span biopsychosocial reserves to promote cognitive health in later life as well as have implications for developing public health interventions, preventions, and policies for cognitive decline. In addition to her research endeavors, Ms. Obhi has also been an Interdisciplinary Writing Consultant for the Center for Communication Excellence housed within the Graduate College at ISU for three years; in this mentorship role, she helps graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from all disciplines with professional communication in individualized consultations, develops and presents writing seminars and workshops on a variety of topics (e.g., research and grant writing). In Summer 2017, As a graduate intern, Ms. Obhi provided significant support to the APA Office on Aging and the APA Committee on Aging in developing the Exploring Careers in Aging Roadmaps resource.