Neil Lucas’s attraction to psychology began during unrelated studies many years ago, as he explored the subject through elective units. But the allure of the field remained strong enough during a 15-year marketing and business development career for Neil to eventually consider a switch to clinical psychology.
With his Australian College of Applied Psychology Honours thesis complete, Neil’s clinical studies are now at their final stage. He is about to relocate from Sydney to Melbourne where he will begin his doctorate at Swinburne University.
“Professionally, I’ve worked with many organisational psychologists over the years, but my interested in clinical psychology started to grow and I started part-time at ACAP in 2012 completing a Bachelor of Psychological Science,” said Neil.
“The more I studied, the more I loved it, and I decided to work a little harder for the grades needed to get into Honours.”
Neil’s inspiration to change professions developed from a longstanding curiosity about wellbeing, boosted by society’s portrayal of psychology in everyday life. It was after one too many organisational restructures at work that Neil decided to leave corporate life behind to explore a new future in clinical psychology.
“I’ve always been interested in human behaviour, personality differences and abnormal psychology topics that we hear about in popular culture and television shows. I’ve also been quite an empathic person too, so it seemed a natural fit for me to study something that incorporates brain, behaviour, personality and helping others.”
Psychology undergraduates commonly need to come to terms with the topic’s prominence of numbers that sets their discipline apart from counselling, and Neil was no exception. He says it was ACAP’s unique culture that helped him overcome early obstacles to understanding the numerical concepts of his future profession.
“Not being from a very strong mathematics background, I had a major fear of statistics. The smaller class sizes and more intimate learning environment definitely helped me get more comfortable with the subject and be more confident asking questions,” said Neil.
“At my previous university, in a massive lecture theatre, I wouldn’t have been comfortable asking those ’stupid questions’ in front of a few hundred other students. At ACAP however, the smaller classes weren’t so intimidating, which gave me more confidence to speak up.”
Neil also took advantage of ACAP’s flexible learning options to fit his undergraduate studies around full-time work. When he was accepted into Honours three years later, Neil changed to full-time study and worked part-time at his job, to put more energy and focus into his thesis.
“I had started psychology at a mainstream university, but their timetable didn’t allow for me to complete my first two core subjects part-time, after work. ACAP’s blended learning appealed to me because I could manage content at my own pace and around work commitments. A campus in the city near my office was also a selling point!” Neil said.
Exploring a research void
For his ACAP Honours thesis, Neil chose same-sex parenting as the topic of his 12,000-word report and his specialty in that general subject area is developing through his PhD, and beyond.
“I explored experiences of discrimination and how these might impact the sense of parenting self-efficacy for non-heterosexual individuals. This research involved me also measuring psychological wellbeing for LGBTQI+ people,” said Neil.
“For my current thesis, at as part of my Clinical Psychology PhD at Swinburne University, my focus has stayed in this area and I’m looking at ways to increase psychological wellbeing for people living with HIV/AIDS. I’ve volunteered in the HIV/AIDS space for the last 12 years, so it’s an area I’m passionate about. There’s also a lack of research in Australia, so I hope to add to the current body of literature both locally and internationally.”
On-track to reach his goal of working as both a clinician and a researcher specialising in LGBTQI+ wellbeing, Neil plans to continue analysing the unique stressors that impact the various subgroups within the community.
“It’s a really under-researched area in Australia,” he said.
If Neil has discovered a trace of common ground between marketing and psychology, it’s that you should get creative to serve an unmet need – in his present world, that means getting busy creating fresh statistics.
“My frustration when doing my Honours thesis was that there wasn’t enough local research for me to reference. So, as my supervisor said, ‘rather than get frustrated about it, change it, and add to the literature yourself’. Best advice ever!” Neil said.
New city, new career
Thanks to the good fortune of a Swinburne University scholarship, Neil is moving on from ACAP, to change institutions as well as cities. But he is happy to recommend the college where his career change began to aspiring psychologists who are considering venues for an undergraduate psychology education.
“ACAP has excellent lecturers, a great learning environment and really good flexibility to help you juggle study around the other important areas of your life. I’ve had a really positive learning experience and have got to work with some really excellent minds – both lecturers’ and students’ – during the last four-and-a-half years,” said Neil.
“I was lucky enough to be awarded an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, which covers my tuition fees for the duration of my PhD as well as a stipend payment to help with expenses as a full-time student. It definitely takes the financial pressure off a little bit knowing I can cover rent each week.”
Neil Lucas was interviewed in February 2017