The University of Oregon is now accepting applications for its new online master's degree in psychology, which will launch winter term 2021.
A first of its kind at the university, the degree is geared toward working professionals and can be completed fully online. By offering a flexible online curriculum, the program is poised to become an important link between the latest research in academia and professionals who are already working on the front lines in their communities.
“The goal behind this is to deliver high-quality, cutting-edge information that's immediately usable for people who are in roles where they're doing the work in community-based organizations,” said Phil Fisher, director of the UO’s Center for Translational Neuroscience, Philip H. Knight Chair and professor of psychology.
Fisher helped shape the original vision for the new program and will be a research mentor to incoming students. He is eager to work in partnership with students to turn what he and his colleagues are learning on campus into benefits for communities in need.
“Scientific knowledge has historically resided in the confines of academia, and unfortunately too often these ideas don’t make it out into the real world,” he said. “There’s an equity gap when it comes to scientific knowledge between researchers and the general public, people who could make use of that information.”
And the partnership will go both ways. As much as knowledge and methodology will transmit from faculty to students, students will bring feedback from their work in the field to the virtual classroom by relating how the things they learn play out in real-life scenarios.
“I've always seen the work that we do as being a cultural exchange,” Fisher said.
Anne Mannering, the program director and lecturer, describes it as a repeat loop: research informs theory, theory informs practice and practice informs research.
“I really value the potential of this program to make that connection, that dialogue, between researchers, practitioners and community needs stronger,” Mannering said.
The program’s expected impact is due to being offered exclusively online. By enrolling without having to uproot lives or quit jobs, future students can use what they learn in the program immediately.
Courses will also be flexible, with materials available for a given week so students can study when it works best for them. That way, school schedules can fit around career or family obligations.
Fisher said he is excited about what offering a full master’s degree online means in terms of accessibility.
“If we required people to be on campus, if we required learning to be synchronous, then we would be withholding whatever the benefits are from a large sector of the population,” he said. “We're opening the doors of academia wide to create access where sometimes it doesn't exist.”
The program runs 18 months and will include summer term. Students can be done in a year and a half and can work with program coordinators to fit their personal needs and schedules.
In addition to the course load, students will also complete a capstone research project and be mentored by faculty members who are already doing research on campus.
Elliot Berkman, associate professor of psychology and associate managing director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience, has worked closely with Fisher and Mannering to turn the vision for the program into a reality. He said he is excited to engage students in his research around habitual behavior, such as eating, exercise and addiction.
“I very much look forward to working with students in the program and their home organizations to find meaningful and sustainable ways to help people in the community improve their well-being and reduce their risk for preventable disease,” Berkman said.
Applications are due by Sept. 30, and classes will start in January 2021. Successful applicants will be notified sometime in mid-fall. Mannering anticipates accepting 15-20 applicants for the first student group and hopes to expand the program in the future.
“I think it’s about making a difference,” she said. “And using the resources and the wealth of knowledge that we have here, to do that in partnership with the people who are working on the frontlines to make our communities healthier.”
—By Caitlin Howard, University Communications