Dr. Chris McCarthy, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, sits down to talk about the undergraduate Career Planning course that we planned, designed and implemented together last year. We explore the history and future of the course, the unique setting of the College of Education that allows him to match undergraduates with graduate students in the counseling education program, and the challenges of trying new technology tools and teaching strategies. Chris shows us that 21st Century career planning involves much more than personality testing and resume writing. His students learn professional social networking, gain experience interviewing, and leave with a clearer idea of their next steps.

Learn More

Chris's faculty page and his Coping and Stress in Education Research Team page

Designing Your Life:(https://designingyour.life/the-book/) text Chris mentions in the podcast:

Teacher Stress and Coping (2018) Christopher McCarthy Richard Lambert Paul G. Fitchett https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118784235.eelt0145

Video of Chris talking about coping with stress at work https://youtu.be/vDfp5U5ZIOY


Karen French: Welcome to Learning from Texas Education Innovators, a podcast series hosted by the Office of Instructional Innovation in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Welcome back to Learning from Texas Education Innovators. Today's guest is Dr. Chris McCarthy from the Department of Educational Psychology, professor in Counseling Education, so tell me a little bit more about what that is and why it's in Educational Psychology.

Chris McCarthy: Okay.

Karen: Start with that.

Chris: Yeah. Sure, so my training was in Counseling Psychology, which is a very closely related field to Counselor Education, and both fields grew up somewhat distinct from the larger field of psychology with their focus on educational settings and particularly the career development process, so I really consider myself in both worlds, Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education, which are very similar fields, just with slightly different professional emphases.

Karen: Okay, so the reason I brought you in today was because I'm really interested in this career planning class that you have and because there's a historical component to it. There was a friend of mine who graduated from UT back in the early 1980s who told me she took a career planning class at UT in the early 1980s, and it was her favorite class at UT, and it changed her life.

Chris: Oh, great.

Karen: Do you know anything about the history of career planning at UT? What do you know?

Chris: My knowledge doesn't go back quite that far, but I know...

Karen: What can you tell me about it? Yeah.

Chris: ...that, since the '90s, I started teaching this undergraduate course, along with another faculty whose name is Bob Murph, who I believe was also the director of the career center at UT many decades ago, and so we both taught this course as a way to help students with their career planning over the course of an academic semester and using a lot of material that you typically wouldn't get if you just visited a career center for one or two appointments.

Karen: Okay, so what do you do in a career planning class? In your undergraduate class, what do the students do? What's the purpose of the course?

Chris: There's a focus on helping students learn from the literature that we have in the field of Counseling about career development and the research we have on what helps people grow as far as their awareness of careers, their own development and what we call career maturity, which is the ability to really make plans about your career and use what you know about yourself and the world of work, to find good fits between you and the jobs that you choose. The course is really intended to help students with that process, but also help them learn about the research in the field and the models and the methods that we use so they know how to use it with themselves, but they also just have a broader understanding of the topic of career development.

Karen: Career development is within Counseling, which is within Educational Psychology, which has a whole historical component that's been in there for a long time.

Chris: Yeah. Pretty much, as far as I know, the field of Counseling...I'm going to say Counseling. That includes Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. It's pretty much the only specialty I think that focuses on the career side of people's growth. There are other fields besides Counseling that focus on mental health. Fields like Social Work do that, Nursing. There are a lot of fields that do that, but pretty much, I think, the only field that really focuses on career development process is within the field of Counseling, and the field of Counseling really grew up in the school.

Chris: There were people in as far as a hundred years ago who worked in the schools who really helped students with their career development who went by a lot of different titles, but they eventually formed themselves into the field of Counseling, which was really tied to the educational setting.

Karen: Like the school counselor that you have in elementary school through high school through-

Chris: Yeah, the school counselor is one of them and, just more generally, schools will have people who are specialist in helping students transition to vocational training or focus on helping them transition to college and getting ready for that, so that's certainly a school counselor role, but it can also be other people in the schools as well.

Karen: Okay.

Chris: The field of Counseling really did grow up in school, which is really a recognition that the mission of a school is to educate people to be citizens in a democracy, but also to prepare them for the workforce, and so that's the part that was missed until the...I think until the field of Counseling grew up about a hundred years ago as a field that really helped pay attention to the vocational part of people's lives.

Karen: Okay, so the program that you're in here in ed psych has a graduate component?

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Actually, it is a graduate component, except for this course, right?

Chris: Yeah, mainly-

Karen: Tell me about it. How does it work?

Chris: The course?

Karen: Or the Counseling Education, what you're working in ...

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Karen: ...yeah, because I'm trying to get a feel for where this fits within the overall program and what it is that you do.

Chris: Right. Our Department of Educational Psychology has a program in the academic discipline of Educational Psychology, the field, and also quantitative methods is another field, but we have training programs that are basically professional preparation, master's and doctoral programs. One is in school psychology and the others are in Counseling, which train people to go out and do work in the Counseling field upon graduation. We have a master's for school counselors and college counselors, and then we have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology.

Karen: Okay.

Chris: Many of them will do career-related work when they graduate, so, if they go to work in a counseling center, if they go to work in a school, very often, that's part of what they do.

Karen: Okay, so you have the undergraduate career planning class.

Chris: Right.

Karen: You have a graduate course that's similar.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Career development.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Okay, and those have grown up recently together, right?

Chris: Yes.

Karen: I remember you and I started working on career...I think the first one we did was career development, maybe.

Chris: Yeah.

Karen: Yeah, because I know we've been working on the two of them, and they sort of grown up together over the last couple of years.

Chris: Yeah.

Karen: I think it just worked out.

Chris: Yeah, so I think probably it's important to note that the course, the graduate course, has been continually taught in our department, but the undergraduate course had not been taught for 10 to 15 years and, in that time, of course, we had all kinds of technological changes. We have the Internet, the whole process of looking for jobs...

Karen: A couple things came out.

Chris: ...changed in that-

Karen: Okay.

Chris: Yeah, so I think, when you and I worked together, it was really just with the idea of getting both courses more aligned with what's happening today because, when I taught the course in the '90s, we had email and we had Internet, but job searching through the Internet was still pretty new. People still did a lot of resume stuff, just mailing stuff out. It wasn't as common as it is today, where everything is done on the Internet. I think, when we worked together, the idea was to really develop a course with all of that in mind, so how do you keep the technology front and center in a course about careers because that's going to be so important to the career planning that people do?

Karen: When you brought it back, it had gone away, the undergraduate course.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Why did you bring it back? What was the goal?

Chris: The goal was really to offer that course because it was so important to students. University of Texas has several initiatives for student success, for student graduation, for what students do after they graduate. I mean, that's front and center in higher education, and so, really, the fact that we didn't have that course for a while I thought was unfortunate because it's such an important part of what students do, because you know there's a lot of resource that the students have on campus for seeing advisors and seeing counselors as undergrads if they want to do some work around career, but I think, for the most part, they do that once or twice total in their whole time at UT, so the idea of the course is to really have a more sustained focus on the career planning process to help student understand the broader picture and what we know about career development from research in the field, and so that was the idea. That was really important to bring it back.

Karen: To spend a full semester going through all of the process of figuring this out and thinking over time and-

Chris: Right, and just with the idea that most students probably have a hard time planning a career with just one or two visits to a career center. There's so much information they have. The world of work changes so dramatically. The way they connect their majors to the world of work changes constantly, so there's a lot to consider, so, again, that's...Not every student is going to take a course like this, but there are a lot of students who can take this and, hopefully, benefit from it throughout their time at UT and after.

Karen: Yeah. One of the things I really like about when we first started talking about the course was...and I learned from working with you...

Chris: As did I. Sure.

Karen: ...was that it wasn't planning for finding a job.

Chris: Right. Right.

Karen: It was planning for building that 25, 30, 40, 50-year career planning process, that we aren't just going to help you find something when you get out of here, but figure out the trajectory and where the next step and where the next step and where the next step was because we know that research shows that they're probably going to have multiple.

Chris: Multiple. Yeah, I mean, numbers vary, but definitely at least five, if not more.

Karen: Helping them realize that it's okay to change and that change was going to be okay, and here's how you deal with it and here's how you make decisions strategically moving forward.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: One of the things that you chose early on was the hybrid format where some of the classes would be face-to-face and some of the course or some of the work that they were going to be doing was online.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Why?

Chris: I think the main reason was that there's so much available now that you can do online that wasn't true the last time I offered the course as far as information that you could access, resources for learning about careers. There was just so much that they could do outside of the class, and that was going to enhance their time in the class particularly with, as I mentioned, like researching careers, finding information about careers, learning about what different jobs entail.

I think that is so much different than the last time I taught the course, which was, again, back in the '90s, and so you pretty much went to books or magazines. I mean, companies had websites, but nothing like what you have today where you could take a given field and just read all kinds of information. You can really get inside of a career through what's available online, so the point of this course was to curate some of that material so they weren't just randomly searching stuff, but really trying to put different resources in front of them through that online piece.

Karen: You seem to have an experiential component to it where the students are doing, not just looking, so the interview that you have involved when they go in and interview, look at the genograms where they learn to do things like that when they do their career. What is it, the design process? That's the new component that you've added this semester, so thinking of that career maybe?

Chris: Yeah, so we do the interviewing to get them thinking about their careers particularly in terms of their own backgrounds, because everybody has their own family history with careers, and that influences them even though we sometimes aren't acknowledging that always. I mean, I think that our family, their expectations or jobs they've held, how they've been role models for us, it definitely influences how people think about and choose careers, so we do have them interview somebody in their family who might have had an impact on them or just to really talk with them about how they chose their career as a part of it, and then we also are building in information interviewing, so helping them identify people in the field they can talk to as a way to get information.

Karen: Did you get any feedback from the first group of students that went through how they felt about the interview process? Are they starting to?

Chris: Yeah. I think they liked it. I think, for certain students, it's obvious who in their family they'd want to go to, and, other students, it's harder as far as what their family looks like and how much role modeling they got and what their family setup is like. I think one of the things we learned is that some students really need help in thinking about that, like who are the people in their family that have had the most impact and who could they talk to.

Karen: Okay.

Chris: That was an important takeaway from the last time that we offered it was that it's not enough just to go through your family history and pick somebody out. Some students intuitively know how to do that and some students really need some help with that, because some of them would end up interviewing people in their current lives like girlfriends or boyfriends or current professors, which is helpful, but it doesn't give you a sense of where you've come from. That's more like what's going on in your world right now.

Karen: Okay.

Chris: The other piece you mentioned I think was about a career approach that involves some work that was done at Stanford around design engineers. There's a book, Designing Life, that's used there that I've incorporated in the course which really talks about how students can use principles of design engineering in their career planning.

Karen: Where they do the storyboards?

Chris: Yeah, so, basically, it's helping them think about how do they get from A to B in a way that lets them try things out, which is what design engineers do I think, which is just basically take problem like I need to choose a career and think of creative ways to address that problem and, really, a lot of it involves visualizing your future, using different tools to plot a possible path for yourself and then trying some stuff out, and then trying some stuff out is not necessarily like taking a part-time job or an internship, which is a heavy commitment. It's testing things out in smaller ways that are really testable.

Karen: Their approach or your approach with this isn't you have to find the job.

Chris: Right.

Karen: It's the figuring out what these options might be, and the design process gives them options for testing.

Chris: Right, and if a design engineer was going to make a car or a boat, they don't necessarily start with a full-scale model of it, right? They have really simple, easy-to-design things that they can put in a wind tunnel or in a pond and see how something is going before they go through all the expense and effort to make a full-scale model, so kind of using that with careers, too, that there's a lot of steps people can take. For example, like going into teaching, a lot of people think they know what it's like to be teacher because they've been around teachers. Most of us spend our lives doing that, and so those people do that, but they don't try out. They might spend years getting ready to be a teacher, getting certified and then find out they don't like the day-to-day of it, right? There's a lot of ways.

Karen: I have a friend who did that. He wanted to be a teachers and then gets into student teaching and suddenly decides, "I'm not a teacher."

Chris: Right, which is fine and good that you find that out, but it would be better I would say if you find that out earlier without all the years of work it takes to get to that point. There are things you can do. Volunteer work at a summer camp. There's things you can do to find out if you'd like the day-to-day reality of being a teacher, so thinking about what that is and how you can test that out is part of that approach.

Karen: Interesting.

Chris: Yes, indeed.

Karen: I'm fascinated to see how that part of it goes, it sort of turns out.

Chris: We're working on that in the graduate class now. We're going to ask some of our graduate students to think about prototypes for them in their lives so they can think about how they might use that approach with their own clients.

Karen: It seems like you're taking that same approach with the course and courses themselves. You've had one iteration of the undergraduate course.

Chris: Right.

Karen: This is your second iteration of the graduate course and, each time, they're similar, but you're adding new features each time, learning as you go.

Chris: Right.

Karen: What have you learned so far?

Chris: Quite a bit. I mean, I think, using technology with your partnership has been both a wonderful opportunity in that it's a lot of work, and it takes a lot of trial and error to figure the best thing...the best way to do things, I guess, I'd say, so figuring out what's the right sequence for that and how to introduce that kind of materials.

Chris: For example, at the undergraduate class that you mentioned, we did a lot of the career tests with them in the beginning. We found that was too much for the students because they needed several weeks just to get ready to take the tests and understand the results, whereas the graduate students can do that pretty quickly because they're familiar with psychological tests. The pacing of everything needs to be very carefully considered, and you really only know that when you try that out over a semester and get feedback from students.

Karen: Is that how you normally put together a class?

Chris: Somewhat, but this is definitely different. If you're having people read the stuff and have lectures and talk about stuff, that's what...I think, in some way, it's a little more straightforward to plan for, like how long that's going to take and how one thing follows another, but a lot of the materials you and I have developed are very experiential and involves some discovery and involved trying things out, and so it's hard to know sometimes what's going to work best for students.

Karen: Yeah, I think that's one of the things I'm learning from this class. The more that you have things that are hands-on and have someone try something, that might look like it isn't that much work on the part of the instructor because you just have the students doing something, but that's an awful lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that it doesn't fall apart as they work...

Chris: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Karen:...but the results I think are pretty interesting.

Chris: Yeah, that's an excellent point. It's probably like many other forms of teaching or other endeavors that they don't see a lot of what's behind the scenes, so they just-

Karen: You got to get behind the curtain.

Chris: Yeah, they just do something in Canvas and it magically appears.

Karen: We have had a few of those.

Chris: Yeah, or we do an activity, and it takes 30 minutes and we...They do it and they talk about it, but planning for that and getting the materials ready and then having all the technology work definitely involves effort.

Karen: That always makes me laugh when you made a tool that visualizes something. You're like, "You don't understand how great this thing is," and the students are like, "What?"

Chris: Yes.

Karen: Yeah, it does this. It visualizes this.

Chris: Yeah. I hadn't said that to my class. Last week, we had a test about how they cope with stress that I've developed with a colleague, but you helped me put it into a format where they can see results in Canvas, and they liked it, but I don't think...

Karen: They're not impressed...

Chris: ...they realized it's-

Karen: ...with the efforts, but-

Chris: Yeah, they don't realize how much effort it took to develop the test, get it into a format that they could see and that was understandable and then getting it into Canvas, I mean.

Karen: I think, the people that do what we do behind the scenes, that if they don't understand and they're not impressed by it, that means we did a great job.

Chris: Yes. I think that's a great point.

Karen: We tell ourselves that.

Chris: Yes. No, I think that's a great point. Yeah.

Karen: [inaudible 00:21:16].

Chris: I think, for our graduate students, it's also helpful for them to know that, when you're doing these things for people, it's going to take a lot of effort ...

Karen: If they're going to do these [crosstalk 00:21:25].

Chris: ...if they're going to do these things, so, if they're going to design programs for high school students or at a campus where they work, it does take a lot of effort and a lot of...probably a lot of trial and error.

Karen: That's makes me, reminds me of what you had talked about, bringing together the graduate students in the future iterations.

Chris: Yes. Yeah.

Karen: How is that going to look?

Chris: I teach a different class, which is like a counseling skills class, basically helping counselors be intentional about just communicating with clients, where I have students in that class "practice" with undergraduates who are taking introductory course in Counseling just to learn about Counseling models, so I want to use the same approach with the career class.

Chris: Since students in my graduate class are doing a lot of the same things the undergraduates are doing as far as learning about different methods and models of career development, a natural next step would be to have students in my class, the graduate class, work with the undergraduate students to really help them get the most they can out of the different activities we're doing, so, once the graduate students know what an activity is about, they can be spending one-on-one time with undergraduate students who are taking the undergraduate career planning class.

Karen: They get the experiential learning in the same way that the undergraduates do only. There's this experiencing the...being a career counselor.

Chris: Yeah, so the graduate students learn about...Yeah, exactly. They learn about being a career counselor in a pretty safe environment before they see "real clients." Of course, my students are real clients.

Karen: There'll be scaffolding in place for them.

Chris: Yes.

Karen: You're going to be right there.

Chris: Yeah, and the undergraduate students, I think, it's an opportunity for them to do a little bit more in-depth for...with someone other than the instructor because, when I taught the undergraduate class, there were 40 students.

Karen: Right, more one-on-one.

Chris: Yeah, more one-on-one...

Karen: [crosstalk 00:23:19].

Chris: ...so they can do more exploration and just have more give-and-take with someone.

Karen: That could get really interesting.

Chris: Yeah, I think so, so we're looking to do that hopefully next fall.

Karen: What's your final vision for this? We're seeing where this has started. We're seeing where this is going. What's your big vision for it? In a perfect world at UT, where do you think Counseling does...Yes.

Chris: That's a great question. That's a...

Karen: Thanks.

Chris: ...question I ask students in my class, so I guess it should be asked of me. Where you're going with all of this? I think, as I mentioned, in higher ed, it's really important to know what can we do to prepare our students for life after college, and so I think one of my ultimate goals would be to really do more evaluation of the course and how does it really concretely help students, so, if students take this course, in what specific observable ways do they profit from such a course, and, by that, I mean do they graduate faster than students who haven't taken the course? Do they find jobs quicker? What impact does it have on their future development?

Karen: I would be really interested in who does it impact. When you first...

Chris: Which students?

Karen: ...building the course, there were specific kind of students, the students that were...that didn't come in with the social capital like the other students, so, if your parents didn't go to college and dad didn't have an executive job, and you didn't have those social networks...

Chris: Right.

Karen: ...that other people had that knew how to find that kind of job, this could help you learn to do those things...

Chris: Exactly.

Karen: ....those are the students that I'm really interested in targeting. Are those students going to benefit from this course in a way that they wouldn't if they didn't have the course...

Chris: Right, so you're asking-

Karen: ...or if that's really measurable?

Chris: Yeah. I think you're asking probably the most important question, which is what kind of student needs this kind of course, because some students are going to walk into UT knowing what they want to do and they probably don't need a whole academic course in career planning.

Karen: They might like it, but not need it in the same way.

Chris: Yeah, so they might like it. It might be helpful to them, so I think what you're asking is, given the whole range of services a university might want to offer students within a college or across campus, where does a course like this fit in, so identifying which students could really benefit and profit the most from this course and then think about how it could be offered potentially in different ways, so it could be broken apart into different components so it doesn't...Maybe it's just a one-hour course for some students. It could be part of other things they're doing.

Karen: A one-hour course is ...Normally, it's a three-hour course, same level as any other kind of credit, student takes it the same way they would take a history class, probably a psych class or whatever.

Chris: Yeah.

Karen: A one-hour course would be a lighter load. They would take it. Right now, they take it anytime during...It's a lower-division course, so ...

Chris: Yes, it's a lower-division course.

Karen: ...they take it sophomore, freshman, junior.

Chris: Yep.

Karen: You like it there, so not something a senior would take by the time you're a senior.

Chris: Yeah, it could be helpful for a senior. We offered it before as an upper-division course, but a lot of students were so close to graduating that some of the material just wasn't as relevant to them because their needs were a lot more pressing. An academic course where you take time to really figure out career plans is less relevant if you're faced with like, a month away, I have to have a job.

Karen: Oh, because if you're still trying to figure out this test, plans of where I might go, earlier on is better. You're going to get more opportunities to do that.

Chris: Yeah. Exactly. Yep.

Karen: Okay, so that's how we're going to change the world.

Chris: That's it.

Karen: Get the word out today.

Chris: Yep. All right, sounds good.

Karen: Thank you.

Chris: All right.

Karen: I'm giving back your time today because-

Chris: Thank you. I enjoyed it, and thanks for your help with the class.

Karen: Thanks. Bye.