What is our Online Masters in Psychology all about? A Q&A with its director

By Sarah-Mae McCullough

The research world is constantly churning out valuable information with the potential to change people’s lives. But how does that information actually reach the people who need it? 

Strengthening this bridge between research and practice is the Center for Translational Neuroscience’s mission 一 and the mission of the Online Masters in Psychology program it launched a few years ago. 

“There is a significant lag in when interventions are tested, found to be effective and when they actually make it into the real world,” OMP director Anne Mannering said. The OMP was created to empower change makers to apply neuroscience knowledge in developing or supporting the most effective, evidence-based programs possible. 

Because of the OMP’s unique, innovative nature, it can be hard to understand when you first come across it. Here are Mannering’s answers to some common questions you might have, edited for grammar, clarity and length. 

SM: What are the key skills or knowledge that students gain from OMP?

AM: The primary emphasis is on using neuroscience and psychological research to understand how we can support people who are at risk and how we can promote resilience and positive behavior change. So there's that aspect of translational neuroscience. 

The other piece is understanding the process of developing, evaluating, implementing and improving programs. Basically, how do you take those programs that are informed by what we know about neuroscience and human behavior and use them in a practical way within treatment or community settings? How do you examine options for evidence-based programs and decide which one will be the best fit? And how do you measure what's happening to know whether you're getting the outcomes you want? 

Who is the ideal student for the program? What type of students will succeed and benefit most from OMP?

The ideal person might be broader than people initially think when they're looking at graduate programs. We're really looking for students with goals for either research or career advancement that would benefit from the courses and skills we offer. 

Students in our program tend to do really well if they have some background in psychology or a related field, but that's not a requirement. 

One of the things that we love about the program is that we have students that come from all different backgrounds and careers who have been successful. We have students who have been working in the field for a while and they're wanting to return to school, and we have students who come from a psychology background or are fairly recent graduates and are interested in getting more research experience and knowledge before applying for doctoral programs.

Speaking of doctoral programs, what next steps have you seen students taking after graduation? 

We have had students go into higher level research positions, into grant writing positions, into psychology doctoral programs. We've had students go into all sorts of different directions. Some of them are behavioral, mental health program related. Some of them are more research oriented. And we're still new, so some of that is still a story that hasn't quite unfolded yet.

What unique experiences does this program offer that makes it valuable to students?

Something that I think is valuable and a little different is the way that we approach supporting students with their research project. Every student in our program conducts an independent research project. They begin at the start of their time in the program, work on it throughout, and at the end, they present their findings. 

It’s very individualized. We try to really gauge what students are interested in and help them figure out which pathway is the best fit for their current work context and what they hope to do after they leave the program. One of the aspects that we have really strived for is to ensure that we're building a lot of individualized mentoring and high quality support for students.

How is this program different from a clinical psychology program? 

Our program is not focused on direct training for how to provide different therapies or counseling. We don't provide clinical counseling skills or hands-on experience providing mental health services. We’re much more focused on understanding how to use information about neuroscience and psychology to develop effective programs that can be applied in community settings by a range of different professionals. So, it doesn't require clinical training or licensure to use the skills and the knowledge that you get from our program. 

It sounds like the program is very adaptable to students’ specific interests. What sorts of concentrations have you seen successful students come in with? 

A lot of our students come with interests in improving mental health. A lot are interested in supporting adolescents, but that can also span across the lifespan.  We've got quite a few students interested in understanding the mechanisms and the best way to support people who are dealing with substance abuse challenges 一 so understanding the neurobiological level and also how to intervene effectively. We've seen a lot of interest in understanding how to best support our most vulnerable populations, including youth with juvenile justice involvement. 

There’s a lot of focus on equity and social justice. That's huge among our students and something that we really value as a program. Something else that is embedded throughout our courses, and we also have a particular course focused on it, is trauma-informed approaches. 

How does the online format of the program work and affect the student experience? 

All the courses are delivered asynchronously. That allows students to engage with materials and assignments when it works for them. At the same time, we want to incorporate that social connectedness. One of the ways that we do that is by having opportunities of exchange for students, so things like discussions, sometimes collaborating on assignments or projects together. 

As far as connection with faculty, we're all very responsive. We also have synchronous mentoring meetings. Each student meets up with a primary advisor that they work with throughout their time a minimum of three times each term, and that can be more frequent depending on the student’s interests and needs.

More questions about OMP? Reach out to program director Anne Mannering at amanneri@uoregon.edu.