Alex Barry ‘16

Alumni Spotlight

Alex Barry in the cityUndergraduate Degree: Psychology (BSc), neuroscience track, minor in Spanish, ISP certificate

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Masters of Research (MRes) student in Global Health at Vrije Universiteit

Summary of Position:
I recently transitioned from working as a data specialist on a grant-funded project in a mental health institution to going back to school. I loved working to try to improve our programming and our clients’ overall health, but I wanted to expand my skill set to be able to work and make a difference from a more global perspective. I’m currently on a fellowship studying research in the field of Global Health with a focus on mental health. The program is located in the Netherlands, and is designed to prepare me for a career in research, policy, or consulting with various NGOs and international organizations.

Future Goals:
Once I graduate, I am hoping to work for somewhere that has a direct impact on policy, be that an NGO, an international organization, or a research lab at a university. Ideally, I’d like to be working on increasing awareness of mental health, ensuring that care is culturally appropriate, and that practitioners are culturally competent. At the end of the day, it matters less to me where I work, and more that the work I am doing is making a tangible difference.

What do you love most about this career path?
It’s early days yet for me in graduate school. But for me, I have loved the opportunities a degree in psychology has given me. Since leaving UMass 3 ½ years ago, I have worked as an English teacher in Korea, a youth counselor at a home for teens, a programmer in speech-language pathology, and a health data specialist. Employers recognize the value and breadth of a degree in psychology across a number of different fields, and this has given me the opportunity to take a somewhat winding career path to where I am now. What I love most about my current path is that everyone in my field is invested in constantly learning and broadening their horizons; when everyone around you is focused on growing and becoming better at what they do, you are as well. Everyone comes from very different backgrounds, but they are all  focused on making a difference in the lives of others. Another thing I like about it is that the focus on mental health within the context of global health is relatively recent, and it’s exciting to be able to work at the forefront of research and projects that I can see making a direct impact on policy.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
UMass prepared me by giving me a strong foundation in psychology principles, while also letting me explore my personal interests within the field. For example, I was particularly interested in neuroscience research, and my experiences working in labs at UMass helped give me the research background that got me jobs later on (and got me into school now). Professors were always open to talking to me about my interests and the future, whether they were in my major or not, which also allowed me to get insight into other areas I could be interested in.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
You don’t have to have it all figured out! I know everyone says this, and it’s not necessarily that comforting when you’re staring down the barrel of imminent graduation. But I’m so glad I didn’t leave school with an idea of exactly what I wanted to do; it has allowed me to explore and discover interests within the field that I didn’t know existed. And while you’re still at UMass, take advantage of it! Ask questions, go to office hours (even for profs you’re not in class with, if you’re interested in what they’re doing). Make connections and have fun!