Psychological Sciences to Host Recent Grads’ Success Stories Webinar

Sign up and meet four recent graduates who tell their stories of success as Psychological Sciences Alumni! The event is 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15.


The Department of Psychological Sciences is hosting an hour-long webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 15, beginning at 5 p.m. titled “Using Your Psychology Degree: Success Stories of Recent Graduates.”

The event features a panel discussion followed by an open-audience Q&A.

The guest panelists include:

Esiri Emeje (class of 2021), a research assistant at Northwest University in Chicago, Illinois

Mariah Hawkins (class of 2019), a system administrator for the MU School of Medicine here in Columbia, Missouri

Tess Killmade (class of 2018), a marine mammal trainer at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut

Chase O’Neal (class of 2020) an administration assistant in Deep Eddy Psychology in Austin, Texas. 

Nelson Cowan, a curators’ distinguished professor in Psychological Sciences, whose research is on working memory, says the virtual panel presentation is open to anyone, be it someone interested in joining the department, students who are a part of the program, alumni, or individuals who are interested in hearing success stories within psychological sciences.

The event is hosted by the Alumni Relations Committee in the Department of Psychological Sciences on behalf of Psi Chi, the psychology undergraduate honor society. Psi Chi discusses career options with students and hosts a conference in Chicago titled the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, where students submit papers to the program in special sessions. The Alumni Relations Committee works on several goals within the department, including maintaining a good relationship with department alumni, as well as using experiences of the alumni to help students.

“We created this event with two main goals in mind,” Cowan says. “We love inviting our alumni to share their talent and advice with our current students. We invited these particular speakers because they were excellent and interesting students, and can now be role models for our current students by talking to them about how they used their Psychological Sciences degrees to find satisfying careers. That coaching and advice will help our current students as they think about their next steps after graduation.”

Cowan says psychology grads have a wide array of career options from which to choose. “In my experience, the advantages of a psychology degree are that almost any career requires or benefits from the ability to interact with people well, the ability to understand people well, and the ability to communicate with people well. Our degree fosters all three of those, so that’s why we have such a unique set of careers represented.”

Students featured were selected from the Alumni Relations Committee, appointed by Debora Bell, chair of the department, with the purpose of communicating with alumni what is being done as a department, and to find out from alumni what they have been doing with regard to outcomes from their psychology degrees, providing three-way communication between students, faculty and staff, and alumni. 

“This committee got together several times and solicited input from the rest of the faculty as to students who they think would be interesting for other students to hear about. I know Mariah Hawkins from my own laboratory. She couldn’t decide whether she was going to go to graduate school or go into a career after completing her degree.” Hawkins, while working in Cowan’s lab, learned computer programming to do experimentation. “The skills that she picked up actually helped her get a job as business tech analyst specialist at the university in the medical school. She’s also very inquisitive and she’s a good communicator, and an upbeat person. So, these factors combined allowed her to use what she knew about computer programming in such a way that she could communicate and transfer information from people with a largely technical ability to other people who might be in the personnel aspect of the field or some other aspect of working with people. By being able to work with both technical issues and people, it made her perfect for her job. I suspect we will hear more about that in the presentation.”

Cowan adds that each panelist will explain a little about themselves, how they chose their careers, and how they were able to get the job they are currently working in, again with a Q&A following. “I think students will be very interested in relating what these recent graduates have done to what current students might be able to do in their own careers.”

Similar events held in the past focused on people who were well established in their careers, says Cowan. So, students were able to see the long-term output of a psychology major and education. “However, students wanted to hear also from people who had just graduated,” he explains. “People like them … looking for advice and experiences that might help them understand what they might face when they go into the job market. I’m hoping they’ll feel more confident and informed after this event.

“I think students, faculty and alumni all benefit from this kind of interaction,” Cowan adds. “Psychological Sciences is a great department, and we have majors who are going to go on to do great things, and it’s really a practical career, as well as being fulfilling.”

To receive the Zoom link via email and to receive any updates, please write to Nelson Cowan at Or click here to sign directly into the meeting.


Meet The Speakers

Arts & Science: Why did you choose psychology as a career path?

Emeje: To be honest, I don’t really know why I chose psychology as a career path. I knew that I was interested in people’s behaviors and mental disorders. So that always sparked my interest. It wasn’t till I decided that I no longer wanted to be pre-med was when I started to look more into psychology and do research on the different career paths. Doing my research and speaking with my people in that field helped guide me into psychology. Once I took more classes, it just felt right.

Hawkins:  I was interested in learning about the relationship between the brain and human behavior – I aspired to be a neuropsychologist.

Killmade: Overall, I am very fascinated by how living creatures learn and process information. At the time, when I chose my major, I was between wanting to study human/animal cognition in a research setting, verses pursuing my dream of becoming a marine animal trainer. In order to be a trainer, facilities usually look for a four-year degree in psychology, marine biology or any related field, plus a few semesters of interning/seasonal work. I chose psychology because understanding how an individual learns, aka understanding the principles of operant and classical conditioning, is the basis for understanding how to train an animal (or human for that matter).

O’Neal: I had always known I wanted to work in a helping profession growing up. It wasn’t until my high school psychology course that I realized therapy would be my catalyst. I read “Raising Cain” by Dan Kindlen, which opened my eyes to the world of therapy and the impact it could have on lives. From then on I knew psychology was the field for me.


Arts & ScienceWhat is your most vivid memory of being a student in psychology?

Emeje: My most vivid memory of being a psychology student was presenting my research in California and in Washington, D.C., and winning a poster presentation award at the ERN (Emerging Researchers National) conference.

Hawkins:  I was daydreaming about developing research to better understand our memory and emotions in a Mind, Brain, and Behavior course.

Killmade: My most vivid memory is probably when I learned that Dr. Lisa Bauer had done an internship with seals/sea lions back in the day. This event really sparked my interest in the field and made it seem more like a possible reality rather than just a dream. That, or when my Psychological Anthropology teacher brought in my favorite pizza for discussion one week. That was nice (also, if you have an interest in evolution and the human mind/culture, take that class if can, very eye-opening!)

O’Neal: My most vivid memory from being a student in psychology is the research labs. As my interests evolved I joined new research labs in order to explore the niche. I joined three research labs, gaining a wide range of experience and knowledge on children, adolescents, siblings, families, and migrant farmworker youth. 


Arts & Science: What did being a psychology student teach you? Anything you didn’t expect?

Hawkins:  I didn’t expect psychology to teach me how to be self-aware – to reflect on my behavior and thought process. My curiosity about people grew and validated my passion for human connection.

Killmade: Being a psychology student taught me a lot about research. I was a member of Dr. Todd’s Cognition and Classical Conditioning lab, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t know I was interested in research before joining that lab.

O’Neal: The most valuable thing that being a psychology student taught me was a new perspective on life. Every psychology course I enrolled in taught me more about myself, others, and our society that I had not considered prior. 


Arts & Science: Tell me a little about your current career.

Emeje: I am a research assistant at Northwestern University. I am under Dr. Burnett-Zeigler in her mindfulness lab called M-Body. Our lab focuses on understanding the barriers and facilitators to participation in mental health treatment among socio-economically disadvantaged, racial/ethnic minority populations. My plan is to apply to a clinical psychology PhD and PsyD program this year

Hawkins: A day in the life of being a business technology analyst for the MU School of Medicine clinical research department is mapping out the clinical trial process, learning and supporting a clinical trial management system, and building relationships with people who are involved in clinical research.

Killmade: My career now revolves around animal care and education. I work at Mystic Aquarium, and our mission is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education, and research. My job is to provide the best care possible for the animals under my care as they act as ambassadors for their species, helping us to not only educate the public on what they can do to better the lives of these animals, but also helping scientists to understand how to better protect them through participating in research – training  plays a huge role in this. We train animals for a variety of reasons: mental and physical stimulation, husbandry behaviors, also known as voluntary medical behaviors, and research behaviors. 

O’Neal: Currently I am an administrative assistant at a growing private practice in Austin, Texas. I mostly assist with scheduling new patients and anything our therapists need help with.  I obtained this position to understand the inner workings of a therapy practice before heading to graduate school for a masters in marriage and family therapy. Thus far I have gained great insight into how insurances work, how a practice is run, and acquiring a case load. 


Arts & Science: Are you happy with your degree program?

Emeje: Overall, I would say that I am happy with my degree. It allowed me to see different career paths and options that is within psychology. I like that I am not limited to one path. For example, if you like business and marketing but you still also enjoy learning about people’s behaviors, you can look into IO psychology. You are not limited to just doing therapy or being in academia. 

Hawkins: Yes, I had great psychology professors and genuinely enjoyed the classes.

Killmade: I am happy with it overall. It provided me with a good base of knowledge for entering my internships after college. The next best major would have been a marine biology degree (which MU does not offer), but I’m honestly really happy I initially focused on the phycological aspect of animal training before diving into the anatomy and physiology of each species I work with; you can pretty easily learn that stuff along the way.

O’Neal: I am not currently in a program (since graduation at Mizzou), although I am in the process of interviewing with programs at this moment. The interviewing process has me excited to enter an educational environment that is so focused on my clinical interests. 


Arts & Science: What’s your best advice to others interested in or going through the program?

Emeje: The advice that I would give someone in this program is to reach out to faculty members and tell them your interest or ideas of where you might see yourself. They might not be able to put you in that direction, but they probably know someone in that field who can help. I know everyone says to use your teacher as a resource, but seriously they can help you, if you ask. Also, do some research about the career that you want and talk to someone who is in that career, if possible. It might sound nice on paper, but once you start actually doing the work, you might not like it. It is okay to not like after you tried, but it is important to try it, because you cannot say that you do not like something if you have never tried it.

Hawkins: If you’re remotely interested in a profession that involves science or research and want to learn about psychology, get a bachelor of science in psychology. Volunteering to be (and later down the road being employed as) a research assistant for the Psychological Sciences Department was the best decision I ever made – I learned computer programming, the research development process, and in turn, it opened doors to be in the role I am now.

Killmade: If you are interested in psychology but don’t know exactly what you want to focus on, I would recommend taking as many different classes as possible to see what interests you most. Try to figure out if you like the more biological side of psychology or the social side. 

Join a lab, see if you like research. A psych degree can apply to a lot of different careers, so it’s a good place to start if you don’t know exactly what you want to do.

O’Neal: Network with anyone and everyone willing to share their time. Professors, mentors, experiences of fellow students, Linkedin connections, etc. Keep track of these connections in a Google drive excel document that you periodically reach out to every once and a while. Having these connections can be the difference between an opportunity, recommendation letter, or a job/school acceptance. The advice I gathered shaped my perspective of the psychology field, opened new doors, and confirmed my clinical interests. With the world of psychology being so vast with a 100 different options and paths, gathering advice and insight from others helped me feel steps ahead of every move I made.


Arts & Science: Anything else you’d like to add?

Hawkins:  If you have the opportunity to work for Dr. Nelson Cowan, do it! You won’t regret it.

Killmade: The biggest piece of advice I could give is to just go for it. If you are excited about something but don’t know if you have what it takes to make it happen, just trust yourself and put in the work. I waited till halfway through college to switch my degree and tailor my education toward my current path because so many people told me that marine animal training wasn’t a realistic option. You have the power to make your dreams happen, you do not have to settle. 

O’Neal: There is no ‘right path’ for your goals in the field, or even the world. Everyone takes a different route, but with enough time you will get there.  





Alumni speakers

Alumni Speakers