Nick's pathway to positive psychology
All images used with permission.
When Nick Graziani first started studying psychology at ACU, he was in two minds about which pathway he would take: Would he go into clinical psychology, with a focus on providing therapy to patients? Or would he become a research psychologist, conducting experiments and analysing data to gain greater insights into human behaviour?
In the beginning, says Nick, who is now in the third year of his Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) degree, he was “pretty much 50-50” about the route that suited him best.
“Initially, I was drawn equally to clinical work and research work,” he says, “but I also had this idea that subjects like statistics would be a means to an end. I soon found that I have a great fondness for statistics, and now that I’m definitively into research, I have this very strong drive to develop my quantitative skills further.”
In his first two years of study at ACU, Nick received consecutive Executive Dean’s Commendations – accolades reserved for students who achieve a GPA of 6.00 or higher. This was particularly impressive given that he initially had reservations about enrolling in the course.
While he has always been academically skilled, Nick faced several challenges in his high school years. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and anxiety disorder in his teens, there were parts of school life that he struggled with.
“I experienced very bad assessment anxiety, particularly around exams,” he says. “I would get into the exam hall and it was extremely intimidating, with all the pressure and anxiety I felt.”
After school, he enrolled into university and pursued engineering – a common career choice for people with Asperger’s syndrome. And while he had all the strengths necessary to become an engineer, he felt a pull towards a profession that would allow him to put his people skills to good use.
“I have that almost cliched type of quantitative trait that a lot of people on the spectrum have, but I also have empathy and interpersonal skills, and I soon realised that psychology was probably more suited to me and what I wanted to do,” Nick says.
“Instead of going straight into another university course, I dipped my toes in the water first and did a diploma of counselling at TAFE, and I did amazingly well there.”
It was at this stage that Nick first met Dr Oscar Modesto from ACU’s School of Behavioural and Health Sciences at a campus open day.
“The first impression I got from Nick was that he had a high level of perseverance,” says Dr Modesto, a senior lecturer in psychology at the Mount Saint Mary Campus in Strathfield.
“He really wanted to pursue psychology, and despite his challenges, he was not giving up that goal. I encouraged him to back himself and show a bit of daring, and pretty soon after that, he was enrolled into the course and has performed very impressively.”
Nick’s first year at ACU coincided with the emergence of the pandemic – a challenge he describes as “a huge emotional rollercoaster”. But overall, he has had an overwhelmingly positive experience studying in the course.
“I just find that psychology is the perfect mix between developing people skills and developing scientific skills, and using both of those skill-sets simultaneously,” says Nick, who currently combines study with a one-day-a-week role as a research assistant at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE).
“A lot of people go into psychology thinking that it’s essentially counselling and that you’re just talking to people, but it also involves a lot of science and statistics, and I think that’s mainly why I’m drawn towards it,” he adds
“You can make positive changes with people in a way that, even in the research sector of psychology, isn’t detached from people. You’re constantly working with people and making these huge sweeping changes on a macro level. It’s hugely inspiring stuff.”
Meanwhile, Nick has also been active on campus, recently taking on the role of president of the Mount St Mary Student Association – an organisation that works in partnership with ACU to represent and advocate for students. He says the role is “a lot of hard work, but extremely fulfilling”.
As for his future career goals, he says he’d like to focus on positive psychology in education, noting that his community engagement work with IPPE, alongside some of the world’s leading researchers, has been “unbelievably inspiring”.
Nick’s initial exposure to the Institute came while he was engaged in the Psychological Services Experiences unit of his course, which is aimed at connecting third-year students to the profession of psychology – and potentially creating career pathways in the field.
“Working with some of my idols and seeing the work they do has obviously been an amazing experience, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do that,” says Nick, who plans to do his honours year in 2024.
“The work that they do there is absolutely inspiring, and it pretty much confirmed for me that I wanted to go into research psychology. For me, to do that kind of work would just be a dream come true.”
Keen to get an insight into human behaviour by studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science or a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at ACU? Explore the options.