Megan Cato at her graduation from the University of Portsmouth

From the perfect placement to first class honours, Megan takes us on her inspirational university journey

5 min read

Following my A Level in Psychology and Law I was particularly interested in studying either criminology or psychology at degree level. I was finding it hard to choose between the two subject areas so when I saw the University of Portsmouth offers a joint honours programme I was delighted. 

Studying in one of the UK’s largest criminology departments offered me a range of specialist subjects and modules that other universities had not offered. The lectures were extremely engaging, and the modules gripped me. Stand out modules included the opportunity to study dangerous offenders, missing persons, contemporary terrorism, forensic psychology and mental health. 

Moving cities and making friends

In order to study at Portsmouth and to meet a variety of people from a range of backgrounds, I moved city. Initially I was extremely nervous, but I realised that Portsmouth is big enough that everything you need is on your doorstep while being small enough to provide a homely-feeling. The university offered plenty of opportunities for me to make new friends, such as living in halls, Freshers Fair and societies. 

I felt really welcomed by the university and supported throughout but especially at the beginning of my journey.

Megan Cato, BSc Hons Criminology with Psychology

Looking back now, I cherish the time spent with societies during my degree. At first, I was extremely nervous to join a society, however, it was instrumental in creating friendships outside of your course. Throughout three years of study, I was a member of the Scuba Diving Society (BSAC). This was a very inclusive club and allowed me to gain a skill that I never considered before. I travelled to Malta and had the experience of a lifetime, diving with a variety of tropical fish, jellyfish, and rays. On top of this, I made lifelong friends and met my partner, Joshua, and we have now moved in together four years later.

Support to find my life-changing work placement

The outstanding career service helped me secure my work placement with Bedfordshire Police. I attended multiple meetings with the team to help me tailor my CV. In applying to Bedfordshire Police, it required me to attend an Assessment Centre to determine if I demonstrated the required competencies for the role. In preparation, the careers team supported me by organising a mock Assessment Centre,  which helped me to openly demonstrate the personal attributes required. The actual Assessment Centre was terrifying, however the university prepped me so that I attended the day with confidence. With over 200 candidates and only three places available, I was ecstatic upon being selected. 

Undertaking a placement with Bedfordshire Police was instrumental in achieving the graduate roles I later applied to.

Megan Cato, BSc Hons Criminology with Psychology

Applying for my first job role outside of university, I was nervous to interview. However, I again contacted the university for advice and guidance, who provide five years of continued support from graduation. As a result, I was offered my first job role working for Richmond Fellowship.

Utilising the careers team makes a significant impact to your employability and is a resource I would strongly encourage any student to utilise.

Graduating with First Class Honours

Amongst all the great experiences I had throughout my degree, I can say that attaining a First Class in my dissertation was definitely my biggest achievement. Initially, writing my dissertation was something that I was dreading and a project that I found very overwhelming.

However, through persistence and a love for my chosen topic, I excelled in the assignment. I felt supported by my lecturers and dissertation tutors throughout the project, and although there were many tears shed throughout the months writing my dissertation, my hard work and commitment to the field paid off, and I was overwhelmed with happiness upon walking onto the stage at graduation with a First Class Honours.

Working in the NHS

Thanks to the time spent at Portsmouth, I am now working within the first cohort of Trainee Mental Health and Wellbeing Practitioners for the NHS. I spend my time listening to patients and deciding the best psychological support/interventions for them. I love seeing the change within a person, witnessing them work towards their goals, challenging their unwanted behaviours, and subsequently enabling them to build their resilience and progress towards recovery. 

My undergraduate degree provided the building blocks for further study and professional development in the industry in an amazing setting.

Megan Cato, BSc Hons Criminology with Psychology

I spend two days a week studying a post-graduate qualification at university and the remainder of the time working in or undertaking specific training tasks in a community mental health service. 

Study skills and confidence 

I was able to obtain this role thanks to what I learned at university. In fact, my confidence greatly developed since I started my degree, tackling my tendency to procrastinate. I often hold myself to impossibly high standards and because of this, I struggled to manage my workload in college. However, the university has enabled me to procrastinate less and get my work done efficiently, creating daily objectives I had to meet. This included attending the library on a regular basis. 

The library was an excellent study space that allowed me to proactively complete my work, stay on top of deadlines and create friendships studying within a group from my course. This allowed me to achieve a First Class Honours in Criminology with Psychology, which later granted me the position of Mental Health and Wellbeing Practitioner within Oxford Health. 

Advice to others

If someone is unsure whether to start their journey in Portsmouth, I would strongly encourage them to attend an open day as the city of Portsmouth and university sells itself.

Visiting over 15 different universities in my search for excellent undergraduate study, Portsmouth was the only university I could envisage myself attending. The open day lectures were gripping and exciting with the promise of interesting topics to study and the introduction of guest lecturers from detectives to forensic psychologists and hostage negotiators. Coupled with the excellent campus layout and beautiful walks to the seafront, I was sold. 

After visiting me on countless occasions, my younger sister started studying Psychology two years later at the University of Portsmouth and is enjoying it as much as I did.

Megan Cato, BSc Hons Criminology with Psychology

If you are looking for a course that is engaging and a city that you can call home, Portsmouth is for you. There is a thriving student and graduate community that will make you feel safe while you make memories of a lifetime. My advice would be to step out of your comfort zone at the beginning of this chapter in your life.

Starting university is scary. Often it is different from what we expect, and it may look like your friends from home are having more fun than you are. But everyone is scared, and it is important you try new things. Do not be afraid to ask questions in lectures, it is likely that if you are thinking it, so are others. Do not be afraid to try new societies and make an effort to meet new people. You will find the best memories usually come from stepping outside your comfort zone.