Graduate profile
Marie-Claire O'Kane, MSc Psychology (Conversion)

Marie-Claire O’Kane

"I decided to complete a Psychology PhD, investigating the future of work and the impact Covid-19 has had and will have on employee engagement."


Psychology (Conversion) MSc

Graduation year


Why I chose Surrey

For 15 years, I worked as a senior management consultant for a ‘Big Four’ firm, leading transformation programmes for financial services organisations, delivering major change that would often significantly impact its employees. This involved supporting employees to adopt changes, which developed my interest in psychology and an understanding of why people behave the way they do.

From my experiences, I wanted to understand further what influenced employee engagement, both from an employee’s perspective, to enable them to reach their potential, and from an organisational perspective, to enable firms to benefit from motivated staff. I’ve always been fascinated by what makes a person ‘tick’ and pursuing a career in psychology felt like a natural progression from my previous work experience. 

Before I chose a university, I investigated the different careers I could take and settled on organisational psychology. To get into this field, I needed to study on a British Psychological Society accredited programme and I found the MSc Psychology (Conversion) course at Surrey. The course offered teaching, concentrated over two-to-three days each semester, and flexible study options, which were perfect for me and my family commitments. I was confident that taking the course would be a solid foundation on which to build my second career.

My course

On my course, I was introduced to the underlying theories relevant to my area of interest. I particularly enjoyed the breadth of modules available, including neuroscience, looking at the inner workings of the brain, and social and cognitive development, that investigates how we interact with one another and how our childhood might influence adulthood. The lecturers and tutors that delivered these topics were experts in their field and were always ready to give help and advice. They also gave us links to great resources and further reading.

To help with my studies, I regularly used the Library as it was a pleasant environment to work in and the support available was superb. There were study and research workshops for masters students and bookable one-to-one sessions which I used for help with my dissertation research. Having a family meant that flexibility was key and having all my resources available online made working from home a lot easier.

"I was confident that taking the course would be a solid foundation on which to build my second career."

My life at Surrey

When I had five minutes to spare, I enjoyed grabbing a coffee with friends and having a wander by the lake. It was great to have Guildford so close to campus, so I could run errands between lectures and writing assignments, and partake in a little bit of retail therapy!

My career and development

Coming from the corporate world, it’s easy to lose sight of the things that matter, other than chasing the next promotion. Stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’ and coming to Surrey helped me shape my future career and gave me an insight into the types of roles available. It was especially helpful to hear from my peers, who came from a wealth of backgrounds and experiences – they gave me a refreshing insight. I achieved a distinction in my studies and it made me realise how much I could achieve when I set my mind to it and I was pursuing my passion.

After doing my masters, I decided to complete a Psychology PhD, which I’m doing alongside freelance consultancy work. My research, funded by BP, is focused on the future of work and the impact Covid-19 has had and will have on employee engagement. A highlight so far has been interviewing the Women’s Committee of a global investment bank, to get their views on working remotely and how the pandemic could fuel change towards more flexible working.

My advice

Getting into management consultancy is competitive, particularly if you want to apply to the ‘Big Four’, but it can be hugely rewarding. My advice is:

  • Work hard and get the best grades you can.
  • Apply early for a placement.
  • Demonstrate how you’re different from other candidates with work experience or extracurricular activities.
  • Show that you’re driven, focused and interested in the industry.
  • Research the firms you’re interested in, their strategies, clients and brands.
  • Be prepared to work longer hours, independently and proactively.
  • Be ready to travel.

As for pursuing a PhD, I’ll be honest – it’s hard work! You need to be able to work independently, towards a rigorous plan, otherwise the workload can creep up on you. The same goes for the masters course. Getting to the end feels like an enormous achievement and you’ll learn an awful lot in a short space of time.

Find out more about our psychology (conversion) course.

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