The Academic Route to Professional Parapsychology
Guest post by Linda Forshaw
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that mainstream science and parapsychology have little in common. Indeed a bias against acceptance of the validity of parapsychological research has often led to the closure of academic parapsychology laboratories in the U.S.
Although there are still a number of private institutions and organizations conducting parapsychological research, just two public universities in the U.S. currently have laboratories of this kind: The Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health at the University of Arizona and the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, and no colleges or universities have degree programs in the field of Parapsychology in the United States.
So how does one become a professional parapsychologist with limited study opportunities available? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer could actually lie with mainstream science. One possible route to a professional career in the field of parapsychology is similar to that of the study of any academic field – in that it typically involves between two and three stages.
The first stage many students will undertake is that of a Bachelors degree; typically in psychology, but may also be within the fields of physics or cultural anthropology. The length of study is three to four years. The second (optional) stage is that of a Masters of Science/Masters of Art degree studied for a period of between one and two years. The third (also optional) stage is that of a Doctoral degree (Ph.D). Most already in the field strongly suggest either the M.S./M.A. or Ph.D. to move into the field.
Some students will have encountered some opportunity to take courses in parapsychology during the Bachelors and Masters stages, as there are a number of colleges and universities and a few reputable organizations that offer a course in or related to the subject. In some Masters’ programs, work can be directed at a parapsychological topic, provided at least some faculty are open to the subject’s exploration. However, it is mainly during the three to five year Doctoral stage that the majority of opportunities to focus on parapsychology will occur.
It’s a not insignificant commitment that can involve up to eleven years of study. With that level of commitment in mind it goes without saying that a parapsychology student should be fully committed and sure of their interest in the field. There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved.
A must is to read “An Introduction to Parapsychology” by Harvey Irwin and Caroline Watt (5th Edition, 2007). Covering subjects including extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, reincarnation, and poltergeist experiences, the book offers an excellent all-round introduction to parapsychology from an academic perspective and is considered the core text for many teaching in the field of parapsychology.
It is also important to stay abreast of current developments from relevant professional bodies. The Parapsychological Association is an excellent place to start. Founded in 1957, publications of interest include the Mindfield Bulletin and the Journal of Parapsychology. Aspirational guidelines concerning ethical and professional standards for parapsychologists are also provided.
Also worth considering is how the Internet has opened up the possibility for students to take distance learning courses from institutions based both in the U.S. and overseas. A number of universities in the U.K. actually have Parapsychology offered on-site, and it’s likely online versions of the course will follow. Atlantic University in Virginia Beach, VA, currently offers one course online, for academic or continuing education credit, though it can also be taken by anyone even if no credit is needed.
One of the most highly recommended of such distance learning courses is “An Introduction to Parapsychology,” taught by the internationally respected Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. Closer to home is The Rhine Research Center, which, through its various research methodologies, seeks to bridge the gap between science and spirituality, and offers recommended online courses through its Education Center. Other non-academic courses are taught via distance learning by parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach through HCH Institute.
Throughout one’s academic studies – even if one does not get the opportunity to do parapsychological research as part of a Masters’ or Doctorate program – students should make their interest known to those in the field, through the various organizations like the Parapsychological Association and Rhine Research Center, as well as smaller institutes such as the Windbridge Institute and related groups like the Forever Family Foundation, and in the U.K. with the Society for Psychical Research.
Following academic studies, it’s most important to become active in some way with the organizations and foundations, and to attend professional conferences such as those offered by some of the organizations mentioned above, in order to find opportunities for moving directly into the field.
Clearly, and unfortunately, there is no quick route to becoming a professional parapsychologist, but those who are sufficiently determined to do so stand to enjoy an extremely interesting and diverse career path.
Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. A leading contributor to Degree Jungle, Linda is also a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay