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Christopher J. Rylands, J.D. (’01)
Attorney, Bryan Cave, LLP
1. What was your favorite experience when you were majoring in psychology at Oglethorpe?
One year, OU offered some 1-week classes that ran the week before regular classes started. Our class focused on careers in psychology and we had a chance to meet with researchers, practicing psychologists, and other psychology professionals. The opportunity to see how the degree could be used and to interact with others in the field was an eye-opening experience. Also, out of that class, I was able to get a part-time job assisting a practicing psychologist with some research he was doing in connection with this practice. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I'm not sure I can pick a single experience. There were several that were memorable.
2. What was your favorite psychology class and why?
I'm not sure I can pick just one, but if I have to, I think I would pick Developmental Psychology. That course, more than any other, was learning about how we learn. That subject has always fascinated me. For the final, I wrote a series of fictional letters from a psychologist to the parents of twin boys, one of whom was born blind and deaf while the other was not, and describing how they would learn differently.
3. What did you do immediately following graduation from OU and how did it affect your path in life to date?
Immediately after graduation, I worked as a Research Associate for the Southern Regional Education Board. Part of what I did was to help analyze test results, similar to what I had done at OU when analyzing data from psychological research projects. It impacted my life to date in two significant ways. First, it convinced me that I should go back to school if I wanted a more upwardly mobile career path. More importantly, however, it's where I met my wife.
4. What are you doing today and what inspired you to enter that field/profession/position?
I graduated with my law degree from Vanderbilt University in 2005. Today I'm an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP in Atlanta practicing in the area of employee benefits. I chose law in part because it was a natural fit for my God-given abilities and the skills I acquired at OU. However, like most practitioners in employee benefits, I did not so much choose that area, but kind of just fell into it.
5. How do you use your psychology undergraduate experience in your work or life today?
In my work, my psychology education is very useful when interacting with opposing counsel or government representatives because I have a better perspective on how people think. As a result, I am more easily able to understand the other person's perspective and address his or her concerns. Outside of work, my education helps me in raising my son by giving me greater insight into his development.
6. What advice do you have for students earning a degree in psychology at OU or who might be considering your profession?
If you are in psychology, take all the psychology-related classes you can. Also consider taking other courses that address how humans think and behave, even if it's political science, business, or history. You will have a different appreciation for those other disciplines based on what you have learned in psychology. In addition, they will stretch you and cause you to approach your psychology studies from a unique perspective. If you are considering a career in law, I would first say that an Oglethorpe education makes you well-prepared for the difficult reading, writing, and critical thinking you will be asked to do in law school (although you will have to learn the specific legal style of writing and thinking). Also, you should know that nearly everyone wants to quit in his or her first year of law school; that's a normal feeling and you should be prepared for it. Having that feeling does not mean you are not suited to be a lawyer. My second piece of advice is to try to talk to as many lawyers as you can to find out what they do and how they do it. The practice of law varies widely, both in terms of subject matter and how it is practiced and it looks almost nothing like what you see on TV. The more you learn, the easier it will be for you to be able to decide what path you would like to take. Most lawyers are more than happy to talk about what they do.