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Careers in Psychology Research: Options and Requirements

Oct 04, 2019

Psychology students who prefer to conduct studies over treating patients should consider a career in psychology research. Continue reading for an overview of the program, as well as career options, requirements and salary info for graduates..

There are many areas of research in which a psychologist can specialize. A career as a psychologist normally requires a doctoral degree in psychology. Psychologists who see patients also need to have their state license.

Essential Information

Understanding the workings of the human mind is essential to uncovering how people feel, learn, think and behave. A variety of institutions and organizations employ psychologists to further that understanding through research. Psychology researchers generally require doctoral degrees, though some positions may be available to individuals with master's degrees.

Career Titles Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary Research Psychologist Industrial Organizational Psychologist
Required Education Doctoral Degree usually required Doctoral Degree Doctoral Degree usually required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 12% 12% ( psychologists, all other) 13%
Average Salary (2018)* $76,710 $100,770 (psychologists, all other) $97,260

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Professionals in psychology research may specialize in various branches of the science, such as neuropsychology, developmental psychology, psychopharmacology, industrial-organizational psychology and psycholinguistics. They apply their knowledge and analytical skills in a variety of work environments, such as academia, industry and government.

Research Psychologist

Research psychologists study the mind from many angles, which entails proposing theories, developing research projects and conducting experiments. Some professionals in this field work as research assistants, who collect and analyze data, maintain labs, prepare reports and perform other routine tasks. Assistants generally do not choose or create research projects or conduct complex experiments.

Psychology Professor

Many colleges and universities employ psychologists to conduct research. In addition to running experiments, these professionals may teach classes, which can involve planning curricula, delivering lectures and assessing students. Academic researchers usually must write grant proposals in order to obtain funding for research. They might also attend conferences and publish their findings in scholarly journals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists employed in academic settings often also work part-time as consultants (www.bls.gov).

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Researchers working for private companies may conduct basic research, or they can conduct applied research in psychology as it relates to advertising, marketing or organizational structures. Industrial psychologists may be employed by one company or work as independent consultants for multiple organizations. Psychologists in industry do not have to worry about obtaining funding; however, their work is dictated by the business interests of the company rather than the interests of the researcher.

Careers in Government

Psychology research jobs with local, state and federal government agencies can involve basic or applied research. Researchers might find employment with governmental organizations, like the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which conduct research into the mind and behavior as well as the impacts of problems like drugs and mental illness on the human brain.

Requirements for a Career in Psychology Research

Psychology research positions typically entail doctoral degrees. Those with master's degrees are generally limited to research assistant positions; however, they might also find employment as industrial-organizational psychology researchers. Almost all research positions in academic and government institutions require doctoral degrees, although sometimes master's degrees are sufficient. While psychology researchers normally do not provide care to patients, those who do may be required to obtain state licensure.

Career Outlook

According to the BLS, jobs for all psychologists will grow by 14% between 2018 and 2028. This growth rate is faster than the average for all occupations within the U.S. As of 2018, the BLS cites the median annual salary of psychologists is $79,010. Postsecondary psychology teachers are listed as earning a median salary of $76,710 per year and are expected to have a 12% growth rate. Industrial-organizational psychologists earned an average salary of $97,260 per year and will have a 13% growth rate between 2018 and 2028 according to the BLS.

There are many areas of specialization for psychologists, including the pursuit of teaching psychology at the postsecondary level. Industrial-organizational psychologists focus on workplace issues related to employees and improving employee satisfaction and performance. Psychologists can also work for the government or pursue a research career.

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