Become a Research Psychologist
So maybe you’ve looked at possible career paths involving field work, clinical care, school counseling, and other practical applications, and you’ve decided that what really captures your imagination is getting to learn and study how the many intricate mechanisms of the mind work.
If you like the idea of immersing yourself in the body of knowledge that has been accumulated in the field of psychology since its inception way back in antiquity, then working as a research psychologist in the field of experimental psychology is exactly the jobs you should be looking for.
People who specialize in research psychology and experimental psychology:
- study behavior and cognition in humans and animals
- develop experiments to test different aspects of how the mind works
- formulate theories based on the results of their tests
By advancing the scope and depth of knowledge within the field of psychology, research psychology and experimental psychology professionals provide practitioners of all types of psychology with more and better tools to understand the human mind and help people live healthier and more enjoyable lives.
Specialists in research psychology and experimental psychology are generally found in academic environments such as colleges and universities, where they have access to libraries of supporting scholarly material and opportunities to learn from other psychology scholars and to teach students training for their own careers.
Psychology is a growing field that covers many areas. There are many different types of psychology, but the one thing they all have in common is that they study human behavior, including what people think, how they react, and how they feel. Research psychologists play an important role in the world today because they focus their research on human behavior so that they can help people and help the psychologist that may be offering services to this individual.
What is a Research Psychologist?
A research psychologist studies everything pertaining to an individual’s human behavior, including how they act, think, feel, and learn. They study many topics that affect people, including the effects of alcoholism or drug abuse, causes of depression, how different people learn, and even the effectiveness of the prison system.
They may work in various settings, including private industries or academia. There are various employment options a research psychologist may choose, but they are all based on and involve research. Research psychologists also study the role genetics plays in behavior.
Candidates who have an interest in both animal and human behavior typically find this the ideal career choice. In addition to performing intensive research, these professionals also do detailed observations, complete case studies, give interviews, and spend a lot of time analyzing the results of their findings. They also provide other psychologists with their findings and observations.
In addition to meeting the education and training requirements for becoming a research psychologist, the individual must also possess other skills.
- Research skills – The majority of the research psychologist’s workday deals with research so the candidate must have good research skills.
- Analytical skills – Once the research is completed, the research psychologist must analyze what it means, so they must have good analytical skills.
- Ability to teach – This is especially important if the research psychologist chooses a career in academia.
- Extensive knowledge of the human mind – This is necessary because so much of the job entails analyzing what makes people think, feel and act as they do.
- Knowledge of brain anatomy – This is also important because it helps the research psychologist better understand human behavior.
- Community skills – A research psychologist needs good communication and interpersonal skills because they spend a lot of time interviewing patients and reporting their findings to others.
- Objectivity – The research psychologist must have the ability to remain objective regardless of what he obtains through research and analysis.
Students pursuing a career as a research psychologist will complete a variety of courses through each degree level. General education courses are generally required for entry into a bachelor’s degree program. Courses in a bachelor’s degree psychology program may include:
- Common issues in psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Clinical psychology
- Organizational psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Human cognition
When completing the graduate degree program, you’ll have courses like:
- Social Psychology
- Child Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Experimental Psychology
In addition to all the courses required, students will also learn research methods and will perform extensive research on various topics. They’ll also learn the importance of delivering findings and analysis to other psychologists.
Doctoral degree students will also have to pass a comprehensive examination and write a dissertation based on research the student has completed. This degree typically requires the student to complete a fellowship or internship so that he or she can obtain state licensure.
Research psychologist programs are offered as online programs at many colleges and universities. The online programs are offered at the bachelor and graduate degree levels. However, the online psychology programs are most often at the master’s or doctoral degree level. At this point in the student’s academic career, he or she has a good understanding of psychology.
The online programs offer the student the opportunity to work and earn the degree at the same time. Most students will work in psychology settings, which can give them additional work experience, fulfill internship requirements, and enhance their resume for when they do graduate and seek work as research psychologists.
The online psychology programs may be 100 percent online or hybrid programs. Rather than come to class on campus every day, the student logs in to the school site and participates through virtual learning or a variety of learning tools such as DVDs, virtual classrooms, streaming media, and more. Online programs have become very popular because of the flexibility they offer students.
How to Become a Research Psychologist – Several Steps
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
Becoming a research psychologist requires several years of study and training. There is a step-by-step process a candidate must complete to become a research psychologist. First, you must earn a bachelor’s degree. While the bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily need to be in psychology, it will be very beneficial if it is in psychology because the bachelor’s teaches students the fundamentals of psychology.
2. Start your research
Additionally, if the student chooses the bachelor’s degree in psychology, the student can complete advanced psychology courses while also choosing specific areas of research they wish to develop. Psychology-based student groups and honors societies for psychology students are available for students to join. These help the students gain even more knowledge on research and psychology.
3. Gain work experience
The years spent earning the bachelor’s degree can also be spent working in research and psychology. The more research experiences a student obtains, the better it will help that student when it’s time to pursue an advanced degree. Working at a university can help the student work with professors that may provide letters of recommendation when the student is out of college and seeking work in that field.
4. Earn a master’s degree
The next step towards becoming a research psychologist is earning a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in research psychology. The concentration may also be in experimental psychology since experimental psychology and research psychology are so similar. While still an undergraduate student, you can become gathering your letters of recommendation, writing personal statements, and taking the GRE, which are all required for entry into the master’s degree program.
5. Earn a doctoral degree
To become a research psychologist, an individual should have a doctoral degree in some sort of psychology field, such as clinical, developmental, cognitive, personality, social or experimental. The National Science Foundation indicates that a student can earn a research psychologist Ph.D. degree in seven to eight years from the time he or she starts the master’s degree program.
Salary and Career Outlook
A regular psychologist who spends much of his work time doing research is generally considered a research psychologist. The career outlook for psychologists, in general, is very good according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They reported that psychologists could see job growth of six percent between 2021 and 2031.
Psychologists in the “all other” category, the group in which research psychologists are rated, are expected to see higher job growth. Psychologists with a doctoral degree, such as research psychologists, should have the best job opportunities and career growth. The BLS predicts that about 14,100 new jobs should be created for psychologists each year until 2031.
Psychologists earn annual wages ranging from $47,850 to $133,890 as of May 2021. Their average annual wage nationwide is $102,900. Their average hourly wage is about $50.86 according to the BLS. Research psychologists are often referred to as experimental psychologists, and they are among the highest paying jobs in psychology.
Salary.com reports that research psychologists in the U.S. earn an average of $101,409 as of May 2023. The actual wages earned by research psychologists can change from one wage reporting agency to another. These factors can also determine wage potential for research psychologists.
- Relevant work experience
- Type of employer
- Geographic location
Research psychologists work in a variety of settings. They often work in an academic setting but also perform fieldwork or work in laboratories. They can also find work in government settings, for private research facilities, in universities, or as part of a global or national team. Some research psychologists choose to work independently.
Graduates of doctoral degree programs in research psychology qualify for many different job titles.
- Environmental Psychologist
- Clinical Research Psychologist
- Staff Psychologist
- Medical Psychologist
- Principal Psychologist
- Consultant Psychologist
- Personnel Research Psychologist
- Personnel Psychologist
- Operational Psychologist
Research psychology and experimental psychology jobs can be found in:
- Academic environments such as colleges and universities
- Private research institutions
- Non-profit foundations
- Government laboratories
These researchers and psychologists strive to understand mental or emotional phenomena or to cure or mitigate specific behavioral or cognitive disorders.
Q: Do research psychologists earn the same type of salary as clinical psychologists?
A: According to the American Psychological Association, research psychologist and clinical psychologist wages are quite similar. The only type of psychologists that earn higher wages are managerial psychologists.
Q: Are the online psychology programs as good as the on-campus programs?
A: As long as you choose an accredited college, you’ll be getting the same kind of education except it will be done at home. Look for schools that are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) Commission on Accreditation.
Q: Can I work as a research psychologist with only a master’s degree?
A: Research psychologists should have a doctoral degree, especially if they wish to obtain licensure.
Q: When choosing a bachelor’s degree program, should it be a B.A. or B.S.?
A: BA programs are very good programs, but a BS program is more geared toward a student who wants to perform research, which is what research psychologists spend most of their time doing.