What is a Research Psychologist?

Research PsychologistPsychology is one of the most popular majors in universities today and more students are investigating the role of the research psychologist. Psychology deals with the human brain and the way it functions both independently and in cultural context. Technology is shrinking the world, intermingling societies and ethnicities, so the trend is toward global psychology research. What do psychologists in research do?

Definition of the Profession

Psychology has the image of an ethereal science because it deals with things we cannot see, but the workings of the brain can be mapped and predicted. Psychological research applies scientific methods to this study of the brain, and how it works in a society. The conclusions drawn from this research can help educators design curriculum for special-needs learners, assist community planners in designing housing developments and even address the military’s problems with PTSD. In addition, the research helps clinical psychologists treat mental illness.

What are Scientific Methods?

Scientific research methodology always begins with a question. Then the researcher forms a hypothesis about the issue. He or she performs experiments, sometimes using control groups, collects data and analyzes it. A conclusion is drawn that either supports the hypothesis or refutes it, and the results are usually published in a paper that shares the experiment with other scientists. Research in psychology can include concrete facts, like the way the brain sends messages chemically, but it also includes interviews, studying communication and considering sociological factors. In psychological research, the data exploration includes things like case studies, examination of cross-sections of specific populations, general surveys and field work. Because the research is conducted scientifically, it can be broadly accepted. Some of this research is done through an organization or agency, but about 34 percent is performed independently, according to the APA. Funding for the studies comes from agencies, universities and organizations but, because psychology has applications in things like business and marketing, some corporations fund behavioral studies as well.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Research Psychologist?

The traits common to successful researchers in psychology are: patience, observational and analytical skills, critical thinking skills to solve problems, “people skills,” and competence in communication. The latter is vital because researchers not only have to present their findings, but often have to advocate for the studies and for responses dictated by the findings. There are entry-level positions available with a bachelor’s degree, but these are limited to assistant jobs like collecting and filing data. People with master’s degrees can find positions as researchers, but usually under the supervision of a doctor in psychology. The “gold standard” for a psychologist in research is the PhD or the PsyD. This involves five to seven years of study beyond the master’s program and internships. The acceptance rate of graduate psychology programs is low, and applicants stand a better chance of getting in if they stipulate a field of specialization.

Related Resource: Social Psychologist

This is an interesting and important field with applications in all areas of human life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t separate research psychology from general psychology in its listings, and states that the median salary is $70,700. That will vary with education, position and the industry where the scientist is employed. The predicted job growth rate is 19 percent which is much higher than the average for all professions. The research psychologist, whether independent or employed by an agency or industry, can anticipate as well-compensated and interesting professional life.