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Experimental Psychologist: Education and Career Information

Psychology is the branch of science that studies how the mind works and then strives to predict how people will typically behave in certain situations. Since psychology is scientific, theories need to be proven with well-designed, objective, and repeatable experiments, which adhere to the scientific method. Experimental psychologists are the people who conduct these experiments.

What is an experimental psychologist?

An experimental psychologist is first and foremost a highly educated researcher who seeks to answer psychological questions through experimentation. Experimental psychologist conduct experiments on human and animal subjects across the entire spectrum of psychology disciplines depending on their educational background, employer, and interests. Besides spending time conducting research and publishing their results in scientific journals, some experimental psychologists help to educate the next generation of psychologists through teaching.

Experimental psychologists can work in either the public or private sector at universities, governmental organizations, and corporations. Most experimental psychologists do not treat private patients like clinical psychologists.

How much does an experimental psychologist earn?

The field of experimental psychology is well-paid. According to the most recent salary survey by the American Psychological Association, the median salary for an experimental psychologist was $92,000 a year in 2015, which was higher than the majority of other fields in psychology. Experimental psychologists who worked for educational institutions received salaries that were lower than the average while those who worked for private corporations earned significantly higher incomes. The job outlook for experimental psychologists is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the number of jobs in psychology will increase 19% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than normal.
jobs in psychology will increase 19%

What type of skills are needed to become an experimental psychologist?

Some of the most important skills an experimental psychologist needs to master to be successful in the field include:

Scientific Investigation: The ability to use the proper scientific method to design and conduct experiments and research adhering to established standards.

Complex Problem Solving: The ability to quickly and correctly identify complex problems and then use all relevant information to find effective solutions.

Critical Thinking: The skill to identify the benefits and disadvantages of various solutions through the use of logic and reasoning without allowing any preconceptions from affecting the outcome.

Reading Comprehension: The skill to understand high-level texts in the field of psychology fully.

Scientific Writing: The ability to write in a manner which effectively conveys the result of research while using appropriate style and syntax for scientific publications.

Active Listening: The ability to absorb what others say completely, to listen patiently and then to follow up with relevant questions.
Speaking Clearly: The skill to convey information in such a way to avoid listeners from misunderstanding.

Social Perception: The ability to react appropriately in social settings by having a keen understanding of the mood and personality of others.

Assessment: The ability to make clear assessments concerning situations, procedures, and individuals that are based on facts, not feelings.

Management: The skill to use limited resources including budgets, employees and time in the most effective manner.

Instruction and Training: The ability to instruct people effectively in both formal and informal settings to improve their knowledge and performance.

Internship Requirements

Competition for the best experimental psychology positions is fierce. The more real-world experience you have as a job candidate, the better chance you will have to land your ideal job. One of the best ways of gaining experience is through internships. Although most bachelor-level degrees in psychology do not require internships, if you think you’ll work as an experimental psychologist, perhaps you should think about taking part in an internship as early as possible. Most graduate programs require students to complete an internship as a prerequisite for graduating from the program. All doctoral programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association require that a candidate completes an approved internship.

In most states of the country, those who want to qualify for a license to practice psychology must finish at least a one-year postdoctoral fellowship.

Educational Requirements

It is a long road for you to become an experimental psychologist, and it all begins by earning a bachelor’s degree. Although a bachelor’s degree in any subject will allow you to apply to a graduate school, it is highly advisable to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A degree in psychology will give you the best chance of getting accepted into a top-tier grad school. While you are an undergrad, you may want to take additional classes in advanced math and computers to prepare yourself for later coursework.

After graduating with an undergraduate degree, your next step is to earn a master’s degree in either experimental psychology or another field of psychology.

Grad schools offer two different categories of master programs, a Master’s of Science (MS) and a Master’s of Arts (MA). Although both types of programs are similar to one another, an MS program may focus more heavily on research and science than an MA program. In the end, you should choose a grad school that offers you the courses and professors you prefer.

While there are some students who choose to enroll directly in an MS in Experimental Psychology program, it is not the only option. If you decide to earn an MA or MS in a different field of psychology it will not prevent you from pursuing a doctorate in experimental psychology after graduation.

But, you need to know that there are some advantages of earning an MS in Experimental Psychology. Students who graduate with an MS in Experimental Psychology do have the possibility to work in the field. Unfortunately, these jobs tend to be low-level positions with small salaries and most of these students eventually decide to attend a doctoral program to advance their careers.

Earning your doctoral degree in experimental psychology is the most important part of your education because it will most directly affect your future employment. During your doctoral degree program, you will learn theory in the classroom and practical aspects of the profession in the laboratory. To complete your doctorate, you must complete a dissertation, which requires you to design and conduct an experiment of your choice and then write a scientific paper on your findings.

After completing your dissertation, the final step before you become a fully licensed psychologist is to complete a postdoctoral fellowship, or “postdoc”. Each state determines its own requirements for licensure, but most states demand at least 3000 hours of supervised practice.

Psychology Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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