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Engineering Psychologist: Education and Career Information

Engineering psychology is a branch of psychology focused on understanding the relationships between humans and machines and other technologies. Engineering psychologists study people’s interactions with the technologies in products, devices, and systems during day-to-day use. Their research explores users’ perceptions of the technology they work with and the influences it has on them.

Engineering psychologists contribute important insights toward making a vast range of technological designs more compatible with the various levels of needs and interests of their human users.

What does an engineering psychologist do?

Most engineering psychology specialists either teach, or work in academia, industry, or government. Their work is in researching users’ needs in various work environments and to deliver their insights for consideration in improving designs of equipment, software, various other technologies, and work environments more generally.

Their work contributes to making products safer and more user-friendly. The scope of these specialists’ responsibilities typically includes the following.

•Performing research on consumer needs and preferences in products they use. The researchers may create test panels, focus groups, consumer surveys, etc. as part of their studies of ways people interact with products. And, they use their resulting data to identify potential safety issues, feature flaws, and other product design problems.

•Teaming with engineers and developers to create products with reduced potential for failure or functional deficiencies resulting from human error.

•Researching demographics, abilities of users, and other factors, in order to understand types of individuals who are most likely to purchase various products based on appearance and functionality.

•Helping identify needed changes to products to make them more appealing, or easier for customers to use.

•Examining equipment-users’ and tool-users’ abilities and needs, in order to optimize work environments.

•Studying cognitive ergonomics (for example, exploration of effects of devices on users).

•Studying human aging (for example, study of self-management of pain).

•Studying human engineering (for example, examination of how background noise or harsh lighting impacts information processing).

•Exploring various other topics relevant to the field.

Where do engineering psychologists work?

An increasing number of fields are opening up to qualified engineering psychologists, and the field is recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a “hot field” with growing prospects for graduates. Engineering psychologists work in computer sciences, software development, engineering, military equipment, aviation, medical equipment, among many other industries.

How much does an engineering psychologist earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates that in 2014 there were 2,000 psychologists employed as industrial-organizational psychologists. This number included engineering psychologists. The BLS projected a 19% increase in this number (an additional 400 jobs) during the decade from 2014 to 2024. The BLS May 2015 report indicated that the median salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $77,350 annually.

The highest salaries for engineering psychologists are for work in private industry, and the lowest are in academic jobs. Government jobs fall in the middle, per the 2005 Salary and Compensation Survey by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s (HFES).

Those with master’s degrees working in business environments during the same period earned $90,164. Those working in government earned $90,500, and those in university positions earned $75,150. The starting salaries for engineering psychologists across all employment sectors ranged from $48,000 – $75,367 at the time of the report.

Engineering psychologists with PhDs employed in businesses earned an average income of $111,368 that year. Those in academic positions averaged $92,614, and those in government averaged $107,314. And, those PhDs consulting in industrial environments earned an average of $179,160 during that period.

Why do we need engineering psychologists?

Today, the engineering psychology field is rapidly growing, because consumers and businesses have created a great demand for safer, easier-to-use software and technological devices. Engineering psychologists specialize in developing a deeper understanding of the relationships between products and people. The discoveries these specialists make about the fine nuances of these relations allow technology designers to optimize important technologies we all use to function in the modern world.

As the demand for people to work with technical devices is ever-increasing, the need for technology producers, employers, and employees to increase understanding of the way people interact with the technologies they use will keep growing. This condition of modern life indicates a very promising future for engineering psychology specialists.

What skills are required to be a successful engineering psychologist?

A career in psychology requires formal development of specialized skills. A curriculum focused on meeting a specific set of degree requirements throughout your time in college will ensure that you sufficiently develop those unique skills required to succeed as an engineering psychologist.
In addition to skills acquired through formal academic training, candidates for employment in this specialized field should also possess the following skills.

•Strong written and oral communications skills
•Sound analytical problem-solving abilities
•Course work in human development, cognition, learning, and perception
•Course work in research methods
•Course work in statistics
•Classes or job training in areas far removed from psychology. This means you should expect to take some training specific to the particular industry, governmental area, or business field in which you want to become employed in your research career as an engineering psychologist. For example, you may need to take software, medical, industrial, or other training that will allow you a more integrated understanding of the environment in which you choose to work long-term.

Education requirements for becoming an engineering psychologist

A significant academic commitment is necessary for an aspiring engineering psychologist. As a student, you may choose from several academic paths in order to acquire the formal skills required for a career in engineering psychology.

Required Areas of Study

You may take courses in various areas of psychology as you work toward your degree in engineering psychology. Examples of such courses include:

•General psychology
•Industrial-organizational psychology
•Human factors psychology
•Human-computer interaction

Before enrolling in any psychology degree program, confirm that it is an accredited academic program and that credits earned are transferrable to accredited schools offering psychology graduate programs.

Required Degrees

High school graduates can begin their degree work by enrolling in an associate’s degree program to complete core college requirements, taking as many psychology or other field relevant courses allowed under the Associate of Arts (A.A) degree requirements. And, then you can transfer to a four-year college. Or, you may begin a bachelor’s degree program (B.S), selecting a major in psychology.

Bachelor’s degree

Although most engineering psychology jobs are held by people with graduate degrees, a majority of engineering psychologists begin working in some area of psychology after earning a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology.

The bachelor’s degree program will prepare you with the academic prerequisites you need to start introductory level work in the field of psychology. And, it will provide you with the educational foundation you need to advance to higher levels of research work in the field.

Master’s Degree

After your complete your bachelor’s degree, the usual next phase is to enter a graduate degree program in psychology to earn a master’s degree (M.S). Or, some students may qualify to go directly into a PhD program at this point.

Meanwhile, ask for help through your school’s student services appendage to secure work to accumulate real-life experience supervised by a licensed psychologist.

Earning a master’s degree allows talented graduates to continue working in psychology in academic environments, but normally only under supervision of more experienced and highly trained professionals in the field. However, a number of good jobs in the industry are open to talented candidates with a master’s degree.

Doctoral degree

People aspiring to do their research work independently as licensed psychologists must earn a doctorate degree (PhD) in psychology. This degree is legally required in all US states in order to obtain the professional designation of Psychologist. This signifies the highest level of training in the field.

Approximately seventy universities in the US offer accredited graduate programs in engineering psychology, according to the online listing by the Human Factors Ergonomics Society (HFES). The professional organization reports that students enter into their advanced degree programs with a broad range of undergraduate degrees, such as psychology, product design, engineering, computer programming, and Web design.

According to the BLS report, most psychologists hold a doctorate in psychology either with emphasis in engineering psychology or a Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology. However, the American Psychological Association notes that some professionals in this field hold a master’s degree. These academic programs may emphasize cognition, development, perception, statistics, and research methodologies.

Internship requirements

In addition to a college degree, an engineering psychology career requires acquiring some real-world experience through professional internships. Students may find appropriate internships with any one of a great number of organizations, for examples, with a consumer product company, an equipment manufacturer, a tech firm, or the military.

Keep in mind

Embarking on the right educational path and staying on track throughout the required academic program is essential to your success in your career goal of becoming an engineering psychologist. This is a challenge if you do not obtain the necessary guidance and resources. Work closely with your academic advisor at every level of your development as a student to ensure that you remain on the correct course curriculum to meet all requirements for the degree you want to earn.

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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