Environmental Psychologist: Education and Career Information
Environmental psychologist work in a specialized area of psychology, but one that is experiencing steady growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that overall, jobs for psychologists will increase by 19% from 2014 to 2024, while positions for “other psychologists,” into which environmental psychologists are grouped, are expected to grow by 10% over the same period. The study also found that typically, job-seekers in psychology are viewed as most competitive when in possession of a doctoral degree, although candidates with master’s degrees can find some entry-level employment. The finding fits with anecdotal evidence from the field as well.
What does an environmental psychologist do?
Environmental psychologists study and work with the interaction between humans and their physical environments. These environments may include living or working spaces, indoors or outdoors, but the environmental psychologist is always looking to either better understand how humans react to their surroundings or apply current knowledge in the field to improve spaces for maximum positive impact of surroundings on human psychological health. Environment can refer to man-made or natural settings, but in each case the environmental psychologist is focused on the emotions, thoughts, and actions of people that are affected by those settings.
In terms of employment, environmental psychologists in the field work for nonprofit organizations, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They apply their knowledge to architectural design, interior design, environmental design, landscape architecture, urban planning, and to efforts to manage or combat climate change. They may also work in academia, as professors in developmental psychology programs and as researchers who push the boundaries of a growing discipline.
How much does an environmental psychologist earn?
Environmental psychologists’ earnings are in line with other salaries in the field of psychology. A few key data points from the latest report on salaries, using data for 2015, from the American Psychological Association (APA) are listed below:
•Median salary for all psychologists: $85,000, with 57% in the range of $60,000 to $120,000.
•Median salary for psychologists in teaching positions: $ 62,000, although post-secondary teachers earned a median of $63,000, and higher salaries were noted in private institutions versus public schools.
•Median for psychologists in research positions: $95,000, although salaries for research positions in the private sector averaged $130,000.
•Median for psychologists in management positions: $110,000, and salaries increased when the numbers of people supervised exceeded 20 people to $141,000.
What type of skills are required to be successful as an environmental psychologist?
The skills required for success in environmental psychology are similar to those required in other areas of psychology:
•Observation: In order to gather information and identify problems in the environment, environmental psychologists must develop keen skills of observation.
•Analysis: Analytical skills allow environmental psychologists to understand research result and make recommendations based on key findings.
•Attention to detail: In order to produce accurate and useful results, environmental psychologists must display excellent attention to detail.
•Problem-solving: Based on the outcome of analysis, research, and the most up-to-date theories of the discipline, environmental psychologists in the field must look for solutions to challenging problems of environmental health.
•Creativity: Like all scientists, environmental psychologists must approach their work with a mind open to new and innovative solutions to problems.
•Communication: Communication skills are among the most crucial for any environmental psychologist who will work in the field, manage teams, or who will explain results and thinking from the field to employers, employees, government officials, or others. In any scientific endeavor, those who can accurately explain the field to laypeople are generally considered extremely valuable.
Internships are not necessarily required to get into the field. However, like many disciplines, internships can be an important source of post-graduation employment offers. Not only do students get a chance to try out daily life working in the discipline, employers get a chance to evaluate the student’s skills real-time. Employers typically find internships to be a far more reliable method of evaluating potential job candidates than mere interviews, as interviewing and performing actual work tend to be unrelated skill sets.
Environmental psychologists need to begin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. For those interested in pursuing research positions, a background in mathematic or statistics is extremely helpful, but sociology, geography, architecture, and environmental policy also are acceptable undergraduate degrees for future environmental psychologists.
Typically, all psychologists go on to earn at least a master’s degree, although doctoral degrees are considered the standard. Entry level positions in the field are available with master’s degrees only, yet for those committed to the field, a doctoral position will create significantly more opportunity.
How long will all this take? Typically, a bachelor’s degree requires four years, a master’s degree is an additional two years, and a doctorate takes between two to four additional years. Very few people pursue both a master’s and a doctorate, as those on the PhD track will usually enter their PhD program directly from undergraduate school.
In terms of courses required, each school will have its own specific take on the requirements for the degree. However, in the field of environmental psychology, typical courses will include:
•Statistics and other quantitative methods
•Research epistemology and ethics
Key resources for those interested in careers in environmental psychology
The following organizations are excellent resources for additional information on the field of environmental psychology:
•The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Division 34: Division 34 stands for the Society for Environmental, Population & Conservation Psychology (SEPCP). The SEPCP is a professional organization of environmental psychologists who maintain an interest group for environmental and conservation issues, eco-psychology, and population psychology. In addition to offering networking and leadership activities, the SEPCP maintains social media channels, gives awards, and offers fellowships.
•The Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA): The EDRA is an interdisciplinary organization created in the 1960s to “advance and disseminate research, teaching, and practice toward improving an understanding of the relationships among people, their built environments, and natural eco-systems.” The association seeks to bring together stakeholders, communities, designers, scientists, and policy makers to create more humane environments, promote cutting-edge research, transcend disciplinary boundaries, and advocate for social justice.
•The International Association for People Environment Studies (IAPS): The IAPS is also a multidisciplinary association with its roots in the architectural psychology movement of the 1960s, but it was not formed until 1981. IAPS serves to provide a platform for industry networking, collaborative research efforts, and lobbying activities.