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What kinds of career opportunities exist in Psychology?

July 15, 2010

Each year in the U.S. and Canada, hundreds of thousands of new students enter college or university programs in Psychology. Within a few years, most of them earn a bachelor’s degree. Along the way, they take a lot of courses in different areas of psychology, and in research methods and statistics. They gain an appreciation of the basics in a wide range of areas within Psychology, but most are taught almost nothing about career options in psychology. Surprisingly few Psychology departments at major colleges or universities offer courses or workshops on this topic, so students typically have to go on their own assumptions along with whatever little bits of reliable information they come across.

The good news is that there is a huge range of career options in Psychology, and reasonably-good-to-excellent employment prospects in all major subfields.

All psychology students come to realize at some point, however, that a bachelor’s degree does not provide the necessary qualifications to actually be a psychologist. A career as a psychologist requires a doctorate. A masters degree may give you qualifications to teach psychology at high school or college, and it is all that one needs to launch a career in one of the allied fields, like social work or counselling, but it won’t enable you to have a career as a fully-fledged psychologist.

So, that’s the catch – you need to go to graduate school for several years – but if you do, and if you are able to obtain a doctorate in psychology, there really is an wide range of career directions you could potentially take.

Importantly, before you can get into the graduate program that will set you on the career course you want, you need to have some idea of what you want your destination to be. That is, you need to have an idea of what type of career you want as a psychologist. I will assume that you know what subfields of Psychology interest you, and skip over discussing that part. What I mean by career option or career path has more to do with the setting in which you work, and the kinds of activities you spend most of your time engaged in, rather than the particular subject area in which you acquire expertise.

Of course, you might not end up with the particular career you currently plan on – your plans may change along the way for any number of reasons – but without a career plan you will probably not end up having any career as a psychologist, at all. There are many reasons why applying to graduate school without a coherent career plan often fails. But, I think to discuss them at length here would be too much of a side-track. Instead, I recommend reading this article on How to Choose a Graduate Program

Its important to acknowledge that a bachelor’s degree in psychology does provide the qualifications needed for many entry-level jobs with real career potential – just not as a licensed or certified psychologist of any type. There are also many job-market advantages of having a B.A. in psychology, relative to some other fields in the social sciences or humanities. In this blog, however, and for the next few weeks, I will be writing specifically about different careers one could pursue as a psychologist – that is, for people who are able to obtain a doctorate degree while also gaining the right kinds of expertise and skills along the way. Depending on the particular career, this normally means either a PhD or a PsyD (or for a few careers, an EdD).

There are a few key questions to ask yourself when considering different career options in psychology: What type of occupational setting do you see yourself working in, and what sorts of things do you want to spend most of your time doing? Of course, you need to make choices about what types of behavior or psychopathology you will specialize in – that is, what will be your area or areas of expertise – but, I will assume that you already know what subject areas within psychology interest you the most. Choosing a subject area to specialize in is not the same thing as choosing a career path.

Below, I give some examples of different work settings and professional activities of psychologists. One of the main things to notice are the huge range and variability in career options. Because psychologists work in such a wide range of careers, I will only describe the most common types. Keep in mind that I am only providing a summary overview of different psychology careers. My aim is to get you thinking about the right things as you consider your own potential future as a psychologist.

Applied-Psychology versus Academic or Research Careers… or Something Else?

Perhaps the first question to ask when considering different career options in psychology is this: Do you want an “applied-psychology” career, or one that mainly involves research? (Some psychologists work at jobs that involve mainly administrative roles, for example, within universities, various government institutions, mental health clinics, and hospitals. These kinds of careers are seldom planned far in advance – at least not in the early stages when a person is still in graduate school. I will blog more about those kinds of careers, later).

Applied-psychology careers (often, but not always) involve the delivery of mental health services directly to individuals in need of them; this is the kind of career where one is a mental healthcare practitioner. This is a very broad category that includes any occupation in which the psychologist interacts with clients for the purpose of assessment, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of mental health issues (in most careers as a clinical psychologist), or to help clients deal with challenges of daily living (in most careers as a counseling psychologist). If you are a college or university psychology student, there is a good chance that this is the type of career you imagined for yourself when you decided to study psychology.

Although a large number of psychologists would consider themselves to be primarily mental healthcare practitioners, there are even more who would describe their careers as consisting of mainly other activities. In other words, not all psychologists who have applied-psychology careers are front-line practitioners. For example, some occupations involve the application of one’s expertise to solving a particular category of mental health problem. Still, I suspect that at some point in their career planning, the vast majority of psychologists were aiming to become a psychology practitioner. What often happens as people progress through graduate school, however, is they discover more and more about the incredible range of career directions their training and expertise could potentially take them.

The range of research careers is as broad as that of applied-psychology careers. Many psychologists work in a university, where they conduct research, teach courses in Psychology to undergraduate and/or graduate students, and serve in administrative roles within the department, faculty, or school. In fact, more psychologists work within academia than in any other career setting. This may seem somewhat surprising, as most people tend to think of psychologists primarily as practitioners, delivering mental healthcare services in clinical settings, such as mental health centers, hospitals, or private offices.

In most North American universities, as well as in other parts of the world, most psychology professors are full-time faculty members, and they spend only a small fraction of their time on classroom teaching and related activities. Many professors are also active researchers, who dedicate more than half of their time and attention to research-related activities, which may include such things as managing a laboratory and a team of research trainees (i.e., graduate students), writing manuscripts for the purpose of getting their research published, writing research-grant applications in order to get the funding to support the lab and its members, giving talks and going to conferences to disseminate research findings. Experienced and well-respected researchers are also called upon frequently to serve as peer-reviewers for psychology journals in their domain of expertise, or for grant applications submitted by other researchers. Some psychology researchers do a lot of consulting within in their area of expertise. The bottom line from all of this is that most psychologists identify strongly with the processes of research and discovery, and many consider themselves primarily to be scientists and researchers.

For those with careers in academic institutions, there can also be a great variety of other aspects of the occupation. Many psychology professors do a lot of consulting in their area of expertise, and most also do a considerable amount of administrative work within their department, faculty, and university or college.

Not all psychology research is carried out in university laboratories, however. A great deal of research is also conducted by psychologists employed within public institutions (e.g., social services, military), or in private industry (e.g., technology, pharmaceuticals).

There are many significant differences between a research career in academia and a research career in private industry, or working for the government. Those difference mainly revolve around the benefits of higher income (a characteristic of private industry or government occupations relative to occupations within academia) versus greater autonomy and freedom to make choices about the kinds of research you conduct (a characteristic of academic careers relative to careers in private industry or public institutions).

Importantly, applied-psychology and research careers are not mutually exclusive. That is, you don’t necessarily have to choose entirely between an applied-psychology career and a research career — many psychologists have careers that involve both applied work and research. Moreover, anyone who has a PhD in Psychology had to do a substantial amount of original research in order to obtain that degree, even those who eventually end up in an occupation in which they no longer conduct research.

It’s also worth noting that some psychologists have neither applied-psychology careers, or research careers, and instead they work as managers or administrators within businesses or in public institutions. This type of career is seldom what a person has in mind when starting graduate school in Psychology. Instead, a psychologist with this type of career is more likely to have been recruited for the job, later in his or her career.

Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology?

One question comes up over and over again when I see psychology undergraduate students for academic advising: What is the difference between clinical and counseling psychology? While there are significant differences in graduate-level training in clinical psychology versus counseling, there is a considerable amount of overlap in the career paths available to individuals with either degree.

Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat behavioral, cognitive, and emotional disorders, frequently using research to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and to search for novel approaches in assessment and therapy. Most clinical psychologists are specialized to deal with assessment and treatment of specific kinds problem (e.g., eating disorders, anxiety, depression, etc.) Clinical psychologists work in academic institutions, and in health care settings such as clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, and private practice. Many clinical psychologists focus on special populations (children, minority groups, the elderly).

Although many counseling psychologists have careers that are very similar, in practice, to those of clinical psychologists, one difference is that, in most cases, counseling psychologists help clients whose issues tend to be less severe than those dealt with by clinical psychologists. Of course, there is more that distinguishes clinical and counseling psychology, but the choice between which path to pursue affects a person’s experiences in graduate school and the kinds of specialized knowledge acquired, more than it limits the range of career options.

The Psychologist Practitioner in Private Practice

Many psychologists work in private practice, where they give therapy to clients who have problems that fall within their area of expertise. For example, a clinical psychologist may specialize in assessment and therapy for persons with a mood disorder, with special expertise in treating those with anxiety problems or phobias.

Those who are in private-practice usually have their own office, where they meet with clients. Private practice is a lot like any other form of self-employment, and with it there are many pros and cons to consider. In most cases, one must have good business-management skills to succeed.

Clinical Practice in Institutional Settings

Psychologists work in hospitals, clinics, extended-care facilities, and many other types of institutions that deliver mental healthcare services. In such settings, a psychologist might be a practitioner, an administrator, or both.

Some clinical psychologists are heavily engaged in scientific research within their area of expertise; a great deal of research is conducted within universities, but much is also conducted within other public (ie., government) institutions, or private industry.

The next few paragraphs comprise descriptions of some of the different subfields of Psychology in which one could pursue a career. (A similar list that includes a few additional subfields can be found at the website of the American Psychological Association).

Psychology and Business

The field of Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology has been rapidly expanding in recent years. Today, many psychologists are employed by large businesses, to develop and administer measures aimed at maximizing productivity and employee well-being and retention.

Industrial/organizational psychologists are concerned with such issues as: organizational structure and change; workers’ productivity and job satisfaction; consumer behavior; selection, placement, training, and development of personnel; and the interaction between humans and machines. They work in businesses, industries, governments, and colleges and universities.  Some may be self-employed as consultants or work for management consulting firms.

Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychologists are a diverse group of psychologists who conduct research on and often teach about a variety of basic behavioral processes. These processes include learning, sensation, perception, human performance, motivation, memory, language, thinking, and communication. Experimental psychologists also study the behavior and neurobiology of animals, in order to better understand human behavior. Most experimental psychologists conduct their research in an academic setting, such as a university, but many work instead for some branch of government, or in a private-industry lab.

Psychology and the Law (Forensic Psychology)

As an area of research, psychology and law is concerned both with looking at legal issues from a psychological perspective (e.g., how juries decide cases), and with looking at psychological questions in a legal context (e.g., assessing a defendant’s mental competency). Forensic psychologists may provide assessments or expert testimony for the courts, or provide consultation on such matters as jury selection, or the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Many forensic psychologists also have degrees in Law.

Health Psychology

The field of Health Psychology deals with the promotion and maintenance of behavior and lifestyle choices that are conducive to good health, or the prevention or treatment of illness. In applied contexts, such as hospitals or community healthcare centers, health psychologist often collaborate with other medical health professionals in treating certain individuals.

Health psychologists conduct research into the various ways that behavioral, biological, and social factors interact to affect health. For example, a health psychologist might study how stress in the workplace affects the incidence of heart disease.

Rehabilitation Psychology

Psychologists who work in the field of rehabilitation psychology work with people who have suffered a physical deprivation or loss, helping them deal with the psychological aspects of disability and rehabilitation. A typical client may be someone who has recently become paraplegic, or who has lost her eyesight, or who suffers from a chronic illness. Individuals in these or similar unfortunate situations will face many new challenges in everyday life, and a rehabilitation psychologist may provide a range of psychological supports to help them function. Research in the field of rehabilitation psychology examines how biological, social, or environmental factors affect the functioning of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience

Neuropsychologists study the relations among brain structure and behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and sensory and perceptual functions. Neuropsychologists also diagnose and treat disorders related to the central nervous system. Behavioral neuroscientists are primarily researchers who study the interactions between brain functions and behavior. A behavioral neuroscientist may do research that is either “basic”, “applied”, or both. Most behavioral neuroscientists conduct research in an academic environment (ie., a university), where they can do research on nearly any topic they wish, so long as they can receive funding for it, which is typically in the form of a government grant. Other behavioral neuroscientists are employed by government to conduct research on various applied issues, or by pharmaceutical companies to conduct preclinical studies of drugs.

Careers in Social Psychology

The field of social psychology deals with how people interact with each other and how they are affected by social environments. Most social psychologist work in academia, and are therefore heavily engaged in research and teaching.

Careers in Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists study human development across the life span, from newborns to the aging population. They are employed in academic settings, teaching and doing research, or may work in applied settings such as day-care centers and in programs with youth groups, community mental health centers, or nursing homes.

Educational Psychology

A career in Educational Psychology involves conducting research on how people learn, and/or designing methods and materials to enhance learning and intellectual, social, and emotional development. Many psychologists who work in this field have an EdD degree, instead of a PhD.

As I mentioned already, there are still more potential career paths for a psychologist than just those I have listed here. But, I have probably mentioned about 95% of the possibilities. I can get into more details about specific career paths in psychology, if someone would like.

[ By the way, if you think you might want to become a psychologist, and therefore, graduate school is likely to be in your plans, be sure to check out the archives for this blog, as well as the most recent posts. I can give you all the best information and advice about what it takes to get into the graduate program that's right for you. There are many other sites out there, but they all provide the same basic and generic information and advice about applying to graduate school, and therefore, none of them offer anything that is uniquely helpful. In fact, following too closely the advice of other so-called grad-school experts can be harmful to your chances of getting in! If you want to see what I mean by that, and learn about the biggest myth there is about getting into graduate school in Psychology, then please check out this blog post from August, 2012 -- What if the Guru is Wrong About That? ]

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75 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex permalink
    December 2, 2013 4:34 PM

    Hi,
    I just wanted to know how are the job prospects going to be in the next decade if I do psychology as a Bsc?

    • December 14, 2013 7:53 AM

      Alex, the question is pretty vague, but I’ll try to give you some advice on this… The job prospects, overall, won’t be affected very much by whether you do psychology as a BA or BSc. In fact, your job prospects might not even be dramatically improved by going to college, at all. Things were different in decades past, but here in the early stages of the 21st-century, young people need to understand that higher-education by itself will not create significant employment opportunities.

      If you do a BSc, you MIGHT find it possible afterward to get a job working in some kind of research environment as a lab assistant, whereas this kind of employment would be less likely for someone with a BA in Psychology. Aside from that minor difference, however, there are no substantial differences in employment prospects for someone with a BSc in Psychology versus a BA.
      VERY few psychology graduates will end up with a job in a field related to psychology. The purpose of a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Psychology is NOT to turn someone into a psychologist.

      In my opinion, the best way to increase one’s chances of having a job after completing a bachelor’s degree is to work part-time while going to school. The main problem facing many university graduates today is that they don’t have the soft skills needed to succeed in any workplace.

      A big mistake many people make is to think that their education will make them employable. It’s not like that, in reality. The likelihood of being hired for nearly any job will depend primarily on a person’s character attributes, employment history, and sometimes on having specific skills or experience.

      A lot of men and women nowadays are finishing college and trying to enter the workforce, but they find themselves at a disadvantage because they are approaching or already into their mid-20s, and they have never previously held a job. People with less education have a lot of the jobs that would have gone to a college graduate in decades past. I think it makes a lot of sense, too. Young people need to understand that there is a sort of progression that one must go through to make themselves more and more valuable to potential employers. This progressions can begin at an early age, with a paper route or even some type of volunteer work. It can continue with other part-time jobs while in high-school and college. The people who understand this and begin to work in their teenage years and while at college — those are the people who are able to find jobs, afterward.

      – Dave

      Saavy employers don’t hire people just because they have some credentials, but rather because they have the qualifications AND are deemed to be someone who is hard-working, reliable, good at working with others, good at communicating, etc. It has always been this way, and it always will be.

  2. Arella permalink
    October 27, 2013 2:44 PM

    Thank you for the awesome information. I’m hearing so many different things about the different psychology careers on the Internet. My only question is which type of psychologist find them self working abroad or going away for long periods the most?

    • November 26, 2013 11:38 PM

      Arella, there isn’t really a type of psychologist who would fit this description, at least not in the sense of what you probably mean by “type.” Many different types of psychologists work in universities, where they spend much of their time on research. These are your university psychology professors. Most tenured professors are able to take a sabbatical leave every few years, and many use that opportunity to go somewhere for at least a few months in order to collaborate with researchers at another university. Psychologists who are university professors do a lot of travelling for other reasons, too, but most of this other travel is not for long periods. For more information about this other kind of travelling, please read this reply I made to someone else’s question about travelling psychologists a few years ago.

  3. mizzconstrued permalink
    July 2, 2013 8:22 AM

    Reblogged this on Mizzconstrued's Blog.

  4. June 9, 2013 1:24 AM

    hai ,
    I just want to ask if what kind of fields in psychology that has a better chance to work abroad in the future?..i’m a first year student in a university and I can’t decide of what field I would choose. I do really want to work abroad especially in u.s or either Canada.please help me

    • July 5, 2013 9:12 AM

      Hi Danica,
      All of the career paths described in this article are possible throughout the various regions of the U.S. and Canada. – Dave

      • Kayla permalink
        August 21, 2013 5:57 PM

        Hi Dr. Mumby, Its Kayla Lucas here, I met with you and Dr.Hamilton a month or so ago I have just finished your book and it has given me a new perspective on applying to graduate schools and it is greatly appreciated Thank you!! I am currently starting my timeline in preparing to apply but there is one problem, I still haven’t decided on whether to pursue the clinical or counselling route…I am aware of the differences in the populations you would work with by choosing each focus but do you know off hand if one were to choose the clinical route could one still decide to work with the general public instead of working with people with a certain mental illness? I am just trying to figure out which focus will give me the most widespread career choices after finishing grad school. Thank you so much for your time and help!!
        Kayla

        • September 5, 2013 12:52 PM

          Hi Kayla, thanks for the question. It’s a hard one to answer, but I’ll give it my best shot.
          I would say that, overall, getting the Ph.D. in clinical psychology will give you most career choices after grad school. But, getting a Master’s in Counselling or Social Work might actually give you a higher likelihood of finding satisfactory employment, sooner. Either area of advanced education in psychology — clinical or counseling — can lead to very similar careers, in fact. And either route can give you a lot of options. It’s important to keep in mind that one acquires and hones many highly-transferable skills in grad school, and is true whether you are training to become a clinical psychologist, an experimental psychologist, a counsellor, social worker, etc. This turns out being really important for many people, as they finally obtain their advanced degrees but discover that there are not several jobs just waiting for them to apply for that are specifically asking for those particular degree credentials. I guess my point here is that many occupations require the kinds of experience, expertise, and professional skills that people tend to acquire while working successfully through a graduate program. A lot of people with a Ph.D. in psychology have successful careers in fields entirely outside of Psychology. It is in this sense that I suggest there are more career choices, overall, after grad school in Clinical Psychology than after a Master’s in counselling or social work. Licensed counsellors, however, are more likely to find good jobs directly related to their training, in a short period of time after graduating. – Dave

  5. Libby permalink
    June 6, 2013 2:09 PM

    Hi,

    I have a Master’s in general psychology and I am not able to get a Ph.D. right now. WHat are my options for a career?-Libby

    • July 5, 2013 9:28 AM

      Dear Libby, you might want to consider consulting a career counsellor to help you find a career path. I am not a career counsellor, and I certainly don’t have the time to offer you personalized career advice. With a Master’s in psychology, without any research specialization, your best chances for a psychology-related career will probably be found in teaching psychology, or working in an allied field, such as Social Work, Counselling, or Educational Psychology. There are also MANY types of occupations that employers like to fill with people who have a bachelor’s or Master’s in Psychology. These occupations aren’t in the field of Psychology, per se. The best way to learn about employment opportunities for college graduates is to talk to a career counsellor at your current school. They are paid to spend their time doing this. I am not paid for the time I spend on this blog (nor do I derive any income from it by selling space to advertisers). I do have personal consulting fees, but they are over $100 an hour, and I think it is likely that you can get the guidance you need for free from a counsellor at your current school. – Dave

  6. May 27, 2013 11:36 PM

    What type of job i can apply for after my masters in psychology

    • May 31, 2013 10:07 AM

      You can apply for any job you want to apply for. Your chances of getting some jobs will be better than for others. I’m sorry I can’t provide a more detailed response to your vague question. – Dave

  7. Lauren permalink
    May 15, 2013 3:21 PM

    I don’t see anything about Behavior Analysts?

    • May 31, 2013 9:46 AM

      Behavior Analysis is a methodological approach to determining the factors that produce or maintain specific behaviors of an individual. Usually, the focus is on decreasing the prevalence of undesirable behaviors and/or increasing desirable behaviors.
      It is not a career path, per se. It is an orientation or approach used by some clinical psychologists, and it is common in Educational Psychology.

  8. May 6, 2013 10:13 PM

    I found this to be a very helpful. Even though I am far from a graduate program I am starting the first year in college. I had been concerned about my options for a psychology career. I am very interested in child/ adolescent psychology and have my heart set out on a counseling career. I wish there were more articles like this to give a better looking into the journey of a psychology career. Thanks for posting this.

  9. Michael permalink
    April 20, 2013 5:07 AM

    Your article was very informative! I’m beginning my journey into the world of psychology this fall as I will be a first year student working towards receiving my BA , my question I have is my career goal is to open up my own practice so can I do tht with a Masters or do I need a doctorate? Second question, I see you are a college professor, if I go towards the route of research psychology what are some benefits of working in a professor role?? Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • May 31, 2013 9:39 AM

      thanks for the questions, Michael. If you plan to be a clinical psychologist with your own practice, you will need a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D) — If, on the the other hand, you go into the fields of Counselling Psychology or Social Work (allied to the field of Psychology, per se, you can start your career with only a Master's degree.

      The career of a university professor has so many benefits that I would not trade for any other kind of Psychology career. Greatest benefit is the academic freedom to study what you want to. Of course, once you obtain tenure, you have a job for life, and that type of security is tremendously valuable. I could go on and on… Unfortunately, the academic positions for Psychology Ph.D.s are very difficult to get. This is the career path sought by the majority of non-Clinical psychology grad students, but there not nearly enough academic positions in North America. Only a tiny minority of Psychology grad students will ever achieve the goal of becoming a university professor, although it is considerably easier to get a job as a college professor. Universities hire Psychology professors to do research, and university professors also have to teach (although many would rather not teach at all, and spend all their time on their research). College professors are primarily hired to teach, and therefore, they do not need to be researchers. Many colleges do not have research facilities, and are teaching institutions, only. Note that by “university”, I mean institutions that offer graduate degrees (Masters, Ph.D), and by “college”, I am referring to institutions that offer diploma’s, certificates, or bachelor’s degrees, only. The distinction is clear cut in Canada, at least.

  10. Mary permalink
    March 25, 2013 6:08 PM

    Hello i love reading the information on the field of Psychology it has been most helpful.

    I am currently working on my Master in Psychology with an emphasis on Industrial/Organizational. My undergraduate degree is in psychology and I have spent the last 20 years in human service field primarily doing case management, social work, and Family Group Conferencing for a child welfare agency. I am looking to change my career; however; i would like to make use of the knowledge and skills I have gain over the years. I was hoping you might have some suggest that my help me with narrowing my focus for a career?

    • March 27, 2013 1:07 PM

      Dear Mary, I suspect you’ve gained skills and knowledge that would be useful in a wide variety of careers. I don’t have anything specific to recommend, as I don’t know enough about you, what you have been doing in that occupation you’ve had for the past 20 years, or what types of alternative careers might appeal to you. I recommend that you see the advice and guidance of a career counsellor. Contrary to what many readers seem to assume, I am not a career counsellor! Sorry I can’t be more helpful. – Dave

  11. Nastazia permalink
    March 20, 2013 8:22 AM

    Hello! I loved your article and found it so very informative.

    I am currently a 2nd year student doing a BSc degree in psychology at Leeds University UK, (part of the Russell Group universities) and I am interested in pursuing a PhD in either Clinical or Educational psychology.

    I am mostly interested in the Clinical PhD and wanted to ask if I have a chance to do a PhD without doing a Master’s. I am considered a mature student, I have previous work experience in schools and summer camps (i.e have worked with children for many years), I have volunteered at the Refugee centre in my town for a year. My grades overall are very good mostly leaning towards a first class degree. I have also selected a third year project that involves a lot of research methodology and statistics. Do you think I have any chances of doing a PhD without having a master’s?

    Other field do interest me but I am mainly interested in Clinical.

    Thanks a lot in advance!!

    • March 25, 2013 3:33 AM

      Dear Nastazia, Sorry, but I cannot be optimistic about your chances of getting into a Ph.D. program without doing a Master’s, first. In North America, at least, this would not happen at an accredited Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program. Not likely in a non-Clinical Ph.D., either. – Dave

  12. Natasha permalink
    March 13, 2013 7:12 PM

    Hi, I was just wondering, what are some of the other career possibilities other than teaching for someone with a Phd in Social Psychology?

  13. Samantha theobald permalink
    March 13, 2013 9:08 AM

    Hi I am currently a second year psychology student looking to hopefully be a behavioural neuroscientist. Do you have any idea if you can branch from psychology into this degree and if so how and how long would it take? Sorry my university is being very difficult answering these questions for me. Your feedback would be extremely appreciated.

    • March 13, 2013 10:14 AM

      Behavioural neuroscience is a subdiscipline of psychology, and many behavioural neuroscientists have a Ph.D. in psychology. Only a couple of decades ago, in fact, almost anyone who considered himself or herself a behavioural neuroscientist certainly had a Ph.D. in psychology. I am a behavioural neuroscientist, and all my university degrees are in Psychology. Check out the link near the top of this page to more information about me, and there you’ll find links to my research profile. Once your at that page, you will be able to find research profiles of about a dozen other professors who are also behavioural neuroscientists, and who are my colleagues in the Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology, at Concordia University, in Montreal. I think everyone of us has a Ph.D. in Psychology (although I could be wrong about that).
      The amount of time it takes to get a Ph.D. in Psychology, specializing in some area of behavioural neuroscience, is the same as the time it takes to get a Ph.D. in any other area of psychology, at least in North American universities. After a 4-year bachelor’s degree, it it usually another 5 – 6 years to the Ph.D. – Dave

  14. Hope permalink
    March 2, 2013 8:15 PM

    This is a great article, thank you very much Dave for sharing this information it was very useful. a few questions, i have always been interested in psychology and wish to make a career change into that field, i currently have a masters degree in Computer systems which is irrelavant to psychology. i would like to do a Phd in Psychology, is it possible to start a Phd without a bsc or msc in Psychology or a relevant field? and according to your view can a student from a different disciple manage a phd?

    what is the normal pass rate for a phd in psychology?

    I was always very interested in the subject and have finally come to a point where i can pursue it, i just want to know i am in the right path realistically.

    I would also appreciate if you could give me a personal email to contact you on as i could really do with some advice which i have long seeked and never found.

    Thank you Dave.

    • March 3, 2013 6:31 PM

      Dear Hope, it won’t be realistically possible to get into a doctoral program in Psychology without the undergraduate credentials or previous Master’s in Psychology. Sorry I can’t be more positive about that. It might take a couple of years or more to get the right courses and undergraduate research experience you need.

      You can probably find the information you want about finishing rates for PhD in Psychology by searching for that information on the American Psychological Association website. I don’t know the answer, off hand. Before you make a decision about pursuing a Ph.D. in any subject, I recommend you take a look at this article that was published in The Economist a while back.

      About the personal email,… I’m sorry, but I will have to decline that request. I am a busy professor, husband, and father, with a lot of things to do that I am being paid to do. I am not paid to write this blog or answer questions, so I have to be realistic about the amount of time I spend on it. Most private consultants charge well over a hundred dollars an hour for their services. I am not ready to start working as a consultant in order to earn a living for my family, because in order to do that I would have to charge a lot of money, and I think that would make my advice unaccessible for most students. I suppose you could always purchase a copy of my book or e-book, and read through the archives of my blog. That would give you a lot of my advice and insight — and I would make a few bucks! – Dave

      • Hope permalink
        March 3, 2013 6:43 PM

        Thank you very much Dave :) Much appreciated !!

  15. Courtney permalink
    February 28, 2013 3:57 PM

    Hello! I just started my Master’s in Clinical Counseling and I am starting to think it is not the right route for me. I am more of an analytical person and enjoy numbers and love research. A professional recently asked me if I ever thought about getting my PhD in psychology since I enjoy research so much, instead of going for my masters in counseling. I’ve been looking into Experimental Psychology and I am very intrigued but the job market is potentially scaring me out of it. Are there sufficient jobs out there for Experimental Psychologist?

    • February 28, 2013 5:22 PM

      Frankly, I would be worried about the job prospects, too. Experimental psychologist tend to be academic researchers, and there just aren’t enough positions for all the new Ph.D. being created. See this article from The Economist for a stark look at how the academic job market has been developing over the past several years. – Dave

  16. February 16, 2013 4:39 PM

    Hi! Im currently on my fourth year in college making a bachelors degree in psychology my expected graduation date is for this december 2013 so im starting to decide now what path of psychology to take. Im thinkingto take the Industrial Organizational psychology path an thinking of doing a masters on this. My question is what type of jobs can you get with a masters degreee in I/O psychology other than in the human resources field? And if you happen to know wat kind of internships or work can i do so i can have experience in the I/O psycholoogy field? Since a lot of the jobs out there for I/O psychologist require experience some of then even 5 years! i fin this is gonna be the hardest thing for me to do acquire experience in the job field. I havent had any experience at all or worked in anything related to have on my resume. And most internshios or job look for experience yet they dont give you the chance to acquire that experience if youre a beginner! If you happen to know of any internships or anything that would help too. Thanks!

    • March 1, 2013 3:32 PM

      Hello Veronica, and thank-you for the question. I have to say, however, that your question is one that requires a long and detailed response. It’s too much for me to answer in this space. I recommend that you see a career counsellor at your current university or college. – Dave

  17. swati permalink
    January 27, 2013 5:30 AM

    hi…thanku..this is a great post. I want to know that im now in final year of BCA..and i want to study further but Computer Application is not subject of my fully interest..i have interest in psychology coz this is study of our mind psychology and all…i like to know all these kind of thing…plz could u guide me..should i go for psychology as a career..if yes then what do i do again graduate degree in psychology or M.S. in psycology..plzz help me and guide me…Thanks in advance….:)

    • January 28, 2013 2:46 PM

      I can’t really be your guide for such an important decision. You need to use the resources you have available to explore your options, reflect on them and on what it is you want, and then reach a personal decision. A good way to start would be to make an appointment to see an academic counsellor or some other appropriate person in the Psychology department or the career-centre at your current institution. – Dave

  18. David Godfrey permalink
    January 24, 2013 10:47 AM

    I am currently attending a Polytechnic University majoring in Architecture, I have decided to change my major to Psychology, specifically Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Are Polytechnics inferior to other traditional universities that offer this degree. I was also wondering if you could tell me whether Ind/Org Psych. is a stable carreer field, and what types of jobs are relavant.Thanks!

    • January 24, 2013 2:49 PM

      There is a huge range of different careers paths for I-O psychologists. Too many to get into, here. Many people with a specialized bachelor’s degree in I/O psych are able to find decent human-resources type jobs. One caveat is that the number of I-O Psych programs has increased dramatically in the past decade, and so has the number of people acquiring the degrees at both undergraduate and graduate level. This growth has been related to a corresponding increase in the number of businesses that have created positions for I-O psychologists within their organizations. So, the employment prospects for I-O psychologists has been decent (relatively speaking) over the recent years, especially for someone wiling to relocate. I can’t say whether this will continue to be the case as economic growth is slow and and unemployment levels are high relative to just a few years ago.

      Some I-O psychologists are primarily researchers, and they tend to have academic jobs. Such a career requires a doctorate. A master’s degree can also give someone an advantage over someone with just a bachelor’s degree, at least when it comes to jobs within some organization that require a certain degree of expertise in a particular domain of I-O Psych (as opposed to the generalized training that one tends to get at the bachelor’s level). Graduate programs in I-O psychology provide specialized training, which will open the door to at least applying for jobs that require the relevant specialization.

      I have no reason to suspect that a bachelor’s program in I-O psychology at an accredited polytechnic institute would be inferior to one that was offered at a traditional university.

      thanks for the question, David

      – Dave

      • David Godfrey permalink
        January 24, 2013 3:51 PM

        Very helpful. Thank you for your insight.

  19. niecy permalink
    January 21, 2013 4:02 PM

    Thank u! What a great post and very informative. I’m now in my 3rd year undergraduate at a university and working part- time in a chemical dependency hospital. How would I go about getting a position as a research assistant?

  20. Alyssa permalink
    November 21, 2012 12:34 AM

    Hi…I’m 13, and have always been extremely fascinated with dreams and how the brain is capable of doing so much but won’t. I want to go to Yale and study there, although I’m not really sure what type of psychologist I want to be. Any advice?

    • November 23, 2012 7:18 AM

      It sounds to me like at this point in time your interests are aligned with a career as a neuroscience researcher. Neuroscientists come in many different stripes. Some study fundamental cellular and molecular processes that occur in the brain, with an aim to better understand how the the mechanisms of the brain actually work. There are also behavioral and cognitive neuroscientists, whose aim to understand the relationships between things that go on in the brain and the actual behaviour or the mental activity that it produces. Your interest in dreams and the brain would be the subject matter of a cognitive neuroscientist. Most cognitive neuroscientists begin their university training in psychology. Most of them, but not all, have a B.Sc. (bachelor of science) rather than a B.A. (bachelor of arts), so they tend to have a strong background in the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics). After getting a bachelor’s, someone interested in pursuing a career in behavioral or cognitive neuroscience will find a suitable place to apply for graduate school. At this point, you are making a decision about what area of specialization you want to pursue, and therefore, you will apply to graduate programs where you can work and train under the supervision of someone who is already an accomplished cognitive or behavioral neuroscientist. Presumably, if you are still interested in the brain and dreams when the time come to apply to graduate school, you will try to find someone who does research in that area and who is willing to take you on as a grad student.
      Yale has an excellent interdisciplinary neuroscience program, so there you’ll find many opportunities to get research experience you need as an undergraduate to begin developing your career as a neuroscientist.

  21. georgia fitz permalink
    November 6, 2012 1:57 PM

    what exact steps do you need to take to become a psychiatrist? I have heard different paths from different sources. Is it enough to do a masters and then a phd in psychology (after bachelor degree obviously)?or (as I expect) do you have to do a medical degree as if you are training to become a medical doctor? your advice is appreciated.

  22. Trish permalink
    October 7, 2012 10:58 AM

    I have a question –
    I am a certified teacher (working as a Learning Support teacher in Ontario) but I’m looking to expand my career options. I’ve been considering doing a Masters in Educational Psychology. Is this a worthwhile degree that will enhance my career options (say a school Psychological Associate or Psychometrist)? My alma mater university is offering this program now with both a thesis or a non-thesis option, which, if any, is the better option?
    thanks

    • October 16, 2012 12:13 PM

      Yes, a master’s in Educational Psychology is a worthwhile degree, but whether or not it is a good choice for you depends upon many personal factors as well as your general and specific career goals. I could not say whether it’s right for you, because I don’t know you or your goals or your circumstances. It sounds like you could benefit from visiting a career counsellor in order to discuss these things. As for the second part of your question — whether a thesis or non-thesis option is better — that also depends upon your goals, because the different options constitute different training experiences, which then determine how well suited one is for a particular kind of occupation after finishing.

  23. October 5, 2012 6:20 PM

    Thank-you for this article. I found it very helpful and informative. I do have a question if you wouldn’t mind answering it. I have recently decided that I want to be a school psychologist. I was planning on applying to Ph.D programs in School Psychology, but someone suggested that I get a clinical or counseling degree instead. I was told that a doctorate in Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology would allow me the option of working in a multitude of settings and I could get certification for School Psychology after I graduated from graduate school. Would you recommend this? I want to be a school psychologist, but the idea of having options is appealing.

    • October 16, 2012 12:07 PM

      It is certainly true that having a doctorate in Clinical Psychology or Counselling Psychology would broaden your potential career options, but I do not want to make a specific recommendation for you, because there is so much I don’t know about you or your circumstances. Deciding what kind of graduate degree to seek takes a great deal of consideration of personal factors and available options. No one is in a better position to decide what’s best for you than yourself. Just arm yourself with as much information you can about various career trajectories and graduate training options, and you will then be able to make a choice based on consideration of what you want most, and what you’re willing to sacrifice to obtain it.

  24. amanda sadri permalink
    October 3, 2012 4:28 PM

    Furthermore, what do you think about “Informational Interviewing”?

    • October 4, 2012 12:30 PM

      I think “informational interviewing” can be a useful approach to gathering the information one needs to make a well-informed decision. You might consider using this technique to find out more about graduate school in Psychology. Make an appointment with the director of the Psychology graduate program(s) at your university, and then ask him or her what you want to know.

  25. amanda sadri permalink
    October 3, 2012 4:26 PM

    Hello! I found this article helpful. I am a 3rd year student studying psychology at a University and would like to know what kind of job that I can get NOW without having graduated yet that will benefit my graduate school application or overall experience. I don’t know how to research what jobs I can be qualified for that are somewhat prestigious.
    Your advice is anticipated !

    • October 4, 2012 12:26 PM

      If you are planning to apply to graduate school in Psychology, per se (Clinical or Experimental), and not Counselling, then the most important experience you can get as an undergraduate is research experience. The more of it, the better. If you can find a paid position as a research assistant, that would be an ideal job. It is not even important that the research is in Psychology, as long as it is a position that puts you in situations that allow you to demonstrate those aspects of your character and work habits that are relevant to your likelihood of success in grad school. You want to use the experience as a way of setting up an influential letter of recommendation, and remember, you’ll need three such letters. In most cases, it’s best if all three letters come from professors who know you well, and in the right capacity (ie., supervisor of some of your research or other scholarly work).
      There ARE many occupations and jobs out there for Psychology students who have only a bachelor’s degree, but they are not, in general, a good way to get experience needed to get into most Psychology graduate programs. Get a job if you want or need the money, but if you just want a way to spend your time that will help open doors to graduate school, then your best opportunities to get the most relevant experience will be on campus. Many of the other posts on this blog discuss aspects of finding relevant experience, so I recommend you check them out for ideas.

  26. Samantha Galope permalink
    July 28, 2012 4:04 PM

    Hi, I am currently at the peak of having a very tough decision right now. I wanna be in Law School but before doing so I have to take pre-courses to get into the program. I am still on my first year at University taking up Bachelor of Arts, I haven’t yet declared my major but I am thinking about Sociology but reality wise I am afraid that I might not get any job after 4 years of school. So Psychology is my second choice. I’ve known and have read a lot already about taking up Psychology for about 8 years to earn a degree and get a job at this field. But since I just wanna do the Bachelor’s degree and hopefully I can get into law school I am just worried that if time doesn’t permit me to get into law school immediately after earning a Bachelor’s Degree I might not get a job. So, can you plase help me with this? What are the possible jobs I can apply for with just a Bachelor’s Degree? Just for a start up.

  27. July 19, 2012 2:43 PM

    Can you please tel me how about a graduation in applied psychology? Is that a great option to go for? What Career option we can look forward for?

    • July 19, 2012 11:17 PM

      If you review this blog post, you’ll see it describes several directions that a career in applied psychology might take. Whether or not a career in some type of applied psychology is a good option, however, depends on the individual in question… his or her interests, abilities, aptitudes, as well as other characteristics. The simplest way to answer the last part of your question is to say that there are many good career options. But, it takes a great deal of hard work and sacrifice over several years in graduate school to get there. The decision to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology, or even a master’s, should not be taken lightly. It is not for everyone. You might want to check out my blog post for June 21, 2011, which discusses many of the reasons why this is so.

  28. July 18, 2012 8:32 PM

    I am currently studying for my MA in Art Therapy. I want to continue my education and my interest lies with older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I am wondering what track I should consider when thinking about Phd or Psyd programs? I would consider most of my training is in applied psychology working hands on with the public and applying therapeutic practice.

    • July 18, 2012 10:35 PM

      The Ph.D. is a research-based program, and since Art Therapy is not in the mainstream of Psychology research, you will find it challenging to find a suitable program in which you would be able to pursue your interests. If you just want the advanced training you need to be a psychologist practitioner, then the Psy.D. route would probably be a better idea.

  29. July 11, 2012 7:12 AM

    Yes, it matters a great deal. A bachelor’s degree will not give you the credentials or knowledge you need to be a counselor. You are looking at a minimum of a master’s degree.

  30. July 9, 2012 6:39 PM

    If I want to be children’s counselor does it really matter whether or not I get a masters or a bachelors in psychology?

  31. fanny permalink
    July 3, 2012 1:07 AM

    Hi, i am interested in counseling psychology. I am currrently being offered a chance to study diploma in educational psychology and work with educational psychologists in schools. May i know if this experience will help in my career in counseling psychology? Thanks!

    • July 3, 2012 1:44 PM

      Yes, it does sound like a very relevant experience for someone wanting a career in counseling psychology. Educational Psychology and Counseling Psychology are allied fields, and although they both include the word “Psychology”, such programs are usually NOT offered by Psychology departments, but instead are more likely to be administered by a Faculty or School of Education.

  32. becky permalink
    June 15, 2012 5:28 AM

    I have a masters in Education Psychology Want to go into private practice. What steps do I need to take

  33. Ana permalink
    May 28, 2012 11:28 AM

    This information was very well structured, clear and helpful. Thank you!

  34. wen permalink
    May 27, 2012 2:20 AM

    Hi I would greatly apprecciate it, if you could tell me which field in psychology would offer great or many traveling opportunities?

    • May 30, 2012 8:24 AM

      Thank-you for the question:

      Career paths within Psychology that tend to involve a lot of travelling are rare. In general, those with the most frequent opportunities for work-related travel are those who do a lot of research. This is especially true for psychologists who work in an academic setting (e.g., university professors). There are a tremendous number of research conferences each year, and in all of the major subject areas within of Psychology. Some academic psychologists, especially those who spend most of their time on research-related activities rather than on teaching or administration, attend up to three or four such conferences each year (some may even attend a few more). Conferences vary in their scope of subject, and in their geographical reach. Some are national, and some are international. In general, conference organizers try to arrange their events to be hosted in nice locales (i.e., sunny and warm cities). A conference may last from one or two days to as long as five or six. Saavy conference attendees may add a couple of days of vacation time, in order to extend a trip.

      As an example, I provide here a short list of the conferences in my field that are of interest to me in 2012. I will attend only some of them, but I could go to all of them if I so desired.

      Society for Neuroscience (New Orleans, Louisianna)
      Canadian Association for Neuroscience (Vancouver, B.C.)
      Candian Spring Conference on Brain and Behaviour (Fernie, B.C. – attended in Feb.)
      Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science (Kingston, Ontario)
      Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (Barcelona, Spain)
      Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (Madison, Wisconson)

      There are many more that I could consider attending, but that would require me to actually search for additional conference opportunities that are relevant to my research interests. I really only care about the ones I have listed here. Likely, I will attend 3 of these conferences, this year. Some professors do much more conference-related travelling than I do. I have colleagues who like to attend a couple of international conferences overseas, each year.

      Other than what I have described here for psychologists who are primarily research scientists, there are not a lot of work-related travel opportunities for most types of psychologists.

  35. February 26, 2012 10:10 AM

    Reblogged this on myGraduateSchool Blog.

  36. T-Man permalink
    November 9, 2011 4:22 PM

    Dr. Mumby,

    I am a fourth year undergraduate student, and I am considering applying to graduate school in 2012. I am really a fan of your advice.

    I would appropriate it if you went into more detail about the experimental psychology career path.

    Thank you.

    • November 10, 2011 7:28 PM

      Experimental psychology is a career type that is distinguished by having basic research as its primary activity. Many of the professors who teach in the Psychology department at a typical university, for example, would consider themselves to be Experimental Psychologists — although most of them might not think of using that term. Instead, if someone asked, a professor might say that he is a “behavioral neuroscientist” because of the type of research he does. But he is still an experimental psychologist, because a behavioral neuroscientist is just a type of experimental psychologist. Remember, the subject matter that a psychologist deals with is not what defines his or her career. Psychologists who are engaged in applied research are less likely to identify with the term “experimental psychologist” than are those who do basic research. Aside from being university professors and doing their research in an academic setting (university, or research institute), experimental psychologists can also be found working for the government or private industry, especially the pharmaceutical industry. But, as I mentioned in the original post, most experimental psychologists are university professors and therefore they work in an academic setting.

      hope this is the kind of elaboration you were hoping for…

      – Dave Mumby

  37. Christina permalink
    July 25, 2011 11:45 PM

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! I’ve been looking high and low for information about the different career opportunities Psychology has to offer. I’ve been looking to return to University, and no one – not one person has informed me with this much information. Thank you for being real, down to earth and not just painting a pretty picture.
    I am still worried if University is the right place for me. Psychology is a huge interest of mine but I am in fear I won’t be able to succeed. There’s always a catch it seems, you need to be the best of the best. Not to say I’m not a hard worker, but there’s only so many special people who are doctors these days.
    From what I’ve been told, after receiving your bachelor’s degree you must take a master’s degree in order to become a Physiologist. You don’t necessarily need your doctorate degree unless you want to further enhance your skills and have been in the field for quite some time. Is this true?

    • July 26, 2011 10:55 AM

      Thanks for the very nice comments! Unfortunately to be licensed and recognized as a psychologist you do need a Ph.D. However there are careers in allied fields which only require a Masters or even a certificate or diploma such as a psychiatric aid, substance abuse Professional or a Behavioral Health Technician: http://flahec.org/hlthcareers/psychtec.htm. In most cases you would work along side a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Hope that helps and keep me posted on your developments.

    • Kat permalink
      June 28, 2013 11:58 AM

      Christina, as a fellow woman on the psychology track, I would tell you that if you are truly interested in the field, it won’t be all that hard. A lot of work….but not hard. I took a Human Development class, and I loved every lecture, studying was FUN because it was what I wanted to do. Go to your university’s website, and search for the psychology program. Look at the classes, and see if thats what you are really interested in.

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