Psychology is the scientific study of behavior. As one of the most important areas of study in the past century, psychology has made important contributions to our understanding of the human condition. In particular, psychology provides a body of knowledge about human behavior, techniques for investigation, and ways of applying our knowledge to the betterment of individuals and society.
Psychology is a broad field which encompasses many interests, and many other disciplines benefit from the knowledge and techniques that have been developed by psychologists. This breadth is one of the most exciting aspects of the field, as its diversity offers many opportunities for study and employment.
Psychology is a field with many employment opportunities. Several years ago the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a study of growth potential for various occupations; psychologist was ranked 6th out of all U.S. occupations for percent growth between now and the year 2005. This is an indication of a favorable job market, which has been enjoyed by our graduates; over the past four years, roughly 93% of our majors have either found employment or been placed in a graduate school program in the 6 months following graduation.
Generally, career paths in psychology focus on basic science, clinical/counseling or applied work. Experimental psychologists working in basic science typically have careers centered around research, teaching and consulting. Psychologists with specialties in clinical, counseling or educational psychology generally provide assistance to people with a variety of personal, school or emotional problems. Applied psychologists generally work in business or industry, helping make the workplace happier and more productive. Depending on their individual interests, clinical and applied psychologists may also be involved in teaching and research. As we will see later, the training necessary to pursue a career in psychology depends on the type of position you hope to find.
Positions in the field of psychology offer a range of salaries. Individuals with graduate training typically make more money that those with only a bachelors degree
One person's guess about the future may be as good as another's, but the trends in the development of psychology over the past five to ten years do seem to give some hints about psychology's immediate future. Preserving the three-part definition of psychology as a body of knowledge, as methods of research, and as the application of knowledge, we can make the following guesses about the near future.
Teaching. In teaching, there is room for innovation at the college or university level (both graduate and undergraduate). College-level personnel are usually hired for abilities both as researchers and as teachers. Expected increases in students during the next 10 years or so will result in expanded teaching opportunities. Two-year colleges are currently experiencing growth, and thus are adding faculty as well.
In most secondary schools, employment prospects for psychology teachers are limited. There is a surplus of secondary school teachers generally, and of social studies teachers specifically. Psychology teachers tend to be in social studies departments and teach a social studies subject along with their psychology assignment, and therefore they share generally in the outlook for social studies teachers. There may be brighter prospects in large high schools for full-time psychology teaching assignments and in medium-sized high schools for part-time psychology teaching assignments. A bright spot in this area is that psychology is becoming a more popular and recognized subject at the high school level.
Research. In research efforts, successes are usually tied more or less directly to the federal, state, and private funds that are available to support research programs. There is little prospect for large increases in funding for such research programs, either for those aimed at specific problems or for the more general, traditional programs. Recent advancements in specific areas such as language development, physiological psychology and operant conditioning are likely to continue; so is progress in areas such as cross-cultural personality and intelligence testing, human performance, engineering psychology, and program evaluation in fields related to psychology (e.g., law enforcement, education and military service).
Public Service. In public service, the applied areas of the discipline have been affected by a variety of factors. During the 1960. s and 1970. s, improvements in treatment, changes in Federal law and patients' rights litigation resulted in less reliance on mental hospitals and more community treatment for the care of individuals with serious or chronic emotional or behavioral problems. More recent changes in our health care system brought about by the managed care movement have also had a significant impact on the delivery of mental health services. These developments are now producing new roles for psychologists both in preventative and therapeutic situations, and are creating more opportunities for group practice. Numerous jobs have been created for paraprofessionals in community psychology and for individuals concerned with rehabilitation. Other areas in which some growth is occurring are rural mental health centers, services for the aged, minority counseling and day care.
As you consider a career in psychology, an important goal to keep in mind is your flexibility of choice. Keep different job options open for yourself. Plan your education in psychology so that you have broad exposure to its many aspects, as well as to other disciplines. Avoid specializing too soon. Realize also that the limits described above are typical but do not prevent moving to a higher level of training. Formal education does not completely determine the final level of achievement in work. Personal skills and ability are crucial. Broad exposure to psychology will ensure that you are making the wisest choice for both your training and your career based on the best available evidence; namely, carefully planned personal experience.
A career choice should be based on a thorough exploration of various alternatives so that one's interests, abilities, and values are most suitably matched with one's selected lifework. There are many careers that differ substantially from psychology itself, but in which psychological knowledge, techniques, and skills are applied. These careers include psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, social work, work as a mental health technician, certain aspects of personnel work, human factors engineering, community planning, and even product-analysis and sales. Undergraduate studies in psychology would help in developing a career in any one of these related fields, but they would have to be coupled with specialized study (at the graduate level in some cases) for some of these related career fields.
If you are thinking about a career in psychology, you may want to consider psychology's recent past and how it is changing. Psychology has been undergoing very rapid change, and this trend is likely to continue for awhile. New jobs in psychology and mental health work are constantly evolving, and new education and training programs are being developed to suit these new jobs. At any given time, the best source of information about educational requirements for a particular career in psychology will be the institutions that offer training programs for such careers.
As a result of the large number of bachelor degrees awarded in psychology and widespread interest in the field, admission to psychology graduate programs is highly competitive. Even so, there are approximately 7,800 master degrees and 2,600 doctoral degree recipients in psychology each year. In making a career choice, it is important to know whether you will be able to meet the entrance standards for the degree program required by a particular career.