Psychology is a very broad discipline and consists of many different research and applied areas. For this reason, if you choose to study psychology at university there is a wide range of career options open to you. This includes careers that are directly related to the subject and often require specialist postgraduate training (such as clinical psychology), as well as careers that make use of the general skills you will acquire through your studies, such as analytical, research, and interpersonal skills (such as advertising or market research). The following pages provide a description of the general research areas in psychology, and the applied fields that psychologists work in. For more information on the areas that interest you, follow the links included in each section.
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Main Areas of Research in Psychology
It is important to remember that psychology is both a science and a profession. Psychologists who carry out research usually work in universities (academic psychologists), or are employed by private or government laboratories. Broadly speaking, the primary aim of research psychologists is to explain behaviours and the causes underlying them. Some of the main areas that are investigated include:
- Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Social Psychology
- Abnormal/Clinical Psychology
- Theories of Personality and Intelligence
- Behavioural Neuroscience
- History and Philosophy of Psychology
- Research Methods and Design
- Health Psychology
- Forensic Psychology
Applied Psychology: What Careers are there after I Graduate?
These individuals are involved in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of psychological disorders. Some examples include:
- eating disorders and weight control problems
- fears, phobias, and anxiety disorders
- marital and family relationship problems
- chronic pain conditions
- depression and grief
- sexual difficulties
- children's learning and behavioural difficulties
- developmental disorders e.g., autism
- drug, alcohol and gambling addictions
While most clinical psychologists are practitioners, they may also teach and conduct research in various settings such as universities, hospitals, schools, and community health centres, particularly looking for causal factors that may contribute to mental ill-health. They are often involved in the development of new treatment techniques or the refinement of well established methods, in order to extend our knowledge of abnormal behaviour.
Clinical neuropsychologists specialise in the identification and treatment of the behaviours, thoughts, and emotions associated with neurological disorders. They deal with both adults and children presenting with disorders such as dementia, head injury, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. They are also involved in the rehabilitation and management of the effects of brain impairment and often work with other allied health professionals. Clinical Neuropsychologists are generally employed in major hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and private practice.
Like clinical psychologists, counsellors are also involved in helping people overcome social and emotional problems. However, they tend to be involved more with 'normal' individuals with adjustment problems, rather than those with severe psychological disturbances. They typically focus on issues such as career development, marital therapy, stress management, and family counselling.
These psychologists study the basic processes involved in human learning within the context of education. Their work typically involves the evaluation of school teaching, and intervention and guidance for children having difficulties at school. Research in this area includes the administration and interpretation of psychological tests, creativity, retardation, and reading. Most educational psychologists are trained in departments of education and employed in schools and universities.
Forensic psychology involves any application of psychological knowledge to the understanding of crime and criminal justice. Forensic psychologists work in a variety of settings, including the assessment and treatment of offenders in correctional institutions. You may also find them working as consultants to lawyers or as expert witnesses in court trials (such as child abuse and custody disputes), or working within drug prevention agencies, community and family services.
Health psychologists are concerned with the promotion and maintenance of behaviours and strategies to improve health and treat illness, including the analysis and improvement of the health care system and health policy formation. For example, health psychologists seek to improve the delivery of health care (patient-practitioner communication, and preparation for medical procedures), and the identification of causes and diagnostic correlates of illness. They are usually employed in hospitals, community health centres, government agencies, and private practice.
These psychologists are concerned with problems and issues relating to the behaviour of people in organisations, and improving workplace productivity. Their particular areas of interest include personnel selection and assessment, training and career development, adequate design of jobs, equipment and organisational structures, and appropriate management and leadership. Some of the key areas include:
- human resource management
- personnel selection
- staff training and development
- performance evaluation and development
- consumer and marketing psychology
- management techniques
- job analysis and design
- organisational design and development
- stress management, well-being, motivation, and work adjustment
- psychological aspects of occupational health and safety
- ergonomics and human/computer interface
- program evaluation
The majority of organisational psychologists are employed in private consulting firms and companies, but some also work in educational settings and government agencies.
These psychologists are concerned with the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport and physical activity. They are particularly interested in helping athletes enhance their performance, and in understanding the effects of sport and exercise on an individual's psychological well-being and health. For example, if you choose to become a sports psychologist you could find yourself employed as a consultant to elite athletes in international sporting teams.
Human Factors and Ergonomics
Human factors researchers study the human/machine interface. They may help make appliances such as cameras user-friendly, or conduct studies of safety-related issues in the design of machinery, plane controls and instrument layouts. They also carry out basic research on human perceptual and motor abilities as they relate to the operation of machines, computers, and other mechanical devices. They are often employed by government research agencies, road safety authorities, industry, and consulting groups.
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Psychology researchers use their skills in statistics, research design, computing and data analysis to carry out research. They may work in government departments, management institutes, market research, media and public opinion research. As already mentioned, they may also work in universities researching their own area of speciality; and in research centres and private or public institutions (e.g. road and accident research, market research, radio and television audience research). Researchers may find themselves working in research teams with specialists from other disciplines such as economics, medicine, education, statistics, pharmacology, and engineering.
For information about postgraduate training requirements in these various areas follow this link:
Examples of Psychology in Action: What other Careers can a Degree in Psychology Lead Me to?
The police services rely extensively on psychologists. For example, psychologists are involved in the negotiations when police are called to assist people with domestic crises. Psychologists investigate the accuracy of eye-witness testimony and are involved in the development of guidelines for use with children in court proceedings.
What makes a successful ad on TV? Psychologists have been involved in the design and production of ads for many years, and psychologists are active in all other areas of market research such as assessing the effectiveness of ads.
Psychologists are involved in the implementation of technology and the design of work practices, stress management, employee selection, and organisational development.
Why do some people become addicted to gambling? How can they be helped? Does cognitive behavioural therapy really help such individuals. Psychologists are involved in treating problem gamblers and also in assessing the effectiveness of such treatment.
This list is by no means exhaustive and other careers where a psychology graduate could find employment include:
- Market research
- Public relations
- Science journalism
- Plus a range of graduate positions in major industries such as banking, management consulting an telecommunications
- Public policy
BEYOND SPECIALIST CAREERS: THE MYRIAD SKILLS LEARNT IN STUDYING PSYCHOLOGY
An obvious trap, which both psychology students and graduates can fall into, is thinking too narrowly about where a degree in psychology can lead them in the future, often because they have a false impression that it would comprise mainly clinical psychology. In the process, these individuals have failed to recognise just how skillful and experienced they have become in undertaking this multi-faceted subject. In the passages that follow, we highlight some of the specific skills that a degree in psychology will teach you should you be prepared to invest your time, energy, and talents in the subject.
Advanced Writing Skills
Psychology graduates become accustomed to writing essays, allowing them to explore issues in detail and to develop critical reasoning skills. They also become familiar with the techniques of concise writing within a pre-set format, as they write up so-called practical reports. Notably, the ability to produce a concise report is a major skill that managers desire their trainees to have acquired during their university studies. Over the course of a four-year degree in psychology, students are trained to develop advanced writing skills pertinent to both technical reports and more lengthy, critical analyses.
Statistical Skills/Data Manipulation
Psychology graduates are trained intensively in the handling and interpretation of data generally gaining both theoretical and practical knowledge of a wide range of statistical analytic procedures. These abilities prove themselves exceptionally useful in today's workforce where the interpretation of data sets and probability statements is often vital.
Psychology graduates are trained to use a variety of computer packages, particularly those relevant to statistical analysis, multi-media and word-processing.
Psychology courses right around the country, foster the ability to identify different strategies and approaches to solving complex problems. This may be on a macro- (or big picture) level, in applying totally different levels of analysis to some particular problem, or at a more basic level where the individual is required to choose appropriate methods to deal with selected issues. This is an undoubtedly valuable skill in the business world, and one which psychology graduates, by all accounts, are strikingly adept at utilising.
Critical Evaluation Skills
Psychology graduates have developed an ability to appraise information and situations realistically, to anticipate problems (or difficulties), never loosing sight of alternative explanations. In relation to the workforce, this appears an essential skill for individuals interested in pursuing careers in management and many other white-collar job.
Psychology graduates are taught how to go about gathering systematic information about human experience/behaviour. An awareness of methodology is useful to any number of different professions more obvious ones being marketing, market research, advertising, and health promotion.
In general, psychology graduates have a sophisticated understanding about designing questionnaires, tests, and other measurement instruments these skills are normally acquired in studying methodology.
Psychology students will also acquire knowledge of the mechanisms of interpersonal communication within a social context. This information will assist employees in understanding and dealing with interpersonal problems when they arise in the workplace. Indeed, there is a diverse range of careers where an awareness of the intricacies of human interaction is essential.