Psychologists have helped millions of people adjust and develop to overcome their emotional and psychological challenges. Using a wide range of methods in the clinical setting, psychologists listen, diagnose, plan, and treat the maladjusted, the mentally ill, and the addicted. Although much of today’s treatment stems from the work of founders like Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner, modern psychological practice continues to evolve thanks to the work of contemporary researchers. Through experimentation, observation, case study research, and a little number-crunching, trained research psychologists transform lives by developing new methods of treatment.
Research psychology Ph.D. programs typically take at least four years to complete. Students should expect a thorough grounding in experimental psychology and cognition. Students should also expect to be well trained in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Prior to graduation, Ph.D. students will demonstrate a mastery of at least one research method when they present and defend a doctoral dissertation.
Why a Ph.D. in Research Psychology?
According to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, those with a doctoral degree will earn $1,000,000 more over their lifetimes compared to those with a bachelor’s degree. During the recent recession, Ph.D. holders were also 40% more likely to be employed than those with a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 30% more likely to find work than someone with a master’s degree. In 2012, those with doctorates earned median salaries that were 50% higher than those with bachelor’s degrees and 25% higher than those with master’s degrees.
Getting Into a Ph.D. Program
Doctoral programs typically have high expectations of their candidates. Although requirements vary, most include the following:
- Master’s degree from an accredited psychology program or related degree
- Sufficiently high grade point average (GPA) – typically, 3.0 or higher
- Sufficient score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Letter of intent or a statement of goals
- Pre-requisite coursework in several areas of core competencies, including psychology and mathematics
Inside a Research Psychology Ph.D. Program
The typical Ph.D. in research psychology program will be rigorous. Students should expect to take two years of required coursework, and common classes include cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience. Depending upon the focus of school, courses that cover criminal psychology, forensic psychology, personality, and motivation may also be required. The best programs will give students the freedom to explore related fields, and many researchers take advantage of course work that focuses on computer science and/or biomedical sciences.
As with any doctoral program, students will receive exhaustive instruction in research methods. Typical courses include the fundamentals of qualitative and quantitative methods, and at least two courses in data analysis. Advanced research courses that familiarize students with research design are often required, as well. Throughout the program, students are encouraged to design and conduct their doctoral research. Prior to graduation, students will present and defend a doctoral dissertation.
What’s Next for Research Psychology Ph.D. Holders?
Graduates from doctoral programs can expect to be in high demand. According to the BLS, the field of research psychology is expected to grow through 2020; these positions earn median annual incomes of greater than $70,000. Those who choose to practice as well as research can expect salaries of nearly $70,000 annually.
Others choose to teach and/or research at colleges and universities. According to the BLS, university professors can expect to earn more than $60,000 annually. Most research psychologists who teach at university also publish their findings in scholarly journals.