Social psychology is an interdisciplinary academic field concerned with how individuals’ mental health, feelings, and behaviors are impacted by the presence of, and interaction with, other people. Their work often involves research on how social contexts and impulses impact mental health and, consequently, behavior. For example, students may conduct research on how social media increases feelings of isolation and depression in a specified subset of the population.
Graduate students who enroll in a Ph.D. social psychology program will become familiar with canonical and contemporary literature in the field. Additionally, they learn and apply methodologies, test established theories, and develop new theories through extensive research.
Why a Ph.D. in Social Psychology?
Students must invest substantial time, energy, and finances if they wish to earn a doctoral degree. Fortunately, many students in social psychology Ph.D. programs are able to support themselves with research or teaching positions; in many cases, these jobs partially cover or waive the cost of tuition.
For many students who seek the doctorate, their ultimate goal is to obtain the credentials to work in research, clinical settings, or academia. Additionally, advanced degree holders will become part of the social psychology research community; they may attend conferences, critique the work of their colleagues, deliver public lectures, or publish materials in print or on the web.
Getting into a Social Psychology Ph.D. Program
Social psychology graduate programs look for candidates who can stand up to the rigorous curricular demands. In addition to having completed a master’s in psychology or related field, applicants must show that they have committed to a course of research, and carefully plotted the steps they need to accomplish in a research prospectus.
- Personal Statement
- Three letters of recommendation
- Sufficient GRE Scores
- Transcripts from master’s in social psychology or related field
- Research prospectus
- Interview with faculty
Inside a Social Psychology Ph.D. Program
Students admitted into these programs will study research and theories dealing with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intergroup dynamics, and socio-psychological contexts. Students will refine their skills in the research laboratory as well as in the field; some will also participate in internships or supervised residencies. They will take courses such as ‘Self and Social Judgment,’ ‘Person Perception: Interpersonal,’ and ‘Analysis of Change.’ Most students choose a specialization that will serve as the focus of their program; some common specializations in this field include attitude formation and change, social psychology and law, personality and social behavior, and political psychology.
The dissertation or exiting exams mark the culmination of doctoral studies in social psychology. Most students take three or four years to complete the doctorate portion of a graduate degree.
What’s Next for Social Psychology Ph.D. Holders?
Doctorate graduates are on track, for the most part, for positions in teaching and research in academia or clinical social psychology. Some will find work as research psychologists in private research organizations or government agencies.
Graduates have a lot to look forward to in terms of job security. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that jobs for psychologists should increase between 2010 to 2020. Furthermore, BLS projects the rate of change in employment between 2010 and 2020 to reach 22%, which is greater than the average for all other occupations. The same source states that the 2010 median annual wage for psychologists was $68,640.
Potential next steps for graduates include postdoctoral supervised experience in the form of an internship or residency program. Those who hope to establish a private practice must be licensed; this process entails at least one to two years of professional experience following graduation and a passing score on his/her state-issued exam. Established psychologists may later decide to continue their education by pursuing a degree in a related field, such as the doctorate in educational counseling.