How to Become a Research Psychologist?

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how to become a research psychologist

Psychology, as one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the United States, prepares students for a variety of rewarding and exciting careers. Every year, students develop an interest in pursuing a graduate programme that focuses solely on the research aspect of psychology. Many students enter psychology with big dreams of becoming clinical therapists, not realising other possible career paths until much later. Becoming an academic researcher is a path that many people find appealing because it allows them to work at the cutting edge of scientific knowledge and investigate fascinating theories. To know more about how to become a research psychologist, educational requirements, and more then keep reading this blog!

Who are Research Psychologists?

Scientists who study the human brain and behaviour are known as research psychologists. Their work aims to uncover unknowns and provide answers about how the brain works, as well as how biological, social, and environmental factors influence how people act, think, and feel. Research psychologists differ from applied psychologists in that they do not treat patients or perform clinical work with people who are struggling with mental health issues. Rather, research psychologists administer tests and collect data on subjects to gain insight into the science behind how brains work and why certain behaviours emerge.

Research psychologists are frequently employed in academic or industrial settings. Those who work in academic settings frequently have duties other than research, such as teaching and advising students. Independent research psychologists may also work for specific companies. Many research psychologists work in the pharmaceutical industry on critical projects that contribute to the development of effective mental health medications such as antidepressants, anxiolytics, anticonvulsants, and others. Regardless of the setting, such psychologists’ research is frequently used to inform the development of educational programmes, public policy, mental health treatment, and social programmes. When you have decided to take education from foreign university you should be aware of everything related to research related study.

The following are two common types of studies that research psychologists conduct:

  • Experiments – Experiments are carried out by research psychologists both in controlled lab settings and in the field. Examining the social behaviours of small groups in a rural town is one example.
  • Case studies- They are frequently used by psychologists conducting research when studying an individual or small group. A case study is observing how a specific family overcomes the trauma of a natural disaster.

What do Research Psychologists do?

To determine whether this field is right for you, you must first understand what these professionals do:

  • Research psychologists, also known as experimental psychologists, study a wide range of human and animal behaviour. They plan and carry out experiments to investigate how people act, think, behave, interact, learn, feel, and perform under various conditions.
  • Research psychologists also conduct a lot of research for government agencies. A psychologist, for example, may investigate the efficacy of psychosocial intervention programmes implemented by the Bureau of Prisons, looking for positive outcomes for programme participants.
  • Some research psychologists are hired by private businesses to assist them in creating better working environments. Research psychologists may be hired to look into issues such as low employee morale or low production rates.

Must Read: How to Become a Child Psychologist?

Source: Dr. LaTrice Montgomery

Educational Requirements

A graduate degree is typically required for a career in psychology, and research psychology is no exception.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many research psychologists need a PhD rather than just a Master’s degree to land a good job. As a result, expect 5-6 years of diligent study even after graduating from college, and sometimes more.

Completing coursework in experimental psychology and statistics will be extremely beneficial, probably more so than for any other type of psychologist. The key points that you’ll need to know are:

  • Many students who want to be research psychologists start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Some, on the other hand, have a background in a related field such as social work or even a completely unrelated degree area.
  • Students may then choose to pursue a master’s degree in experimental psychology in some cases. However, it is important to note that job opportunities with a master’s degree are generally more limited, which is why many people choose to pursue a PhD in psychology instead.

Steps to Becoming a Research Psychologist

There are 4 broad steps to becoming a research psychologist, these are:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is the first step toward becoming a research psychologist. Students who are certain they want to pursue a career in psychology should consider majoring in psychology so that they can take advanced coursework and develop specific research interests. Students can also switch majors while taking core courses like introductory psychology, abnormal psychology, personality psychology, and statistics.

Earn a Doctoral Degree

A PhD is the industry standard for positions in research psychology. Students should be familiar with the various subfields of psychology by the time they apply for graduate schools, such as cognitive, neuroscience, personality, social, and clinical psychology. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programmes typically include 2-3 years of advanced coursework, followed by 2-4 years of research and dissertation writing. A doctoral programme can prepare students to think critically, conduct research, teach undergraduate courses, and, in the case of clinical psychology programmes, practise therapy. Individuals interested in clinical or counselling psychology can pursue a PhD or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

Complete a Post-Doctoral Internship

Doctoral programme graduates can apply for research fellowships. A post-doctoral placement allows students to establish their professional identity as research psychologists while also expanding their portfolio of independent research projects. Clinical and counselling psychologists can complete the required number of supervised practice hours for licensure by completing an internship accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Apply for Licensure

Psychologists who provide counselling services must be licenced by their state. The requirements for state licensure vary by state. Direct clinical work, a transcript from an approved doctoral programme, and a passing grade on a state examination are typical requirements. Obtaining a licence will allow you to get a job and advance in your career. Licensed psychologists can establish their practice and build a clientele.

Also Read: Career in Psychology

Top Universities

These are the top universities for research psychology in the US and their QS rankings for 2022.

Universities QS Ranking 2022
Harvard University1
Stanford University2
The University of California, Berkeley (UCB)5
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)6
Yale University8
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)10
University of Pennsylvania11
Columbia University12
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor13
Princeton University14

Salary of a Research Psychologist

The average salary for a research psychologist is $85,428 (INR 69.33L). However, as in many other areas of psychology, salaries vary greatly depending on the number of years of experience and the sector of employment.

Industrial-organizational psychology graduates can earn up to $113,320 (INR 91.97L) per year, which is more than any other field of psychology (The Bureau of Labor Statistics – May 2021 data).

Challenges of a Research Psychologist

There are a few challenges that come with becoming a research psychologist. They are listed below:

  • Graduate programmes in psychology prepare students for the often demanding schedule of juggling numbers and sorting through mountains of information – skills that students must develop as undergraduates. However, students must first find their niche and solidify their position within the field.
  • The challenge is sometimes not finding a professor in the same niche to study under, but rather finding people who are open to new theories and approaches within the field.
  • Becoming a research-focused psychologist can be a time-consuming process.


How long does it take to be a research psychologist?

You will need an undergraduate degree (four to five years of college) as well as a doctorate to become a research psychologist (four to seven years of graduate school). Most people will spend eight to twelve years in higher education for this speciality.

What do I need to become a research psychologist?

A master’s or doctorate is typically required for employment in research psychology. Researchers are primarily employed in higher education, primarily in psychology departments, as well as medical and business schools.

How much do you make as a psychology researcher?

In the United States, research psychologists earn an average of $90,440 per year or $43.48 per hour. The bottom 10% of research psychologists earn approximately $63,000 per year, while the top 10% earn $128,000. The salary of a research psychologist is affected by their location.

Can you do research with a master’s in psychology?

Master’s degrees in Experimental Psychology frequently specialise in a field such as cognitive psychology, human factors, developmental psychology, or social psychology. Students with this degree would be prepared for jobs as research assistants, lab managers, and market researchers.

Students who want to work in psychology research or academia should start preparing for graduate and/or doctoral studies as soon as possible. It’s a long, rewarding journey that requires a lot of perseverance and patience. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), students who want to pursue a career in psychology research should “beef up” their resumes, get published, and stay flexible in today’s ever-changing academic environment. To plan your study abroad path, do connect with Leverage Edu. For further information, you can also reach out to 1800 57 2000.

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