Are you considering a career as a psychologist or neuroscientist?
If so, then you'll have to go to graduate school after you complete your Bachelor's degree.
What you'll do on the job as a psychologist or neuroscientist, where you'll work, and who you'll work with will differ depending on (1.) the subfield of psychology or neuroscience you choose and (2.) whether you train to become a research scientist or to go into practice (orientation).
Deciding on a career in psychology or neuroscience: Orientation & Field
- Research: Psychological scientists and neuroscientists conduct research in a specific topic area. Such careers are for people who love research, scholarship, and teaching. Typically, these scientists work as college professors, but sometimes work in business or government research.
- Practice: Practicing psychologists use a specific set of psychology skills/techniques and work with people to help solve personal problems; solve crimes; improve health and fitness; improve school performance; or help groups of people work well together.
Fields of psychology in which the vast majority of professionals are research-oriented:
- Cognitive and perceptual psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Educational psychology
- Engineering psychology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Quantitative psychology
- Social psychology
Fields in which most professionals are practicing psychologists, and others are research-oriented:
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Clinical psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Industrial/organizational psychology
- Rehabilitation psychology
- School psychology
- Sport psychology
- If you are interested in a career in research, then you'll need to pick a subfield from either side of the table above.
- If you explore the subfields and become committed to one in the right column of the table above, then you'll need to pick an orientation: research or practice. Can you do both? In some subfields you can. Keep in mind, though, that the graduate programs to which you will someday apply will differ in orientation, some focus on training scientists, others on training practitioners, and some will offer training so that students can function in both worlds.
To make decisions about field and orientation, you'll need to research different specialties and interview professionals who are in practice and those who conduct research.
Compare careers: Social Psychologist vs. Applied Behavior Analyst (Clinical, Applied)
Why compare these two particular subfields? I know a bright psychology major who was considering applying to graduate schools not too long ago and she told me that she planned to apply to graduate programs in social psychology and applied behavior analysis.
I was surprised because, to me, these sound like two very different careers - as different as accounting is from elementary school teaching. I asked her whether she had read in-depth and interviewed professionals who worked in both careers and she hadn't.
How different are these careers? You decide:
Subfield: Social Psychology
The nature of the work: Social psychologists are primarily employed in universities and colleges. The majority of their work hours are spent conducting research - reading scientific journal articles and collaborating with research assistants to design studies, collect and analyze data, and publish research results.
Sociel psychology professors typically do teach classes - they are in the classroom interacting with students about 6 hours a week.
Where they work: On a college campus.
Who they interact with: Other faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students.
Personality: Introverted and open to experience.
Values/Skills: High need for cognition, interested in discovering new facts for the sake of contributing to the body of scientific knowledge and for the good that this knowledge can, perhaps, contribute to society.
Applied Behavior Analyst
The nature of the work: Most Applied Behavior Analysts use behavioral modification techniques to modify the behavior of people with developmental disabilities (such as autism) so that they can lead more full lives. Behavior analysis is also applied to help solve problems related to education, health, language acquisition, parenting, severe mental disorders and more.
Where they work: behavioral health centers, schools, in a client's home or any environment in which the client is struggling.
Who they interact with: Clients, parents, teachers, school psychologists.
Personality: Extroverted, agreeable, calm, conscientious.
Values/Skills: Helping people. Must be creative in adapting a specific therapeutic approach for the unique individuals with whom they work.
When do you need to make decisions about your career subfield and orientation?
- You have make decisions about your subfield and orientation (research or practice) before you can select the graduate schools to which you will apply because graduate programs provide training for a career in a specialized area of psychology or neuroscience.
- The sooner you know your career goal and the types of graduate programs you want to apply to the sooner you'll know exactly what you need to do as a undergraduate to become an attractive candidate for the type of graduate program you desire.
Career exploration - brief profiles, subfields of psychology
Career research - in depth, subfields of psychology & neuroscience
- See the "Career Research" titles in the Psychology & Neuroscience Advising Resource Library. Also check the Career Development Center's Career Resource Library (search online), and the IU Library (IUCAT).
- Professional Societies - links to the APA, APS, Society for Neuroscience and 100+ professional societies for various subfields in psychology and neuroscience.
- One way to get in-depth information about subfields in psychology is to browse the APA's divisions - interest groups organized by members of the APA. Tip: Once you've found an APA division of interest look for the link on the right side of the page that says "Visit the division website". For example, here is the fairly plain APA page for Division 14 - Industrial and Organizational Psychology, but if you visit the division website you'll access the website for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
- Subject Guides - links to websites related to various subfields including social psychology, child psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, cognitive psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, sports psychology, developmental psychology, and health psychology.