You might be familiar with the idea that psychologists study the mind, but have you ever wondered if psychologists also delve into the intricacies of the brain?
The distinction between the "mind" and the "brain" is not just semantic but also pertains to the academic focus and domain of study. In psychology, the “mind” predominantly refers to the intangible facets such as thoughts, images, and emotions that aren't physically observable. When you process or internalize these words, it's an activity of your mind. On the other hand, the term “brain” denotes the tangible, physical organ within your skull. Studying the "brain" involves examining its anatomical structure and functions, from neurons and the nervous system to specific regions that become active during various cognitive and bodily activities.
If this type of career interests you, read on. You will learn what a biological psychologist does, what degree is necessary for this position, and access interviews with biopsychologists working in their field.
What Does a Biological Psychologist Do?
A biological psychologist studies how the physical brain and the psychological mind influence human behavior. Their research looks at the entire nervous system, our thought processes, and the results of those processes. Biopsychologists may also act as teachers and consultants, depending on their job.
This isn’t the most popular field of psychology, but it has its place in psychology.
Job Requirements (What Do Biological Psychologists Study?)
To become a biopsychologist, you must attend school for several years. After you have earned your Bachelor’s, you can enter a graduate program that combines psychology and neuroscience. Many colleges have a School of Neuroscience and Psychology, although some programs keep these two degrees in separate schools.
Most psychology jobs (and licenses) require that you not only earn your Master’s degree but also your Ph.D. As you work toward your Ph.D. or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), you can intern at various labs, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations interested in hiring you once you have completed your degree.
Earning your dream job may require research experience, licensure, and other certifications. Check your state’s requirements to practice as a psychologist as you make your plans.
There isn’t a lot of data on biopsychology salaries, especially when you consider the number of different titles that biopsychologists hold. Generally, it is possible to live comfortably as a biopsychologist and reach a point in your career where you make six figures.
Biological Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Biological Psychology Degrees
Looking to earn a biopsychology or behavioral neuroscience degree? Look no further than these schools. They have been ranked as some of the top schools in the country for biopsychology majors:
- Augsburg University (Minneapolis, MN)
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Davis and Elkins College (Elkins, WV)
- Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA)
- Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI)
- Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
- Baylor University (Waco, TX)
- Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
- University of California - San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
Biological psychology, often termed biopsychology or behavioral neuroscience, delves into the intricate relationship between the mind and the brain. It bridges the gap between psychology and biology, giving students a deeper understanding of the biological bases of behavior. Because of its comprehensive nature, many educational institutions categorize it as a prime prerequisite for medical programs. Consequently, students who opt for this major often find themselves amidst pre-med track peers, gearing up for medical school.
Challenges Faced by Non-Pre-Med BioPsych Students:
- Competitive Environment: Given that many students in the major might be aiming for medical school, the academic environment can be quite competitive. High grades in tough science courses are often crucial for med school applications.
- Course Content: Some courses in the biological psychology major may strongly emphasize areas especially relevant to medicine, which might not align with the interests of students not looking at a medical career.
- Advisory Focus: Academic advisors might sometimes have a pre-med bias, offering guidance that leans towards medical school preparation.
- Research Opportunities: Given the pre-med focus, some research opportunities could center around topics more pertinent to medicine rather than core biopsychology areas.
- Clarity of Purpose: Stay anchored to your passion and purpose. While many might be targeting medical school, your path in biological psychology could lead to fulfilling careers in research, therapy, counseling, academia, and more.
- Seek Specialized Guidance: If your primary academic advisor leans heavily towards pre-med advice, consider seeking additional mentors or advisors within the psychology department who understand and support your unique goals.
- Customize Your Course Load: While there might be a standard set of courses, see if there's flexibility to choose electives or additional classes that align more with your interests and not just the medical field.
- Pursue Relevant Research: Actively seek out research opportunities in areas of biopsychology that intrigue you. If your institution's offerings are heavily med-oriented, look for internships or assistant roles in other institutions or organizations.
- Network: Connect with senior students or alumni who pursued biological psychology without the medical angle. Their insights and experiences can offer valuable guidance.
- Consider Graduate Programs Early: Consider potential programs early on if you're considering graduate studies. This can provide clarity on undergraduate courses or experiences that would be beneficial.
- Voice Concerns: If the program is overwhelmingly geared towards pre-med students, voice your concerns. Departments often value feedback and might consider offering more diversified courses or resources.
While the overlap between biological psychology and pre-med tracks is significant, it's essential to remember that biopsychology is a vast and varied field with numerous opportunities. With clarity, purpose, and strategic navigation, students can thrive in the major without succumbing to the pressures of the pre-med pathway.
Companies That Hire Biological Psychologists
Where do biological psychologists work? Everywhere!
When you look for biopsychology jobs online, you are likely to find a lot of college research facilities looking for assistants and other roles related to research. But this isn’t the only type of organization that looks for biopsychologists. Pharmaceutical companies want to know how certain drugs may affect the biology and psychology of their patients. Healthcare institutions may hire biopsychologists to work with patients who have undergone brain trauma. Any of these organizations may be on the lookout for a biopsychologist:
- Research institutes
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Colleges and universities
- Healthcare institutions
- Government organizations
Interviews with a Biological Psychologist
Biological psychologists can offer an interesting look into the brain and our behavior. Just read this interview with Meike Bartels, a biological psychologist in the Netherlands. She argues that some people were able to increase their well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic!
You can also listen to interviews with biological psychologists, like this interview with Dr. Robert Paul.
YouTube has an interview with biological psychologist Bonnie Nagel, Ph.D. YouTube has many options for exploring biological psychology - you can even watch an Introduction to Biological Psychology lecture by Mississippi State University! Get deeper into the mind of a biological psychologist by listening to this TedxRochester Talk from biological psychologist Jon Schull!
Famous Biological Psychologists
Jon Schull is a well-known biological psychologist, but he’s not the only one! The study of the mind-body (or mind-brain) connection goes back to the world’s early philosophers, from Plato to Descartes. The following biopsychologists (and similar figures in the field) have shaped how we view the mind-body connection or have fun stories to tell from their experiences.
Dr. John Martyn Harlow, a biopsychologist in the 1800s, is most known for his work with Phineas Gage. Phineas Gage is a classic case in biopsychology; after enduring a traumatic brain injury, friends and family of Gage observed that his personality changed. Biologically, he mostly recovered from the incident. Psychologically, he would never be the same.
Another classic in the world of biopsychology is the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote this book, and is frequently discussed in early biopsychology classes.
Lisa Feldman Barrett has been named one of today's most influential biological psychologists. She has authored or co-authored six books and been a crucial part of over 200 peer-reviewed papers! Her work focuses primarily on emotions and the brain.
Biological Psychology Examples
What can you find a biological psychologist doing every day? The answer greatly varies depending on their workplace and role. Here are some common activities along with real-world examples to illustrate:
- Running experiments in a university lab: Dr. Lisa Martinez at Stanford University is currently investigating the effects of mindfulness meditation on brain activity. Using fMRI, she observes how various brain regions interact during different stages of meditation.
- Presenting their findings at conferences worldwide: Last year, Dr. Rajiv Mehta from the University of Melbourne presented his groundbreaking research at the International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience in Paris. He shared insights on how sleep quality can influence memory consolidation processes in the brain.
- Using software to simulate different workings of the brain or analyzing data from previous studies: Dr. Keisha Thompson, based in Toronto, utilizes sophisticated neuroimaging software to simulate how different neurodegenerative diseases progress in the brain. These simulations help in understanding potential interventions and their effects.
- Preparing materials and findings to request grant money: Dr. Alejandro Vargas from the University of Chile often collaborates with his team to prepare comprehensive research proposals. Recently, they sought funding to study the impact of urban noise pollution on cognitive functions in young adults.
- Working directly with patients who have endured traumatic brain injuries: Dr. Emily Roberts, a biopsychologist in a rehabilitation center in New York, engages in cognitive assessments and therapy. She recently worked with a young skateboarder who suffered a brain injury after an accident, helping him regain cognitive functions and reintegrate into daily life.
- Collaborating in research experiments across multiple disciplines and with other teams: Dr. Hassan Ali from the University of Tokyo collaborates with bioengineers and data scientists. Together, they're developing wearable devices that monitor real-time brain activity and predict anxiety episodes in patients with generalized anxiety disorder.
These real-world scenarios showcase biopsychologists' multifaceted roles, spanning from hardcore research to clinical applications and interdisciplinary collaborations.