Experimental Psychologist Career (Salary + Duties + Interviews)

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Practical Psychology
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Kristen Clure
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Kristen Clure, M.A.

Every theory and application in psychology can be traced back to the work of a psychologist. However, the roles and focuses of psychologists can vary widely. While some primarily apply established theories and work directly with patients, others are more involved in the genesis and testing of new theories, relying on intuition and empirical research to validate their insights. That said, many psychologists often blend both roles, applying theories in practical settings while simultaneously questioning and refining them based on their observations and experiences.

For those with a keen interest in the investigative aspects of the discipline, a career in experimental psychology may be the ideal path. Though it may not resemble the "typical" psychology career, experimental psychology is pivotal in ensuring the field remains dynamic, ever-evolving, and rooted in the latest insights and perspectives. Dive deeper to understand what it entails to become an experimental psychologist, the prerequisites for entering this niche, and how you can embark on this intriguing journey.

What does an Experimental Psychologist Do?

Experimental psychologists use the scientific method to test out different theories or questions they or others have developed in psychology. An experimental psychologist may spend their entire career attempting to answer one question, as one set of data or one study may not be enough to answer psychology’s larger questions.

Experimental psychologists may use data, surveys, focus groups, or other various experiments to seek out the answers that shape their careers. Many factors must be considered when these experiments are taken, especially regarding psychology. Motives, background, perception, and the diversity of subjects all come into play and shape the results of a study, survey, or experiment. 

Job Requirements

You must know what you’re talking about to earn grant money for research. Experimental psychologists start by earning their doctorate in experimental psychology or another approach to psychology that might shape their experiments. Through this work, an experimental psychologist will build up their resume by working under other experimental psychologists and contributing to research that may be published. With enough credentials and by answering the questions that spark interest, an experimental psychologist may find work at a college or university and conduct their experiments using grant money or on the school’s dime.

Salary (How Much Do Experimental Psychologists Make?) 

A well-respected experimental psychologist can live a comfortable life while answering the world’s biggest questions, but this salary is not guaranteed to all. Remember, your doctorate is usually the minimum requirement to conduct research at a university or in an esteemed research center. These salaries reflect experimental psychologists who have completed these degrees and are currently working to answer the questions they or others in their field have. 

Experimental Psychologist Reported Salary

Low

Average

High

Economic Research Institute

$96,610

 

ZipRecruiter

$17,500

$62,493

$138,500

Salary.com

$73,459

$97,711

$122,148

VeryWellMind

$92,000

Schools for Experimental Psychology Degrees

Choosing the right educational institution becomes paramount when diving into experimental psychology. The reputation and quality of the program you attend can influence recognition from leaders in the field and potential research funding opportunities. Here are some top universities renowned for their experimental psychology programs, accompanied by a brief description of what makes them stand out:

  • The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI): Renowned for its extensive research facilities and faculty of leading researchers in the field.
  • Harvard University (Cambridge, MA): Harvard's storied history in psychology research and its vast resources offer students unparalleled research opportunities.
  • Yale University (New Haven, CT): Boasts a collaborative environment where students frequently work across disciplines to push the boundaries of psychological research.
  • Stanford University (Stanford, CA): Known for fostering innovation and emphasizing combining theoretical and applied research in psychology.
  • The University of South Carolina - Columbia (Columbia, SC): Recognized for its commitment to exploring diverse psychological phenomena and its strong community of researchers.
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN): Offers state-of-the-art labs and facilities and a curriculum rooted in traditional and emerging psychological research areas.
  • University of Rochester (Rochester, NY): Celebrated for its research-intensive approach and a close-knit academic community that promotes collaborative studies.
  • University of Chicago (Chicago, IL): Holds a legacy of groundbreaking research in psychology and offers a rich environment for interdisciplinary studies.
  • University of Rhode Island (Kingston, RI): Prides itself on its hands-on research opportunities and a curriculum that emphasizes real-world application of experimental findings.
  • Texas State University (San Marcos, TX): Offers a comprehensive program that blends rigorous academic training with practical research experiences, preparing students for diverse careers in psychology.

When choosing a school, always consider factors such as faculty expertise, research facilities, and the specific areas of experimental psychology the program emphasizes.

Companies That Hire Experimental Psychologists

Where do experimental psychologists work? There are a lot of options! Many organizations have questions that experimental psychologists can attempt to answer through data collection and research. Any of the following organizations could put out a job listing for an experimental psychologist to work in-house or with various clients: 

  • Research centers 
  • Colleges and universities
  • Government agencies
  • Private businesses 

Research Opportunities in Experimental Psychology: From Assistant to Director

Experimental psychology isn't just limited to conducting experiments; it's also deeply intertwined with the broader world of research in psychology. Whether just starting in the field or aiming for leadership positions, there are many opportunities to delve into research. Here's a closer look at the potential roles within this realm:

  • Research Psychologist: At the heart of experimental psychology is the Research Psychologist. They are responsible for designing, executing, and interpreting experiments that answer vital questions within the field of psychology. Their work often involves:

    • Formulating research questions or hypotheses.
    • Designing experimental studies or surveys.
    • Collecting and analyzing data using statistical tools.
    • Publishing their findings in reputable journals.
    • Collaborating with other psychologists and professionals from various disciplines.
  • Research Assistant: This role is often an entry-level position, ideal for those new to the field or currently undergoing their graduate studies. Research Assistants play a crucial role in supporting the execution of experiments. Their tasks often include:

    • Assisting in data collection may involve conducting interviews, administering tests, or managing focus groups.
    • Data entry and preliminary analysis.
    • Literature reviews to support the groundwork for experiments.
    • Assisting in the preparation of research papers or presentations.
  • Research Director: This senior role is often found within larger research institutions, universities, or corporations. A Research Director oversees multiple research projects and ensures that they align with the organization's broader objectives. Their responsibilities often encompass:

    • Setting the direction and priorities for research initiatives.
    • Securing funding and grants for research projects.
    • Collaborating with stakeholders, including policymakers, corporate leaders, or academic heads, to ensure the research meets necessary standards and serves broader goals.
    • Mentoring and guiding younger researchers, helping them shape their career paths.
    • Ensuring ethical guidelines are adhered to in all research activities.

The field of experimental psychology is vast, and its research opportunities are diverse. Whether starting as a research assistant and learning the ropes or leading groundbreaking research initiatives as a director, there's a pathway for every aspiring experimental psychologist. As the field continues to evolve, the demand for dedicated researchers who can provide insights into human behavior and cognition will only grow, making this a rewarding career choice for many.

Interviews with an Experimental Psychologist

Want to learn more about specific graduate programs in experimental psychology? Watch this video from Seton Hall University. You may also take a path to a Ph.D. in experimental psychology by studying other fields of psychology, like YouTuber You Can Do STEM did!

Learn how experimental psychology differs from applied psychology with this video from Psy vs. Psy. 

Famous Experimental Psychologists

The most famous experiments in psychology are often the most controversial, but they have also influenced how we think about the human mind, personality, and behavior. 

For example, Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments showed the world what people would do if they felt they had to obey a researcher or authority figure. 

Phillip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment took a terrifying look into what people could do if given a certain role in society.

Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment showed how children pick up certain behaviors and traits through observation, including violent ones. 

Martin Seligman’s Learned Helplessness Experiments showed how run-down we can feel and how helpless we can become if we do not believe that we are in control of what happens to us. 

Finally, Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes Brown Eyes experiment showed how easily children (and adults) can develop prejudiced behavior just because they are told they are in one group or another.

Experimental Psychology Examples

Experimental psychologists focus on one task within psychology: conducting experiments to answer the field’s largest questions. The average day of an experimental psychologist may include:

  1. Sorting through participants in a study to ensure they are working with a diverse group
  2. Administering tests to participants 
  3. Collecting and organizing survey data
  4. Looking at trends in data to come to conclusions
  5. Writing about their experiences and how it influenced their conclusions
  6. Sharing their work in a journal
  7. Applying for grants or funding to continue conducting their experiments

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2021, June). Experimental Psychologist Career (Salary + Duties + Interviews). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/experimental-psychologist/.

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