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Social Psychology Careers

Updated on March 12, 2011

What is Social Psychology?

Social psychology is an exciting, research focused field which explores how people are affected by the presence or perceived presence of others, as well as how people perceive themselves. Topics of research people often pursue in their social psychology careers include things such as prejudice and stereotyping, impression formation, group interactions, relationships, and persuasion. Social psychologists are not clinical psychologists and therefore do not work as therapists. Social psychology careers focus on creating and publishing scientific research which helps to build a better scientific understanding of human behavior or to formulate ways to make the world a better place.

Education Required for a Career in Social Psychology

A top notch education is an absolute must for social psychology careers. A good starting point is a bachelor of science degree in either psychology or a related field such as neuroscience, biology, statistics, or sociology from a reputable university. You can not have a social psychology career without completing a doctoral degree program at a well regarded university. Getting into a good graduate program is critical to professional success in ones social psychology career, as jobs in this field tend to be very competitive, with many highly qualified applicants applying for each opening. Many people complete masters degree programs if they are unable to gain entrance directly into Ph.D. programs after completing their undergraduate degrees, which is also an acceptable course.

During graduate school, potential social psychologists will be expected to become proficient at designing and executing research independently. In high quality programs, they will do this by conducting independent research under the supervision of a senior professor who shares similar research interests to the student and will serve as their academic advisor. Graduate students will also be expected to complete course work which will give them a firm understating of the field as a whole, statistics, and a working knowledge of related fields which may be influential to their own research interests. Many programs include a comprehensive exam and or a thesis system in which students are expected to demonstrate an acceptable level of knowledge in these areas.

Careers in Social Psychology

Most people spend their social psychology careers working as professors at universities or as researchers in private organizations. Professorships offer social psychologists the ability to pursue their own lines of research which interest them, rather than having to pursue someone else’s research interests. However, professorships mean that you will have to teach at least some classes most semesters, and because this is often seen as undesirable, some may choose to pursue a more applied career course. People who find that they enjoy teaching could also find positions workings as professors at non-research focused institutions which encourage them to focus on teaching rather than research.

Applied social psychology careers often focus on creating interventions that help increase healthy behaviors, ameliorate negative environmental influence, or which help people learn to perceive themselves in a more positive light. Another way that social psychology careers can go is more focused on industry. Many social psychologists are employed by marketing firms as advertisers or as work place consultants who try to solve problems related to coordination among employees.

Getting Started in Social Psychology

Getting started in your social psychology career will differ greatly depending on where you are at in terms of level of educational attainment. If you are currently an undergraduate or soon will be, consider taking some courses at your university in social psychology or other related fields. If you have already completed your undergraduate degree, you should probably still consider taking a few courses in the area if you did not do so as an undergraduate, perhaps through night school programs at your local community college.

Another necessary step to starting a social psychology career at any level of educational attainment is gaining research experience. This is an absolute must if you hope to gain admission to a high quality graduate program. A good way to do this is to contact research psychologists at your local university to see if you could help them out in their labs as a volunteer research assistant. You may even be able to find a part time job doing this for some extra cash. To gain admission to graduate school, you will also need to spend some time studying for and taking the GRE. Doing well on the GRE is absolutely critical to gaining admission to a reputable graduate program which will give you the opportunity to begin a social psychology career.  Once you have completed a graduate program in social psychology, your academic advisor will help you in tracking down jobs in academic settings, or your professional contacts should put you in a good position to locate employers looking for people who do your variety of applied research.

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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent article. I've always found social psychology interesting. ARe you a soc psych?

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