Marketing and Psychology or just Psychology?
November 18, 2009 9:10 PM   Subscribe

If I want to do marketing research should I double major in Psychology and Marketing? Alternately, if I enjoy research psychology and conducting studies, what are other possible careers I might be interested in?

I am aware of this thread, I even posted in it! But I want personalized advice blah blah, and his question is different than mine.

I am a sophomore in college with about 50 credits under my belt after this semester. Currently, I am majoring in Psychology. After taking a marketing class this semester I figured out what I could do as a career: marketing research!!! Yeah!!!

I've always wanted to do something in experimental psychology, like researching and conducting studies. However, I've heard that most of these positions require one to become a professor, which I don't really want to do.

Marketing research is sorta like that... right? I like the idea of conducting surveys, focus groups, etc., to try to understand how people make decisions about what to buy. I mean, I'm not exactly passionate about this, as I might say I am about other psychological topics I could research, but I have a vague interest in it and I don't hate it, maybe I even like it.

So, should I double major? With 50 willy-nilly non-business credits, I would have to take about 20 more than 120 to graduate. And I wouldn't be able to take ANY classes outside of psychology or business, minus the gen ed classes I haven't taken yet. Does it even matter what I major in to future employers (in any field, what if I change my mind to something completely unrelated?) usually?

I feel like I should just major in Psychology and minor in marketing, as I care more about Psychology and marketing would just be a career. If I go into marketing and decide I don't like it at all I wouldn't want all my effort to be for naught.

On the flip side, I also don't want to be wasting my time and money in college getting a degree that will make me unemployable in anything I want to do. I would rather work hard now and stop messing around than have to come back in a few years. School is a good learning experience, but the end result (a job) is very important to me, simply because I don't want to have a dead-end job the rest of my life. I want a nice relaxing job that makes me enough money to get by.

I'm probably just going to go with Psychology, but I want to know what you think. Someone in the other thread pointed out an article in Advertising Age about how marketing firms actually prefer people with degrees in something other than marketing, but is this actually true in practice? One article isn't convincing enough, I would like ancedota from people in marketing telling me how true this is. Also, please, if you can, tell me what it's like doing marketing research.

Another question is, what else could I do for a career if I am interested in psychological research? Marketing research is the only practical thing I can think of, where I will actually have a job someday (maybe), but what else is there?

Thank you for your help!
posted by tweedle to Education (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From what I understand, focusing on quantitative skills will be essential.

And internships are key.

If you can swing it, double major. Why not? Minors don't mean too much.
posted by k8t at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2009

k8t is wise. Take some stats. From the stats department. And learn SAS, and perhaps SPSS - preferably through an internship, or working with a professor (psych or marketing) on some research.
posted by McBearclaw at 9:25 PM on November 18, 2009

From my experience in the field you should take statistics classes or even minor / second major in statistics if you're serious about market research.
Advanced statistic skills are a real door opener because many people who have studied psychology or economics will have basic knowledge in statistics, but there's only few who understand the advanced stuff, that is required to learn complex modeling, data fusion, etc. later.
I've studied communications & media (along with political science and sociology), basic statistics / data analysis was a required class and many people struggle with it (because, zomg! it has evil math!), so they just try to get it done. They'll be able to do basic things with SPSS/PASW you could also do with Excel (for 2 weeks, before they forget which buttons to press), but never really understand what they are doing. Only a few take the advanced statistics / data analysis path and this is where you can score.

Don't worry too much about the whole marketing business, a few classes are enough for the basics and you can pick up anything else you need through internships. I think I learned 90% of the actual marketing knowledge on the job and I was in market research for a few years before going into media strategy, so I know both sides of the aisle quite well.
Even if you don't do real market research later but end up in marketing / advertising / product management, the skills will help you enormously, as you'll be able to understand how to interpret and work with data. This can be survey results, market studies, sales analysis, you name it. Take internships, preferably in different fields (market research companies, media agencies, marketing department of corporations) and find out what you like best.
posted by starzero at 11:27 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Marketing research is sorta like that... right? ... I have a vague interest in it and I don't hate it, maybe I even like it.

Paco Underhill is the man here. If you can read his books on psychology in the retail environment (Why We Buy and The Call of the Mall) without wanting to drop everything and do marketing research for a living, it might not be the thing to do.
posted by whatzit at 12:20 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stats are pretty useful for just about anything.
posted by delmoi at 12:28 AM on November 19, 2009

A lot of social psychologists actually have appointments at business schools, and conduct research on marketing as it relates to social psych. In general, they get paid a lot more than do academic psychologists. I don't see why you couldn't do both, but if that's too much to put on your plate, I'd vote psych over marketing. Then again, I'm a psychologist, so I'm pretty biased.

No matter what, definitely bone up on stats.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:30 AM on November 19, 2009

A friend of mine left her psychology grad program with a masters and is now an IRB [institutional review board] analyst for a university. She spends her time working with behavioral and medical researchers and reviewing the ethics and legalities of their research plans. She likes her job, believes in the rules she's enforcing, and enjoys working with scientists like she used to be. And it's a normal 9-5 job, unlike being a professor. On the other hand, she's a bureaucrat, which may not appeal to you.

I have no idea how to train for a career as an IRB analyst. I'd think you'd need at least undergrad research experience, if not a research masters. (Maybe take a look at this job board.)
posted by serathen at 5:17 AM on November 19, 2009

I also don't want to be wasting my time and money in college getting a degree that will make me unemployable in anything I want to do.

Getting a double major in psych and marketing will hardly make you unemployable. I agree with those recommending to focus on statistics instead of marketing, but if you got a double major in psych and marketing with a minor in statistics, you'd have your choice of really interesting jobs, even outside of market research. Aside from the work of doing a double major, I don't see a downside.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:03 AM on November 19, 2009

I am a senior exec at a major market research firm and interact all the time with people who head research at major media, tech, and advertising companies.

Whatzit is right--the Paco Underhill books are a great read, but his work is also what I'd call "boutique" in that it's pretty far afield from what most folks do, so don't think that it's the standard (but go and read them).

As starzero and others have noted, stats training is important, as is understanding social research design and execution. Psychology and related social sciences help here.

Note that "marketing research" is likely to encompass (1) understanding/vetting/buying/analyzing data provided by third parties and (2) possibly conducting primary research as well, but usually only at a larger company with the resources to sustain its own in-house group.

But it's important that you not just look at where things are today, but also consider where the market is headed . . . and it's headed increasingly toward behavioral research and large-scale data mining. The traditional tools of the trade--surveys, focus groups--continue to be of use, but without exception the trend is for mechanically collected data, the building of massive data sets, and the mining of that data. What's this mean to you? Make sure to understand stats, yes, but also look to courses offered in CS or the business department that focus on these topics. This is far more important than a degree in marketing, I'd argue.
posted by donovan at 6:13 AM on November 19, 2009

My sister is a market research analysist (doing quite well) with an undergraduate degree in Statistics. She got, after about 10 years in the profession, a Masters in Social Research to better position herself for advancement. Which she achieved.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:53 AM on November 19, 2009

Not every psychologist ends up being a professor. There's a whole subfield called organizational psychology which focuses on how people behave in the workplace - you could study that and end up consulting at companies or other institutions. If you're interested in researching mental disorders specifically, or other types of health-focused psychology, you could try to work at a place like NIH, which is pretty much pure research.

What I might recommend is to plan to spend a few years post-graduation working as a research assistant in an experimental psychology lab. This will give you your fill of experimental psychology research, get career advice directly from people who have spent time in the field, and let you see if it's your speed - and if you decide it's not, that kind of experience looks good on a resume. But first, try an internship. You could try asking around at your university to see if anyone needs summer help. You could also apply to a summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) or go out searching for different labs you find interesting and ask them if they need summer help. REUs are usually funded, which is nice. If you work at your home university, you may be able to apply for a financial award to help you cover the cost of living in the area while you work/volunteer at a lab.

I think the key, though, is to get some experience. That will help you make your decisions.
posted by shaun uh at 7:40 AM on November 19, 2009

The user researchers that conduct our usability studies have a masters in psychology (I believe). As in all software careers, it helps if you can code. Take computer science as well as psychology and you're set.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: The main issue I have with the double major is that I would need 140 credits to graduate, and I've done the math and I would literally only be able to take business or psychology classes for the rest of my college career, which I don't think is very well-rounded, especially since I don't really have an interest in business. There are other courses I kinda wanted to take, but they cost money and I don't want to just take classes because I want to.

Getting a degree in marketing means getting a degree in business. Also, taking stats classes, which is the overwhelming recommendation, would not fit into that 140 (minus the one or two that are required for marketing and psych) at all so I would have to add even more credits! So adding a minor in statistics would bring me up to 155 credits to graduate. I mean I guess it doesn't matter; there aren't any jobs anyway, but that's a lot more time and money and I'm wondering if I can achieve what I want to achieve without the Marketing degree, and if not having the marketing degree would mess up the rest of my life or really just not matter.

Doubling in Statistics and Psychology and minoring in Marketing would allow me to graduate with far less credits, I think. I'm only a sophomore now, but I have a feeling if I drag school out that much I might eventually get tired of it.
posted by tweedle at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: Also, thanks for all your advice so far; I didn't even really consider that I should load up on stats. :)
posted by tweedle at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2009

I definitely second all the advice above. Just wanted to say I went through the same thought process as you for the most part. Majored in psychology, liked experimenting, but didn't want to do it in a lab.

I worked for a market research company for a while, working on product tests, ad copy optimizations, general exploratory research, etc for a little bit, was laid off, but now currently work for a media agency. In my current position (in the marketing analytics department) I use all sorts of tools like research studies, stat tools, data visualization tools, ad serving platforms, etc to try and quantify the effectiveness of marketing campaigns as well as offering ongoing insights into what's going on with various campaigns. What I like is not using the same tools over and over again, but rather developing custom integrated measurement solutions based on the goals of the specific initiative.

Message me if you'd like to talk about this some more, but keep on the psych/marketing/stats track and think about analytics in media agencies as well as general marketing research. I think it might be up your alley.
posted by jourman2 at 11:59 AM on November 19, 2009

Also, just rereading my comment. If there's something I could add its that try and get some programming/database skills on under your belt as well. As donovan mentioned there's definitely a huge trend around custom data mining/analysis now, and I find myself learning database and programming skills on the job - which I really enjoy - but it would've been particularly helpful to have some basic skills before heading into the industry.
posted by jourman2 at 9:07 PM on November 20, 2009

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