Where do I go from a psychology BA career- and education-wise?
April 24, 2012 8:07 PM   Subscribe

Any advice on turning on turning a psychology BA into a research-related, but non-academic and non-clinical career?

For background, I graduated with a good GPA and a BA in psychology from an unknown, small private university.

Right now, I’m working for a consulting company that primarily does survey and program evaluation-type research for federal (and a few other public and commercial) clients (primarily large-scale military work at the moment). Though survey research is not necessarily a long-term interest area, I’ve found that I like: working in the private consulting sector, getting to occasionally travel actually if I could find a job where I could travel more regularly – even to non-sexy destinations – I’d be quite happy), working on projects in a variety of research topics, and seeing how various research methods are applied to solve real-world problems. I’ve also found that, being somewhat competitive, I enjoy the business development and contract capture process.

At any rate, I’m wondering where I go from here, as there’s not too much I can continue to do with just an undergrad degree besides more grunt work. The problem is, looking into various psychology graduate programs, I have very broad research interests (think social/cognitive/educational, though not so much I-O or, tangentially, market research), don’t feel strongly committed to one content area, and my research experiences in school were scattered and basically “take-it-where-you-can-get-it” (working in a personality psych lab at a nearby R-1 university for a semester, doing qualitative data entry and basic quantitative analysis for various professors, conducting a social psych-related original study).I’m also not particularly interested in becoming an academic anyway.

I’ve really enjoyed the research methods and stats classes that I took and the work I’ve done/do involving data analysis and presentation. It’s made me especially interested in learning about quantitative methods beyond just “stats for social sciences” type courses, but my actual mathematics background is limited at this point. Though I did well in calculus way back in high school, I was initially studying for a communications-related degree and took the minimal math and science requirements in college early on. I’m definitely not opposed to increasing my skill set through additional courses, but if I’m going to spend money on them, I’d like to have a plan of action.

So, any advice or thoughts on where I may want to go from here? What kind of graduate programs and/or eventual careers could be a good fit? What I may want to do to prepare for them? Any related personal anecdotes – in particular if you happen to work in research consulting, how did you get there and what have your experiences been?
posted by H4D11 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could return to school for a master's degree in applied statistics offered by a college of education or public policy. It would be a very applied, career-type degree that doesn't translate into much in academia, but could be parlayed into a more senior role in combination with your professional experience. Although the coursework is not child's play, the mathematics requirements are usually very lax and many students come in with minimal quantitative skills.
posted by Nomyte at 8:24 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look into personnel research psychology for govt and large organizations. Consider informational interviewing to see what background those people have (ie do they have PhDs or masters', and with what coursework).
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:49 PM on April 24, 2012

Soon-to-be Mrs. Eld is currently in the last bit of a clinical psych phd at a school with a respected program that focuses on research. She's there because, the way I've been led to understand things, it's a gateway to better options down the road if you get a clinical phd, instead of a Doctor of Psychology degree for example, even though various people in her program may not necessarily be in it for a teaching/research position.

The sad part is that these same people had to feign interest/devotion to careers focusing on research to get into the program in the first place... because if they didn't they'd have zero chance of being accepted. Basically the program wants to output graduates who are going to make an impact in the field of study so it's a catch-22 if you'd rather help people with the scientifically sound therapy methods you could learn but would prefer not to lie about it during the admission process.

Advanced, advanced statistics and data analysis are a big part of her curriculum/work but it sounds like you may be able to handle that part of it since you made it through the calc series.

Feel free to memail me if you have specific questions that you think she might be able to address. I'd send her here to give you some insight but her time is very much in demand so specific questions are probably best....
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:58 PM on April 24, 2012

I graduated with a BA in Psychology 23 years ago - and back in the UK - but I did end up in a non academic research career - so I am happy to be a data point.

I took a postgraduate course in Ergonomics/Human Factors (which happened to give me an MSc Eng) and then got a job in a telecoms research lab on the basis of this. These days my employment options would be different - but there are still a number of options from this start point that can help launch you on a non academic research career. To get an idea of the possibilities have a looks at the institutions and the individuals involved in the upcoming Computer Human Interaction (CHI) 2012 conference.

This particular subject area could be a good match for you since it involves a wide range of study areas. It also requires a good mastering of statistics and research methodology.
posted by rongorongo at 1:15 AM on April 25, 2012

If you are interested in returning to graduate school, the University of Michigan has a graduate program in survey methodology. It's housed by the Institute for Social Research, which also offers well-regarded summer courses on a variety of research methods, both quantitative and qualitative. As these courses are mainly attended by current researchers both academic and non-academic (and graduate students), taking an ISR or ICPSR summer course could provide an opportunity to talk with researchers from various sectors.
posted by needled at 4:33 AM on April 25, 2012

What about human subjects research? You can get research experience that is a bit less dry and a bit more fun. You get to meet/test/work with different people, maybe even with a population that is particularly interesting to you. Maybe you did some of this in your undergrad research? You get "clinical" experience (usually going through whatever testing the protocol calls for), research methods experience, data analysis experience, administrative experience, travel to conferences, etc.

If you can get a position in a lab at the nearby R-1, you can probably take classes for free/reimbursement while you work so that you can beef up your math background or whatever the case may be.
posted by Katine at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2012

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