Becoming a Behavioral Scientist: Salary Info & Job Description

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A behavioral scientist's mean annual salary is about $79,000, but is it worth the education requirements and competition for jobs? Get the truth about the job description and career outlook to see if becoming a behavioral scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Behavioral Scientist

Behavioral scientists, also known as social scientists or sociologists, address social problems and explain group dynamics for government organizations or businesses. Consider the following pros and cons to determine if a career as a behavioral scientist is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Behavioral Scientist
Above-average income potential ($79,000 mean salary for social scientists in 2014)*
Potential to affect public policy or address social problems*
Above-average job growth (15% projected growth for social scientists from 2012-2022)*
Opportunities for employment in academia, public service as well as private industry*

Cons of Becoming a Behavioral Scientist
High level of education required*
Strong competition for jobs*
High importance placed on journal publication**
Necessary collaboration with researchers from other disciplines**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a behavioral scientist, you will plan and conduct research using scientific qualitative and quantitative methods. You may be tasked with directing statisticians and data collectors to conduct research and compile findings. Following research, you will analyze data and publish reports, as well as recommend strategic policy changes or interventions for organizations, communities or businesses. For social scientists involved with academic research, a strong emphasis is placed on publishing reports in scientific journals.

Social scientists work in applied research, where analysis and findings may influence public policy or help develop community or organizational interventions. In your work, you will utilize knowledge of group behavior dynamics, psychological personality theory as well as cultural and socio-economic factors. Many social scientists collaborate with researchers in other academic disciplines, such as psychology or anthropology, to form a well-rounded approach to social concerns.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

O*Net Online reported in 2011 that 36% of sociologists were employed in research and development, while colleges or universities employed 30% of these professionals. In addition to the growing need for government agencies to address social problems, private industries are placing an increased emphasis on social research to improve hiring practices, training methods and worker productivity as well as reach a wider customer or client base.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an 15% increase in employment for social scientists between 2012 and 2022. Based on the BLS 2014 data, social scientists earned a mean salary of about $79,000.

Requirements

Behavioral scientists who conduct research studies are not required to gain professional licensure or certification. Scientific research entails a high level of written and oral communication as well as strong interpersonal skills to conduct field research or interviews, including an excellent ability to listen. In addition to analytical and problem-solving skills, you will most likely need a background in statistics and some training in computer database applications.

Education Requirements

O*Net Online reported that 62% of sociologists earned a doctoral or professional degree, while 28% earned a master's degree in 2011. Typical areas of study included sociology, psychology and public health. Specific programs in behavioral science or behavioral psychology may also prove useful. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, you may study issues as varied as developmental psychology, mental illness research, substance abuse, health promotion and disease intervention.

Real Job Listings

Taken from real job postings in April 2012, the following job descriptions display the growing use of social scientists in private industry, market research and health prevention. These positions also require specific interdisciplinary training and advanced academic achievement.

  • A global security contractor in California seeks behavioral scientist to work on applied research projects involving security systems and personnel in federal government. Duties include reviewing literature, designing research methods and writing reports and briefing material. Government clearance is required as well as a doctoral degree in behavioral science, sociology or psychology.
  • A private research and development firm in New Jersey seeks sensory and consumer insights scientist to design and conduct consumer tests as well as conduct research and analyze data. Applicants should have up to five years of experience in sensory evaluation and consumer research, including statistics, plus a Bachelor of Science in food or behavioral science. The listing notes that a master's degree is required if no prior professional experience.
  • A global media research firm located throughout the U.S. seeks a social scientist to design long and short-term research projects and analyze data to support military decision-making processes. Security clearance is necessary, as well as a willingness to travel to potentially hostile communities worldwide. A graduate degree in behavioral science or related discipline is required.
  • A large public university in North Carolina seeks a behavioral intervention scientist for work at a cancer center. This positions requires collaborating with other academic departments to evaluate and develop behavioral interventions to reduce cancer risks. Applicants should have a doctoral degree plus demonstrated interest in interdisciplinary science.

How to Stand Out in Your Field

Publish and Specialize

Many career opportunities call for specialized research experience. The field of behavioral science may encompass a wide variety of research disciplines and the importance of publishing your research findings calls for finding the right journal or peer audience.

Specialized areas of study may include multicultural issues, psychology of aging, gender issues and educational psychology, to name a few. Specialized academic programs and developing original and useful grant proposals can afford you the resources and the editorial audience for your research.

Gain Certification

Although certification is not required to conduct research that does not involve direct patient treatment, you may choose to obtain professional certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. In order to earn the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, you must possess a master's degree or Ph.D. with documented hours of study in subjects such as ethics, evaluation of interventions as well as behavioral measurement and assessment.

Study Healthcare Promotion and Intervention

One of the growing sectors of employment for behavioral scientists is in healthcare research for providers, community organizations and federal government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute of Health (NIH). You can find a number of universities that participate in health prevention research. As a degree seeker, you may pursue programs like the Ph.D. in Health and Behavioral Science or a joint degree program culminating in a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology and Master of Public Health degree.

Alternative Careers in Social and Behavioral Sciences

In addition to conducting research, those interested in behavioral science may pursue careers as a teacher, counselor or social worker. Requiring varying levels of education, these careers can provide you with a more hands-on approach to individual behavioral treatment and community service.

Careers in Postsecondary Social Science Education

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities to instruct, lecture and participate in research projects. You will need to read scholarly articles to develop and adjust classroom content. Advancement in your career may entail moving up the ranks as an assistant or associate professor to a professor before you gain tenured status. Professors can expect to complete at least seven years of teaching before advancing to a tenured position where you may be afforded additional time for conducting research and less time providing classroom instruction.

The BLS predicted that employment for postsecondary teachers would increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020. Job growth will be spurred, in part, by increasing student enrollment at junior colleges and vocational schools. Sociology professors, based on BLS 2011 data, earned a mean salary of about $73,000.

Careers in Behavioral Therapy

The BLS projected excellent job growth for professionals in mental health counseling. These professionals provide cognitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome or manage mental health disorders. As insurance companies continue to provide coverage for less-expensive counseling services, as opposed to psychological or psychiatric treatment, employment for mental health counselors is expected to increase by 37% from 2010-2020.

State licensure is required for therapists providing direct treatment services. Generally, obtaining a license to provide counseling services entails completing an appropriate master's degree program and gaining supervised clinical experience. In 2011, the BLS reported that these professionals earned a mean salary of about $43,000.

Careers in Social Work

Social workers provide clinical or direct services for schools, hospitals and community organizations. Clinical social workers are licensed professionals who diagnose and treat disorders for their clients. Direct service social workers are not required to obtain licensure and may gain employment by obtaining a bachelor's degree in social work.

The BLS projected a 25% increase in employment for social workers between 2010 and 2020, with the highest growth coming from areas such as healthcare and substance abuse treatment. In order to provide rehabilitation services and relieve overcrowding in criminal detention facilities, many communities hire social workers to assist with diversion programs for drug offenders. In 2011, the BLS noted that the mean salary for social workers was about $54,000.

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Northcentral University

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Saint Leo University

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