Biological Psychologist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a biological psychologist's job description, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a biological psychologist career.
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Pros and Cons of a Biological Psychologist Career

Biological psychologists, also called biopsychologists or psychobiologists, study the molecular chemistry of the brain and how it impacts behavior. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a biological psychologist is right for you:

Pros of a Biological Psychologist Career
Above-average pay (median annual salary of $91,140)*
Job growth expected for psychologists overall (12% increase from 2012-2022)*
Can work both in research and in an academic setting*
Opportunity to be self-employed (nearly one-third of psychologists were self-employed in 2012)*

Cons of a Biological Psychologist Career
Most positions require a doctoral degree*
High competition for admission to graduate programs*
Requires patience when conducting research and observing experiments*
Due to client schedules, weekend and evening shifts are common *

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Biological psychology is a research-focused branch of science that explores the effects of biological processes on human and animal behavior. As a biological psychologist, you could work at a college or university in a research-based or academic position. You could also work in the private sector, conducting research for an organization such as a pharmaceutical company. Some biological psychologists also do some clinical work, which could involve evaluating and treating patients based on their knowledge of brain chemistry and behavioral connections.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2013 that psychologists, not including industrial-organizational, clinical, counseling and school psychologists, made a median annual salary of about $91,000. This could include professionals working in hospitals, government settings or research and development laboratories. If you're interested in clinical or counseling psychology positions, those professionals earned a median annual salary of about $68,000 in 2013. The BLS projected that employment for all psychologists was expected to increase by 12% from 2012-2022, which is average amongst all other occupations.

Education Requirements

You can begin your education with a bachelor's degree program in psychology. Biological psychology bachelor's degree programs are less prevalent than psychology programs, but they are available. Sometimes, these programs may be offered as cooperative options between the biology and psychology departments. Even if you can't attend a program specifically in biopsychology, most psychology departments offer some coursework in the field. During your undergraduate studies, you may want to focus on coursework that involves research experience in order to prepare you for the research-heavy graduate programs. Many psychologist positions require you to have a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Ph.D.

You may find doctoral programs specifically in biological psychology, or you may choose to study a related field like neuropsychology and experimental psychology. To earn your doctoral degree, you must typically complete coursework, conduct independent research and compose a dissertation based on your unique findings. Master's programs in psychology may cover more subjects than just biopsychology but could further prepare you for doctoral-level studies.

Licensure

While some biological psychologists research and teach, you may also be interested in clinical work with patients. If you practice independently as a clinical or counseling psychologist, you'll need to be licensed by the state in which you work. Though requirements vary by state, licensure typically requires a doctoral degree, some years of professional experience and a passing score on the national exam, the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Check with your state's licensing board for specific rules and regulations.

Useful Skills

Other than the appropriate education and licensure, you should hold a certain set of skills if you're interested in becoming a psychologist. This could include skills like:

  • Patience with lengthy procedures or difficult clients
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Analytical skills
  • Ability to observe and judge people's actions and expressions
  • Communication skills

What Employers Are Looking For

While most psychology teaching positions require you to have a Ph.D., some research jobs require less education. Many of the jobs found during a search in May 2012 were for postdoctoral research positions at colleges and universities. Check out these summaries of some of those job postings to see what some employers may be looking for:

  • A university in Illinois was looking to hire a postdoctoral researcher to work on a pediatric neurocognitive study. The candidate should have or should be about to receive a Ph.D., should have experience with MRIs and should have statistical research skills.
  • A university in Michigan was searching for an assistant professor to teach biological psychology at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The professor should also be able to develop a research program at the school. A Ph.D. was required for this position.
  • A federal agency was looking for a postdoctoral fellow to conduct research on the neuroscience of aging and addiction in the medical center of a university in Maryland. The program was scheduled to last three years and the applicant was required to hold a doctoral degree. The fellow would be involved in clinical diagnosis and research projects, and would also attend courses and seminars.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Because of the emphasis on research in biopsychology, you should take advantage of opportunities to gain research experience during your educational years. In high school, take advanced biology courses if your school offers them. During college, you could find an internship where you get to participate in research activities. Because of the competitiveness of graduate program admissions, experience in research, coupled with good grades and test scores, may give you an advantage in getting in.

Other Careers to Consider

Anthropologist

If you're interested in studying humans but want to look at more historic information, consider a career as an anthropologist. Anthropologists study human behavior, evolution, heredity, language and various other subjects by looking at ancient artifacts, genetics and more. You typically usually need a master's degree to get started in the field. The BLS reported in May 2011 that anthropologists and archaeologists made a median annual salary of about $56,000. Employment for anthropologists and archaeologists was projected to increase by 21% from 2010-2020, which is faster-than-average growth.

Wildlife Biologist

If you're interested in studying animal behavior and evolution but you would rather study animals than humans, you could become a wildlife biologist. Wildlife biologists study animals with research teams to learn about animal behavior and human interactions with the natural world. Wildlife biologists usually have a bachelor's degree in biology or another life science and may need advanced degrees to move up in the field. The BLS reported in May 2011 that zoologists and wildlife biologists made a median annual salary of about $57,000 and had a projected employment increase of seven percent from 2010-2020.

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Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • PhD in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • B.S. - Psychology
  • B.S. - Psychology - Organizational Behavior
  • B.S. - Psychology - Consumer Behavior

Are you a US citizen?

Sacred Heart University

  • MSAP - General Track
  • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology
  • MSAP - Community Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • BS in Psychology
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in GeroPsychology

What is your highest level of education?

Wagner College