Cover Story

A group of clowns

From doing stand-up at comedy clubs to combining pastoral training with forensics, many psychologists are choosing careers outside of what--in the 20th century--was considered the traditional psychology route of academia and clinical practice. While plenty of psychologists still opt for those more traditional routes, others continue to branch out to a number of fields in business and organizations, the federal government, education and in the international realm.

In fact, jobs in university settings account for only 18 percent of the full-time jobs new psychologists hold, according to APA's 2001 Doctorate Employment Survey. Business, government and other settings account for the largest proportion--at 21 percent--of new doctorates' employment settings, according to the study.

While psychologists are increasingly finding their way into creative niches, the field can do a better job of preparing them, says Daniel Holland, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

"Too many educators, researchers and clinicians pressure their students to follow the same career paths they have followed, rather than focus on preparing students for a multitude of less familiar possibilities," says Holland, a 2002 Fulbright Scholar who studied Slovakian programs for people with disabilities. "Students must be wary of this and resist inheriting such a limited imagination with regard to career options."

As such, he encourages students to take an interdisciplinary approach to their careers. For example, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock offers minors to psychology students, such as in information technology or nonprofit organization management. Also, many doctoral programs offer joint programs. For example, Carnegie Mellon University offers an opportunity to combine psychology and economics in studying human judgment and decision-making.

"Students need to combine psychology with other disciplines so that they can address complex problems in the real world, conceptualize solutions from a number of different perspectives and unite skills drawn from a number of different fields," maintains Holland, who holds a degree in psychology and public health.

To do that, look for credentialing, internships or postdocs that can help prepare you for the nontraditional career you've envisioned, advises Roberta L. Klatzky, PhD, a professor of psychology and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon.

Students might explore jobs within private foundations and scientific societies, law and medicine, journalism and media, K-12 education, public policy work, and research with private companies, nonprofit societies and zoos. Also, psychology students might tap government agencies for fellowships and jobs, such as through the National Institutes of Health, Congressional Research Service and Department of Homeland Security. In addition, students can find fellowship and internship opportunities at such professional societies as APA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Klatzky encourages students to realize how their psychology skills can be used in a variety of ways in nonpsychology settings. For example, good analytic skills can be applied to such varied careers as experimental design, data analysis and modeling.

"Being creative with one's career can seem scary at times because there is not necessarily any road map to follow or even a known destination when one sets out," Holland adds. "But the knowledge and skills [students] gain through extensive study of psychology have incredibly broad applications and, along with personal qualities such as conscientiousness, critical-thinking and a strong work ethic, are in high demand."


For additional stories on nontraditional psychology careers, visit the gradPSYCH Guide to Careers. The Web site includes a list of more than 70 articles on psychologists in creative careers.