What types of jobs are new doctorates going into? What kinds of skill sets do psychology majors have that make them marketable? How should recent grads market themselves to find jobs?

These were just some of the questions William Pate II, a research associate with APA's Research Office, answered at APA's 2001 Annual Convention in San Francisco. Pate presented data from surveys conducted by the APA Research Office, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education to provide future psychologists with objective information on the job market, realistic expectations of debt and median starting salaries.

In an interview after convention, Pate answered the following key questions about the job market for psychologists.

Q. The proportion of psychologists working in academia dropped from 55 percent in 1973 to 33 percent in 1999. What's behind that change?

Two changes occurred that contributed to this shift. First, the number of psychologists trained in the practice subfields increased during this period, while the number of those in academe remained relatively stable. This difference in growth created the percentage drop of psychologists in academe. It's not as though psychologists have been actively leaving academe in large numbers for the private sector.

The growth in the number of practicing psychologists was primarily fueled by changes in the laws governing who could and could not be reimbursed for treatment. The inclusion of psychologists opened up health service provision as an employment option. Responding to the perceived need, professional schools of psychology came into being in the early 1970s and their num bers have continued to grow, albeit more slowly in recent years.

A second reason for the drop in the proportion of psychologists in academe is that psychologists' skills have been increasingly recognized in the job market. This is especially the case in more nontraditional settings such as the business world and in government. Graduates have a strong basis in research methodology and analysis that allow them to apply themselves in a variety of occupations that require an understanding of how people behave in their environment, be it a police force, a computer interface or in the boardroom. Rather than being automatically stereotyped as a therapist, more and more psychologists are being seen as applied scientists.

Q. What are some of the most noticeable demographic shifts in the field of psychology?

The proportion of women among new psychology doctorates had increased from 33 percent in 1976 to 70 percent in 1999. Yet, women made up only 46 percent of psychology PhDs in the workforce in 1999.

Meanwhile, the proportion of minorities among new doctorates in psychology increased from 8 percent in 1977 to 15 percent in 1999, but only 9 percent of psychology PhDs in the workforce were minorities.

Q. Why are psychology students well-suited and well-prepared for the job market?

Because they are trained to critically evaluate information and research. This ability to look at and evaluate data and information is a central tenet of psychology. This skill is learned and applied to the understanding of human behavior. Areas of application include personnel selection and training, developing user-friendly computer software, the delivery of psychological services to victims of natural and man-made disasters, the profiling of serial killers, the creation of effective commercials that increase the sale of a product, and so on.

As scientists, psychologists are well versed in the scientific method and statistical analysis. This allows one to design sound research that yields valid and reliable data, which can be applied to the solution of social problems, used to inform policy-makers, and determine new product lines. The ability to translate the results of basic research into tangible and relevant outcomes is an important skill. A person who can do this, and who can also communicate across a variety of audiences, is a valuable asset to any university, organization, or company.

Q. How should graduates go about job hunting?

Make yourself stand out. In an increasingly competitive job market, you need to tailor your presentation to the desired position. This requires a close examination of your skills and experience and an ability to effectively communicate why you, among so many other applicants, should be chosen for the job.

If you don't get your dream job, be sure to find one that will provide you with opportunities to develop or refine your skills for the next one.

Further Reading

For more information related to psychology's workforce and education system, contact APA's Research Office at (202) 336-5980 or by visiting their Web site at http://research.apa.org.