Running Commentary

When I completed my doctorate several decades ago, the job market was good, but the choices were narrow. My fellow graduates and I had three major career options: university faculties, public mental health facilities or Veteran's Administration hospitals. Faculty positions carried the highest prestige and the lowest salaries; public mental health facilities offered opportunities for part-time practice; the VA offered good salaries and a secure future. Most of my graduate student friends chose one or another of these options, and many have continued on their chosen paths for their entire careers.

Now, psychologists are everywhere. The job market may not be quite as good, but the choices are dazzling. Psychology is an extraordinarily diverse field with hundreds of career paths. In addition to the choices of several decades ago, psychologists are now found in government, courtrooms, corporate offices, advertising agencies, consulting firms and high-tech businesses.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted that many new psychology graduates who might have been expected to enter academic careers are now being lured away from academe by jobs in business, ranging from survey research to software design. And the complexities and frustrations of the current health-care system have led many who would have been clinical practitioners to jobs just as varied.

The cover story of this month's Monitor features profiles of recent psychology graduate students who are pursuing innovative careers that draw on their education and training in new and exciting ways. These young psychologists are making their mark in a variety of arenas, most of which could hardly have been imagined just a few years ago and for few of which the graduates were specifically trained.

A foundation for success

Studying psychology at the bachelor's level has always been considered a good preparation for working with people in a variety of fields. Although there are few jobs available in psychology for college graduates, they find jobs in many varied fields including administration, public affairs, business, sales, health, education, journalism and computer programming.

Until recently, going to graduate school seemed to narrow rather than expand the variety of available jobs. The young psychologists profiled in this Monitor demonstrate that that is no longer the case.

Why does psychology provide an entry into so many areas of work? Graduates in psychology develop good research and writing skills as well as the ability to evaluate and analyze information and to solve problems. And psychology provides a good foundation for understanding human behavior, which is basic to most jobs that involve human beings. More businesses fail because of poor management of employees than almost any other cause, but many managers have no access to the enormous wealth of information on understanding and modifying behavior that psychologists, particularly those in the industrial and organizational areas, have accumulated through research and experience.

As the scope of job opportunities expands over the coming years, many more people with psychology degrees will probably apply their skills and training to the field of management, which is a natural fit for psychologists. While managers were once valued largely for their technical expertise, today there is an increasing recognition of the importance of having managers and executives with strong interpersonal skills--skills that many psychologists learn as part of their graduate education and training. The ability to systematically observe, record, analyze and interpret data, when applied to human behavior, opens many doors for psychologists.

Because the field of psychology is so diverse--APA alone has 53 divisions--psychologists are accustomed to dealing with colleagues with very different training and background, and thus find it easy to team up with other professionals in other disciplines such as physicians, lawyers, school personnel, computer experts, engineers, policy makers and managers to contribute to every aspect of society.

A bright future

Despite the ebbs and flows in the job market, which can be distressing to new graduates, psychology is a discipline with a bright future. Among fields requiring a college degree, it is expected to be the third fastest growing field in the United States through 2005 and to continue to grow steadily after that. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a bright employment outlook for psychologists. In its 1998­99 Occupational Outlook handbook, the bureau forecasts that job opportunities for psychologists will increase in businesses, nonprofit organizations and research and computer firms. Market trends also indicate that psychologists will probably have increased opportunities in areas such as technology, cultural diversity and medical delivery.

As the variety of innovative careers highlighted in the profiles indicates, the doors are opening to many new career options for psychologists now and in the future.