#BeAnAwesome: Research Psychologist

Professor Peter Mitchell, Director of Studies in Psychology, The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and Editor of the British Journal of Psychology talks to coursesmalaysia.com on how research psychologists investigate, evaluate and report on psychological conditions.
Professor Peter Mitchell
Director of Studies in Psychology, The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and Editor of the British Journal of Psychology
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Being a research psychologist (and completing a PhD) requires dedication, determination and perseverance. It is a rewarding career that can be well-paid with high esteem. If you are hard-working and single-minded then this could be the career for you. It presents the opportunity for travel and the chance to make a real difference to people's lives.

What will I do?

You will, for example, recruit participants by contacting, say, schools or parents. You will then assess each participant using standard clinical tests, going on to investigate psychological processes such as how the participant attends to things in the world. For example, do people with autism look at the world in a way that is quite different from people without autism? You might use eye-tracking technology to find the answer to this question. After collecting all the measures from each participant, you will then summarise the information and write a technical report of the findings. This report might help other people across the world to gain a better understanding of autism. If so, then the report will be published in a high-quality scientific journal.

Is it for me?

You need to be determined, you need to persevere and you need to be patient. Working with a special population and with special schools can be challenging. You need to be technically able in order to administer assessment tests. You also need to operate eye-tracking technology. You also need to be good at mathematics and you need to have a flare for writing technical reports.

The most enjoyable bit

It is certainly very rewarding to make new and important discoveries that change the way people think right across the world. It is also rewarding to make discoveries that ultimately help us to improve the lives and the potential of people with special needs. On a practical level, it is certainly rewarding to work with a special population.

Common misconceptions

People sometimes think that you require an extraordinary level of ability but this isn't true. You need to be well-organised, hard-working and patient, and you need to be good at persevering.

Who will employ me?

In developed countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada, there are thousands of research psychologists working in universities, in the health service and in industry. There are fewer in Malaysia, but Malaysia is destined to become a centre of excellence for university-level education and this can only happen if there is a massive expansion in the number of people employed as research scientists. Therefore, you can be employed at a university, by the health service or by a company.

How much will I earn?

The salary for a graduate in psychology varies greatly but it might be possible to get a job with a starting salary of around RM5,000 a month.

Specialisations

Many research psychologists complete a PhD (a doctorate) before beginning work as a researcher, which is based on three years of research training.