Biological Psychology Careers: Options and Requirements

Biological psychologists study the relationship between the brain and behavior. They may conduct laboratory experiments, or work in the field, examining naturally occurring behaviors. The most common career options, including teaching and research assisting, are generally determined by experience and level of education.

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Biological Psychology Career Options

Entry-level opportunities in biological psychology consist primarily of assistant and coordinator positions. Mid-level and advanced careers include academic, counseling and scientific research positions.

Research Assistant

Research assistants typically conduct the hands-on work necessary for experiments in the field. The work is dependent on the interests of the assistant's supervising professor or researcher and may include gathering data from human research participants, performing simple surgical procedures or conducting experiments on animal subjects.

Teaching Careers

Biological psychologists teach in high schools, community colleges and postsecondary institutions. Often, those at the college level combine a teaching profession with research in the field and may benefit from finding employment with a public research university.

Scientific Researcher

Many biological psychologists have an interest in a particular condition or part of the brain, and research opportunities are available in a number of disciplines. Neuroscientists concentrate on discovering causes and effects of brain injury, mental illness, hormones and stress, typically examining neural function in laboratory animals. Pharmaceutical companies employ biological psychologists to study the influences of certain drugs on the brain, development and mental stability of humans. Other employers include hospitals, health care organizations and government agencies.

Mental Health Counseling

Less common for a biological psychologist is a career in counseling, though they may pursue the option. Counselors interested in neurological issues may find work in hospitals, clinics and mental health institutions studying and advocating for patients with cerebral disorders or handicaps. Behavioral psychologists in counseling positions must have applicable knowledge in drug treatment methods.

Biological Psychology Requirements

Beginning research assistant and coordinator positions typically require a bachelor's degree in biological psychology or a related field. Several schools offer a biological concentration within the standard undergraduate psychology program. Additionally, high school teachers may begin a career with a bachelor's degree, though many states require a master's degree within a specified time period after attaining licensure.

Postsecondary teaching typically requires a minimum of a master's degree, though some specialties may demand a doctoral degree. Acceptable degrees for teaching and counseling positions are the Doctor of Psychology and the Doctor of Philosophy. Professors and researchers engaged in biological and psychological experimentation must have a doctorate in a relevant field of study. The most common degree for researchers is a Doctor of Philosophy. Teachers and counselors, as well as medical researchers who provide drug treatments, must obtain licensure in their field.

Employment and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the median annual salary for social scientist research assistants as $38,310 in 2013, and the median salary of mental health counselors as $40,580 per year (www.bls.gov). Postsecondary psychology teachers, some of whom specialize in biological psychology, were listed as earning a median income of $68,980 per year by the BLS. The BLS also estimates that the employment of postsecondary teachers in general will increase by 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is on par with the job growth rate of all occupations within the U.S.

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