What Do Research Psychologists Do? (Definition and Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Research psychologists are fundamental assets to the testing and proving of various psychological hypotheses. Research psychologists conduct vigorous studies to find out more about behaviour or mental illness and assess how people respond to treatments. Understanding what research psychologists do can help you make more informed career choices and may guide you on your path into psychology. In this article, we answer the question 'what do research psychologists do?', discuss their daily duties, outline how to become a research psychologist, explore the required skills and provide their average salary.

What do research psychologists do?

Analysing, organising and collecting data is at the core of the question 'what do research psychologists do?' Research psychologists work hard to understand how and why treatments for various psychological illnesses are effective or ineffective. They may work independently on their own studies or work on behalf of a research institute such as a university to help them prepare new studies for publishing. They also may collaborate with other psychology professionals such as counsellors, psychiatrists or assistants to gather data to evidence their claims and hypotheses.

Research psychologists' daily duties

Research psychologists conduct a number of duties to observe, collect and analyse data that can help them with their research. This includes interacting with patients and establishing correct courses of action and reading previous material to understand gaps in research. Here are some examples of a research psychologist's duties:

  • identifying missing links in the existing literature

  • meeting with study participants

  • observing counselling sessions

  • producing and critiquing research questions

  • leading a team of research assistants

  • conducting data collections

  • producing interview questions

  • researching existing research papers on their topic

  • choosing research and analysis methods

  • writing chapters of their research papers

  • presenting their research to supervisors

  • overseeing ethics protocols

  • meeting with other psychologists to discuss findings

How to become a research psychologist

Becoming a research psychologist requires a combination of education and experience to equip you with the skills necessary for this career. Research psychologists learn the correct ways to conduct studies and observe treatments to identify new areas of research. Below is a numbered step-guide on how to become a research psychologist:

1. Gain a degree

A bachelor's degree in psychology is typically the minimum expectation of a research psychologist. Psychology courses offer students the theoretical knowledge that helps them conduct studies and analyse data. Having a degree may reassure employers that you possess the skills and experience to make you a suitable candidate for the role. During your studies, you may assist PhD students with their research or observe counselling and psychology sessions to gain first-hand experience.

Psychology students can also gain experience by conducting their own psychological studies for assignments. This provides vital experience on how to utilise research techniques to fill gaps in previous literature.

2. Pursue postgraduate study

Postgraduate courses, such as a master's degree in psychology, may provide you with further experience in preparing research studies and interacting with patients to collect data. Postgraduate studies may nurture the skills gained in your bachelor's and better prepare you for a career in this field. A master's degree may provide you with more independence. It may also allow you to identify the areas of research you're interested in and help you begin your journey to publishing any studies.

Postgraduate study can also provide you with a competitive edge during an application process, as employers may determine a level of expertise and previous research experience.

3. Work experience

During or after your studies, you could pursue entry-level research positions. These positions include roles such as a psychology research assistant or assisting with PhD or academic research. Work experience in assistant roles allows you to observe academics working in a professional capacity, potentially providing you with technical skills that may help you in your career later on. This experience is also crucial for building your research psychology resume and improving your employment chances in the future.

4. Find research psychology roles

Once fully qualified and potentially certified by the Psychology Board of Australia, you can begin your search for research psychology roles. These roles may be available at research institutes or academic settings, such as universities, assisting lecturers or academics with their data collection. Finding work in such environments may give you easier access to research materials and help you find research assistants for projects.

5. Pitch research

In this role, you may assist your employer in pitching their ideas to an academic panel to secure resources or funding. This may require you to prepare briefs, conduct preliminary studies and present any data. Doing this helps your employer publish their materials and pioneer new treatments or psychological teachings.

Related: The 16 Most Popular Bachelor of Psychology Careers

Research psychologist skills

Research psychologists use a combination of soft and hard skills to observe effectively and deduce results from their studies. These skills allow them to interact with patients and practising psychiatrists to determine new treatments and understand behavioural patterns that are instrumental to healthcare systems. Here are some skills that are vital to research psychologists:

Hard skills

A research psychologist may develop the following hard skills throughout their education and work experience:

Mathematical skills

Mathematical skills may be useful for collecting and interpreting data for studies. Maths skills are also important when conducting quantitative studies and designing formulas to support their hypothesis. They're also useful for understanding statistics in previously published literature.

Research skills

Understanding how to conduct critical analysis through research is integral to a research psychologist. These skills help psychologists read and understand previous studies that influence their own work, as this helps provide them with a solid foundation to publish their data. Research psychologists also use research skills to understand how previous treatment plans have influenced behaviour and mental illness, as this may help them pioneer their own treatment plans.

Psychological understanding

It's recommended that research psychologists have a basic understanding of psychological theories and behavioural science. This helps them research reliable studies and observe patients critically. Understanding theory may also help research psychologists interpret data easier, while remembering details of previous findings. Comprehensive knowledge of theory may also reassure employers that you can prepare academic material effectively.

Patient care

This refers to skills that enable research psychologists to observe patients sensitively. This allows them to interact with patients, ask the right questions and understand what their answers indicate about their mental health. Patient care also refers to how to prepare appropriate care plans based on research and symptoms.

Computer literacy

Research psychologists may use sophisticated software to help process any data collected from their studies. This helps to streamline their research process and ensures accuracy. Computer literacy also helps research psychologists process mathematical formulas and conduct quantitative analysis.

Related: How to Become a Psychologist

Soft skills

A research psychologist may have the following attributes:

Analytical

Effective analytical skills allow research psychologists to sort through lengthy research papers and organise numbers to conclude their hypothesis. Analytical skills also help research psychologists identity any research gaps in previous literature that they can fill with further studies. Analytical skills help psychologists observe fine details in patient behaviour that may help develop their research.

Organisation

The organisation of data is a crucial element of researching and may help research psychologists prove their research as viable. It also helps psychologists produce formulas after their initial investigation. They may also organise appointments with patients and other psychology professionals to collect more data.

Communication skills

Building trust with patients through the use of good communication may encourage the patients to be more open about their mental conditions. This could help research psychologists build on their data. Communication skills are also important for research psychologists to communicate any important updates to their employer or academic panel during their research process.

Teamwork

Research psychologists may work with assistants or other industry professionals, requiring a degree of collaborative work and shared goals. Good teamwork helps to manage workloads effectively and creates healthier working relationships. Teamwork also fosters constructive communication, which may help streamline the research process.

Active listening

This is integral to absorbing patient information and understanding how their symptoms impact their everyday life. Active listening is also important for deducing how effective treatment plans are and the areas of improvement are so their team can target them. Effective listening helps research psychologists take any feedback about their research process into consideration, which may help develop their project further.

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

The average salary of a research psychologist

The average national salary of a psychologist is $89,926 per year. Research psychologist salaries may fluctuate depending on whether they publish articles, research studies and books based on their studies. Research psychologists may also teach alongside their research, so potentially earn more money from multiple streams of income.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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