How a psychology degree builds invaluable field research skills
The idea of pursuing a degree in psychology typically conjures images of careers in counseling, social services or mental health. While these are all paths psychology graduates pursue, the versatility of a bachelor’s in the field can stretch much further. With a focus on human behavior, cognition and emotion, the multifaceted skill set psychology majors acquire during their studies can be applied to a range of different industries
Psychology fundamentals like diverse thinking, data analysis and application of theory to real-life scenarios can greatly enhance field research. Professionals looking to diversify their skill sets and gain critical knowledge of the human condition may actually find what they’re looking for in a psychology program.
Join us as we explore how a major in psychology can help you acquire vital field research skills.
What does a field researcher do?
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that psychology is all about examining the relationships between brain function, behavior and the environment to illuminate our understanding of and improve the world around us. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how psychology training can benefit field researchers.
Field research is a prominent method of data collection in which social scientists set out to understand, observe and interact with subjects in their natural settings. The goal is to learn how a subject behaves in a specific environment to identify how different variables may interact with or influence it.
By applying immersive learning methods, professionals become better able to understand the context of their studies and acquire in-depth, high-quality data. In practice, this is done through participant observation, ethnography, qualitative interviews and more. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) highlights fieldwork as being crucially important because it forces researchers to challenge their perceptions and theoretical assumptions as they come face-to-face with the realities on the ground.
7 field research skills gained by studying psychology
The practice of field research is all about acknowledging the dynamic connections between a subject and its wider context. Psychology bears a similar mission. The four main goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict and positively impact the behavior and mental processes of others.
The following seven psychology skills can benefit professionals in all sectors of social science, but particularly so with field research efforts.
1. Diverse thinking skills
The APA highlights a number of competencies a quality psychology program should cover — among them are important cognitive skills. Students don’t just acquire the core critical-thinking abilities many professionals expect to learn in college. They also gain valuable expertise in analytical thinking, creativity, information management, judgment and decision-making.
Whether researchers are filling the role of subjective participant or objective observer, field work relies heavily on applying diverse thinking abilities, with observational and interpretive skills coming to the foreground.
2. Research skills
When conducting field research, professionals are interacting directly with the group they are studying. As such, sharp qualitative research abilities are a must.
Students majoring in psychology know to expect courses about human development, systems of psychology and the like. But in addition to exploring those fundamental subjects, students will encounter topics that will help enhance their practical research abilities.
Course offerings will vary by school, but students in the psychology program at UMass Global, for example, are given opportunities to focus on subjects like scientific writing, social research design, statistics and research methods for the behavioral sciences.
Psychology and research are similar because, in practice, neither is an individual act. Whether a professional is playing an interactive or observational role, collaboration with patients or subjects is often heavily involved. These are also both iterative fields in which practitioners’ knowledge, competencies and skills are continuously expanding through collaborative work with other professionals.
In addition to learning how to work collaboratively with classmates, psychology scholars study interactive family, community and other group dynamics through a social science lens. Courses on subjects like family systems and dynamics, organizational psychology and community mental health can help enhance a researcher’s understanding of the contextual nature of their work.
The APA has also highlighted some personal skills contribute to any professional’s career trajectory. Qualities like integrity and self-regulation may be more inherent, but one thing psychology programs can help you build is your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Adaptability is important for field researchers because the entire methodology operates in the absence of a controlled environment. With so much subject to change, it’s crucial to remain level-headed, thoughtful and motivated throughout the process. Psychology programs can help teach students how to adjust successfully to change by responding in a flexible, proactive and civil manner.
5. Data analysis
Field research can involve a massive intake of information. Collection methods carry obvious importance, but the researcher’s ability to analyze the data is just as critical. Professionals conducting this kind of research must know how to apply graphical, statistical and quantitative techniques to a set of observations or measurements in order to locate patterns and anomalies.
Statistical analysis is actually a fairly prominent element of psychological practice. Undergraduate programs will help students learn how to think carefully about the variables and measurements in their data collection so that they can deduce the most accurate interpretations of the information.
6. Application of theory
It’s one thing to learn about effective research practices and methods of data interpretation, but it won’t do much good without a keen ability to apply those theories to the material at hand. All proper research should consider the theoretical basis for their studies very early on in the planning stage. In qualitative research efforts specifically, there are a number of different theoretical approaches professionals will need to master.
The study of theory from a psychological perspective has helped contribute to our understanding of prominent health problems and related behaviors that may provide potential avenues for development. Psychology students don’t just learn how to examine the principles of human behavior — they also learn how to deconstruct the methodology and statistical techniques related to behavioral science research.
7. Interpersonal communication
Strong oral and written communication skills are useful in any industry. But they are particularly important for researchers who are tasked with conveying their findings in clear and concise ways.
The APA also highlights a number of social skills students gain from psychology programs that can help improve their interpersonal communication abilities. In addition to gaining an aptitude for communicating scientific information to diverse audiences, psychology graduates become well-versed in the tenets of leadership, inclusivity and service.
Social skills of this nature help professionals establish respectful and fruitful interactions with the people they work with, whether they’re fellow team members or research subjects.
Why study psychology?
If your inquisitive nature has you constantly curious about the social and cultural impacts of human behavior, it’s no surprise you’re interested in pursuing a research-oriented career. And you now know the various ways majoring in psychology can equip professionals like you with essential field research skills.
If you’re still curious about what it’s like working in this expansive field, explore our Psychology Resource Hub.
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