The field of quantitative psychology is about the study and development of techniques and methods that help to measure human behavior. These psychologists conduct mathematical and statistical modeling of various known psychological processes. Additionally, they design research studies and spend a great deal of time analyzing research data.
Research questions are becoming increasingly diverse and complex. This means that research methods must also evolve. Those who are fascinated by both psychology and statistics and data, and how these can be used to solve complex problems, are perfect candidates for a career as quantitative psychologists. Quantitative methods and statistics are required courses in all fields of psychology, but it can also be studied as a specific field. The field is, as of yet, very small but nonetheless very interesting. It focuses on methodology, measurement and statistics.
As a quantitative psychologist, you can focus on various areas of work, including:
- Improving existing methods of research.
- Answering complex research questions using new and existing methodologies, for instance, by designing new surveys and questionnaires.
- Being an expert in statistics, measurements, program evaluation, research methodology and more.
The qualities that quantitative psychologists have prepare them for careers in many different organizations. However, most commonly, they will work in research facilities, studying and measuring various pieces of data.
The field, while new and emerging, is actually central to all of psychology. It involves education, science, practice and public interest. It is also for this reason that the American Psychological Association (APA) has an entire division (Division 5) directed at Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics.
The field of quantitative psychology focuses on development and research, specifically in a broad number of areas:
- Research design and statistical analysis.
- Statistical and mathematical modeling of psychological processes.
- Evaluation of methodologies that already exist to see if they can be improved.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not yet measure a separate category for quantitative psychologists. As such, it is very difficult to determine what these professionals earn. Additionally, there are great variations depending on where someone works geographically and for what type of organization. The APA Salary Survey estimates that a starting salary in a large metropolitan area is around $65,000 in 2012-2013. However, it can vary from around $55,000 to as much as $120,000. There are many reasons as to why it is a hot career, including:
- Demand is very high, particularly now that complex new research methods and innovations are emerging. Indeed, decision making based on data is growing in private and public sectors alike.
- Salaries are substantial, even for entry level quantitative psychologists.
- The role is absolutely critical to the advancement of psychology as a whole. There are increasingly complex research questions and answering these questions through statistical analysis has allowed the entire discipline to grow and transform.
- The field is highly innovative, which means you will have an opportunity to develop it in a way that you feel is right. Indeed, there are almost constant new breakthroughs.
- The current psychological workforce is retiring and has, for a great deal, not been able to keep up with new statistical measurement options. As a result, there is a high demand for newly qualified quantitative psychologists.
As a quantitative psychologist, you can work in almost all areas of psychology. These include:
- Private practices where you can develop and perform your own research.
- Consultancy services, helping others in their research.
- Faculty members at top universities, helping to train the next generation of psychologists.
- Government agencies, driving policy change, evaluating how well programs are working, measuring employee skills and more.
- Private research firms.
- Working within companies in recruitment, retention, identifying the bottom line and more.
A number of companies in particular are very interesting for those who wish to work in the private sector. These include:
- College Board
There are various degrees to pursue if you wish to become a quantitative psychologist. Preference is generally given to those with an advanced degree in statistics or psychological measurement. However, if you have a particular interest in a different field of psychology and you have taken advanced classes in statistics and measurements, you are also on the right track. It is advised to have a very good relationship with faculty mentors and advisers in order to identify the classes that are most suitable to your specific needs and interests. You may also want to consider taking additional classes in linear algebra, calculus and statistics.
Before you can get to that point, however, you will need to complete a four year bachelor’s degree, preferably in psychology, although sociology or statistics may also be of interest. Following this, you will need to study at graduate level, where leaning as much as possible towards quantitative psychology is recommended, although some choose a mathematics degree instead. Finally, you will need to obtain a doctorate degree.
The vast majority of quantitative psychologists will have completed a Ph.D. at doctoral level. This will take around five years to complete and will require an original research thesis that contributes to the development of this field. The reason why the Ph.D. is more popular is because it is a heavily research-related program. The other option would be to complete a Psy.D., but this is more involved with clinical applications. Either program should be accredited by the APA.
It is recommended that doctoral students gain as much experience as possible in a data-intensive field. They should be able to demonstrate that they are capable of conceptualizing a specific research problem and develop methods of resolving this issue using data. Additionally, they should take part in as many quantitative workshops as possible. In order to be able to practice as a psychologist, students must also complete supervised professional experience in almost all states. Generally, this is a two year period, one year of which can be completed during the degree program. Ensuring that this focuses on statistics and research methods is highly beneficial.
Once graduated and once the supervised professional experience has been completed, prospective psychologists must complete the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) administered Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This is a nationally standardized test that focuses on the eight core areas of psychology. Students need to answer 225 multiple choice questions, for which they are given 3 hours and 20 minutes. They must answer at least 70% correctly in order to be awarded a pass rate. The current cost of the test, subject to change, is $600.
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to becoming a quantitative psychologist. In terms of the advantages:
- There is a huge demand for these type of specialists, as mathematical and statistical expertise is needed across the board.
- Being a quantitative psychologists generally earns you instant respect, as you are able to assist in all fields of psychological research, helping to analyze data and measurements.
- There are only very few quantitative psychologists in the field at present, which means that finding a job should be reasonably easy.
However, there are also some disadvantages, such as:
- Facing very heavy workloads.
- Finding it difficult to create a balance between doing your own research and helping others with analyzing the data of their own research.
- A lengthy, and costly, educational process.
There are many things that you can do as a quantitative psychologist, and many places where you can work. However, most commonly, you will:
- Design and develop tests that are used within personnel selection, education and psychological assessment.
- Developing professional certifications, college admission procedures and recruitment policies.
- Conducting private research in any area that you are interested in.
- Helping other researchers to design various experiments and ensure they are able to interpret results.
- Being a faculty member, teaching other prospective psychologists.
- Working for medical centers, private research companies, testing companies and government agencies as a researcher
- The University of Oklahoma, which offers up to $500 per year to psychology students.
- Illinois State University, which offers a range of grant and scholarships to psychology students.
- The Martha Bernal Memorial Award, for dissertation projects in psychology in a non-social area.
- Martha E. Bernal Graduate Scholarship, offered to students of high academic standing.
- FIRST Scholarship, offered by Tulane University based on merit.
- Environment and Society, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Computational Cognitive Science, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Probability and Casuality in Human Cognition, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Noninvasive Imaging in Biology and Medicine, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Statistical Learning Theory and Applications, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Science Magazine, focusing on new research in a range of disciplines.
- Science Friday, hosted by Ira Flatow from NPR, discussing the science that underpins the headlines of the past weeks.
- Quantitative Research in Psychology by Jeremy Miles.
- Quantitative Psychological Research: A Student’s Handbook by David Clark-Carter.
- New Developments in Quantitative Psychology Presentations from the 77th Annual Psychometric Society Meeting.
- The SAGE Handbook of Quantitative Methods in Psychology by Roger E Millsap and Alberto Maydeu-Olivares.
- An introduction to quantitative psychology by J. Wiley & Sons Australasia.
- Quantitative Models in Psychology by Robert E. McGrath.
- Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, articles by a variety of experts.
- Psychometrika Book Reviews, reviews of a variety of books on psychometric measurements.
- The Oxford Handbook of Quantitative Methods in Psychology, Vol. 1 by Todd D. Little.
- Quantitative psychology by Jan Drosler.