Engineering Psychology Career Overview

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Engineering psychology is an applied subfield that focuses on improving and adapting technology, equipment, and work environments to enhance human behavior and capabilities. It is highly related to the field of ergonomics, which is the science of arranging and designing things so that people can use them safely and efficiently.

Engineering psychologists are interested in understanding the capabilities and limitations of human behavior and developing and adjusting systems to maximize these abilities and prevent errors. They often help design products, workspaces, and human-machine interactions to make them more user-friendly.

Origins

The field originated as an area within experimental psychology that grew increasingly important during World Wars I and II. Early military applications of this field focused on building weapons designed to minimize human errors and increase accuracy.

Today, the field is growing significantly as people spend more and more time interacting and utilizing technology and equipment in their daily and work lives.

Overview

Engineering psychologists utilize psychological principles to solve real-world problems.

People who work in this profession are able to help improve, and sometimes even save, human lives. By minimizing the risks of accidents and errors, engineering psychologists can make products, systems, and workplaces safer.

These professionals can specialize in a number of different areas such as:

  • Human-computer interaction
  • Aerospace
  • Usability
  • Human performance
  • Education and training
  • Virtual reality
  • Healthcare systems and technology
  • Product design
  • Workplace safety
  • Environmental safety
  • Egonomics

Engineering psychologists are able to make the technology we use every day more reliable, useful, and safe. Some examples of products that they might work to design or improve include GPS systems, mobile phones, medical equipment, military equipment, aviation technology, traffic systems, and motor vehicles.

Tasks

Some tasks that an engineering psychologist might perform in this line of work include:

  • Analyzing how people interact and use equipment and technology
  • Exploring ways to make technology more accessible to people with disabilities
  • Explaining workplace accidents and searching for ways to prevent such things from happening again in the future
  • Implementing user feedback into future iterations of product designs
  • Surveying populations to learn more about user needs or to discover which products appeal to specific demographics
  • Creating safe products and designs intended to minimize human errors
  • Designing medical equipment to minimize the risks of medical mistakes

Where They Work

Engineering psychologists are employed in a range of different areas. The private sector, such as businesses and corporations, is the largest area of employment. Other employers might include colleges, universities and government agencies.

Training and Educational Requirements

The training and education needed to become an engineering psychologist can vary depending upon the specialty area in which you choose to work. Just a few of the main specialty areas include human factors, ergonomics, usability engineering, and human-computer interaction.

A master's degree in a related field is generally considered the minimum needed for entry into the field, although opportunities and pay are often much higher for those with doctorate degrees.

A number of universities offer graduate programs specifically in engineering psychology. Such programs include coursework in areas such as cognition, engineering, perception, statistics, research methods, and learning.

Those who work in the field typically earn a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in engineering psychology, a Ph.D. in engineering psychology, or a Ph.D. in human factors psychology.

Salary

Like most careers, salaries vary considerably depending upon factors such as the degree held, years of experience and the area of employment. Starting salaries range between $48,000 and $75,367. At the doctorate-level, salaries range between $92,000 and $111,000.

Doctoral-level engineering psychologists employed as private consultants report the highest earnings, with an average of $179,160 per year.

The most recently available salary report by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) reported the following average yearly salaries for doctoral-level engineering psychologists:

  • Those working in the for-profit private sector – $111,368
  • Those employed by government agencies – $107,314
  • Those working in academic settings – $92,614

For master's level engineering psychologists, the HFES reported the following average annual salaries:

  • Those employed in business settings – $90,164
  • Those working in government settings – $90,500
  • Those employed by colleges or universities – $75,150

Job Outlook

Since the majority of engineering psychologists are employed in the private sector, the performance and growth rate of companies has a strong influence on job growth and demand in this field.

As corporations become increasingly aware of the valuable role that engineering psychologists can play in the design and development process, the demand for qualified professionals continues to grow.

The American Psychological Association identifies engineering psychology as a post-grad growth area. The APA suggests that this is a rapidly growing area with a lot of potential opportunities to study and work with the interaction between humans, tasks, machines, and environments.

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