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Experimental psychologists aren't interested in seeing patients in a clinical setting. Instead, they focus on studying people's thoughts, feelings and ways of looking at the world in an attempt to predict human behavior. Experimental psychologists typically work in universities, combining their research work with teaching. However, they are also employed at private companies, by nonprofit organizations and in the government.
After an exhaustive review of the literature, an experimental psychologist develops a hypothesis. Then she gathers data to test the hypothesis. For example, a psychologist may decide to explore whether women exposed to workplace violence become depressed. She would survey women in the workplace, asking them whether they have been the victim of violence and administering a standard psychological test of depression. The psychologist would compare results to see whether those exposed to violence were more depressed than those who weren't exposed to violence. An experimental psychologist must control statistically for a multitude of variables for experiments to have validity. While many experimental psychologists work exclusively with human beings, some do research on animals, such as monkeys, to test a hypothesis that they cannot ethically test on human beings.
Working as an experimental psychologist generally requires a Ph.D. in psychology from an accredited university. Obtaining a doctoral degree takes about seven years of study during which you'll learn about basic psychological tenets, as well as advanced statistical analysis techniques. You'll specialize within the field in an area that interests you, and complete an original dissertation that is reviewed by a committee of professors. After you are awarded your doctorate, you may complete a paid post-doctoral internship, conducting more research to add to your skills, knowledge and abilities.
Experimental psychologists must not only be able to conduct original research, they must have their research accepted for publication in prestigious peer-review journals. Because of this requirement, they must be able to write well and with authority. Experimental psychologists must also present papers to colleagues during conferences, which requires strong communication and public speaking abilities. Part of their duties is also to teach graduate and undergraduate students, which requires the ability to translate technical terms into layman's language that a student can understand.
While choosing a career as an experimental psychologist has many intrinsic rewards -- such as personal achievement and peer recognition -- this occupation does not necessarily offer a large monetary reward. Those who work for universities as researchers and teachers earned a median salary of $62,050 a year in 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports of wages for post-secondary school teachers. The median annual wage for psychologists of all types in 2010 ranged from $68,640 a year to $89,900, according to the BLS.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.