Choosing a registration category in the field of psychology can be a daunting task, especially given the various registration options available. Further, students do not always have sufficient information about what research psychology involves and what kinds of career opportunities are available. The lack of information may account for the low number of individuals registered with the HPCSA in the category of research psychology. It is, therefore, imperative that students are equipped with sufficient and useful knowledge about what being a research psychologist entails, along with the various career options available. Since research is integral to all professions linked to the field of psychology, it is important to highlight some of the reasons people choose to pursue careers in research psychology. Reasons for choosing research psychology were investigated by Rascher (2016) who identified the paths of research psychologists post-graduation. In her study, she identified 12 primary reasons why people applied for to a research psychology master’s programme (see Figure 1) as well as what kinds of work these individuals went on to pursue (see Figure 2).
Figure 1. Reasons why graduated research psychologists initially chose to do a research psychology degree.
Figure 2. Common types of research careers that people pursue post research psychology masters programmes
Results from Rascher’s (2016) study suggest that having an interest and passion for research is a major motivator in the pursuit of a career in research psychology, and most people in research psychology end up in the health, social or marketing research sectors. This career offers numerous opportunities for individuals interested in the application of research in the field of psychology.
The DRM strongly promotes research in the field of psychology as a profession due to the scope of application and positive impact that research can offer. Accordingly, we asked individuals currently working in the research psychology field to provide a brief description of why they chose to pursue a career in research psychology. The responses highlight both the personal significance as well as the broader benefit to the greater South African population:
I studied Psychology and Languages, then did my Honours in Psychology, and then applied for a Masters in Counselling Psychology…I realised that research psychology would be the perfect way to live out my passion for psychology without actually practising the theory on people (in therapy). I absolutely love psychology – it is the only subject field that truly interests me to the point where I am excited every time I learn something new or engage with people on some psychological topic…Research psychology further aligns so exactly with my skills and interests…I am analytical and questioning, enjoy reading and discovering new things, love writing and using language to express ideas and concepts, and could be interested in and excited about almost any topic in the field. I also appreciate and value the scientific process behind conducting research, and get an enormous kick out of producing a quality end-product for the public to read. This is why I believe I am very well suited for this profession, and that I am in the right career. I also plan to register as a research psychologist at the HPCSA after my internship.
– Intern Research Psychologist
Personally, the decision to pursue psychological research stemmed largely from the flexibility inherent in this field. Although the counselling and clinical programmes undoubtedly add value and provide much insight in the South African context, their restricted field, in terms of research, persuaded me to explore alternative paths. In addition, the compulsory registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) deterred me from these other routes. Initially my research efforts were concentrated on traditional and cyberbullying, nowadays the focus has shifted to student retention in Open, Distance Learning (ODL). Albeit brief, my research journey thus far has been dynamic and exciting, with many opportunities to engage with diverse research projects on varying topics.
– Psychological Researcher
I am registered in the Research Psychology category. Being registered benefits my research as some institutions require that researchers have HPSCA practitioner numbers. This is especially important given that I regularly conduct research in the Department of Correctional Centres, which is a government organisation. Being registered also allows me to supervise research psychology interns which especially benefits interns that have constructed their own internships at non-accredited sites.
– Research Psychologist
I specifically have a passion for youth development studies, student success, and career development. Research psychology has allowed me to better understand how students think, feel, and act in certain ways; which allows impact on the individual and society. In addition conducting research in the field of career psychology has opened up opportunities to further understand how intimate relationships, development, schools, family, peers, and religion affect us as individuals and as a society. Most importantly the chance to develop effective interventions to facilitate, support, career decision making in schools and tertiary education to ultimately improve the quality of education and help young people have successful careers. – Psychological Researcher
I am a registered research psychologist. I chose to register for professional body membership and to allow flexibility to work across multiple disciplines e.g. industry, academia, clinical trials.
– Research Psychologist
From the reflections above, one of the main draws to research as a specialisation is the flexibility of the field. The reflections show a wide array of applications and interests with specialised research methods at the core. The implication here is that while research skills are transferable across an array of industries, interest areas, community settings, and individual passions, it remains important to have a clear idea of where you want to apply your skills. Therefore it is essential to take some time to explore the various interest areas in psychology and find where your interest and passion lies.
Rascher, C. L. (2016). After the degree: Research psychology in the ‘real world’ (Unpublished masters dissertation). University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.