Jeb Bush Thinks You Shouldn’t Major in Psychology. Is He Right?

During a recent campaign event in South Carolina, Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush took a shot at psychology majors, suggesting most will not go on to find good jobs after graduating.

“Universities ought to have skin in the game,” the former Florida governor said at a South Carolina town hall with Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy. “When a student shows up, they ought to say ‘Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working a Chick-fil-A.'”

Not surprisingly, Bush’s remarks were widely condemned by those in the psychological community. And many took to social media using the hashtag #thispsychmajor to showcase their professional accomplishments and to discuss the importance of psychology to everyday life.

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Psychology’s Employment Problem Crosses Gender Lines

In my last post, I tried to better understand the employment prospects for PhD recipients in psychology by taking a look at 20 years’ worth of data from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Survey of Doctorate Recipients. What I found should be concerning to professional psychologists and students of psychology alike.

Although the NSF data show that very few psychologists are actually unemployed (<2%), fewer PhD recipients are employed full-time in psychology than in any other field of science. Moreover, the gap in full-time employment between psychology and other sciences has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years. As of 2013, only 73% of PhD recipients in psychology were employed full-time, whereas 26% were employed primarily part-time. In contrast, 85% of PhD recipients in psychology were employed full-time in 1993, and only 13% were employed primarily part-time.

So it seems psychology in the midst of an employment slump. Or is it?

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Is Psychology on the Verge of an Employment Crisis?

This is part 1 of a 2 part series focusing on employment outcomes for PhD recipients in psychology. Click here to read part 2.

The field of psychology has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative press lately.

Earlier this year it was revealed that, during the years following 9/11, the American Psychological Association (APA) colluded with officials from the Defense Department and the CIA to facilitate the torture of detainees.

Then just last month, a new report was published suggesting most psychological research cannot be replicated.

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Where are the Best (and Worst) Places in the Country to be a Psychology Professor?

Imagine what life as an academic would be like if you actually got to choose what part of the country you live in. That is instead of letting such an important decision rest solely on where you happen to land a tenure-track faculty position (if you happen to land a tenure-track faculty position).

After exploring salaries for various academic disciplines in my last post, I decided to dig a little deeper in this post and investigate which regions of the country offer the highest (and lowest) median salaries for psychology professors. You know, just in case you’ve been itching to uproot your life and say, “to hell with tenure.”

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What is the Average Salary for a Psychology Professor?

In my last post, I tried to gauge the state of the academic job market in psychology by comparing the number of new doctoral graduates each year with the number of new tenure-track faculty positions that become available each year (or at least the number of positions posted to the psych jobs wiki each year).

Based on yearly comparisons going back to 2007, I estimated that the chances of securing a tenure-track faculty position right out of graduate school are quite low, possibly as low as 18% [1].

In this post, I want to address another important question that anyone on the academic job market should consider:

If you are fortunate enough to actually land a tenure-track position in psychology, what can you expect to be paid? And how will your salary as a psychology professor compare to the salaries of professors in other fields?

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What are the Chances of Becoming a Psychology Professor?

In a recent follow-up to this post, I estimate the chances of landing an academic job in Psychology based on 21 years’ worth of data from the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates. Check it out here.

In my last post, I presented some data from the U.S. Department of Education on the number of people that graduate each year with a doctoral degree in various areas of psychology. And as we saw, most areas of psychology have undergone considerable growth in the last decade, graduating on average 39.82% more doctoral students in 2013 than in 2003.

In this post, I’m going to delve deeper into the current state of the field by taking a look at the availability of jobs in psychology – specifically, tenure-track faculty positions at colleges and universities.

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What are the most popular areas in Psychology?

Psychology is a diverse field with many areas of specialization. As such, there is no simple answer to the question of what a psychologist does. The answer inevitably depends on the type of psychologist you’re talking about.

Some psychologists treat patients who struggle with mental illness, some work at colleges and universities where they teach and carry out scientific research, and still others work in schools and private businesses providing consultation and assessment.

If you’ve ever considered pursing an education in psychology, then you’ve no doubt spent some time trying to figure out which specific area of the field would be best for you. If you always saw yourself as a clinician working with patients in a private practice, then you should certainly opt for Clinical Psychology. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to work with children and at risk-teens, then perhaps Developmental and Child Psychology would be most appropriate. And if you’re interested in human biology, physiology, and the brain, then you’d do right to steer toward either Cognitive Psychology or Physiological Psychology/Biopsychology.

Aside from simply thinking about what topics interest you most, however, another important thing to consider is which areas of psychology are gaining and losing popularity. After all, changes in the popularity of a field could reflect changes in society’s demand for a specific set of skills, which would obviously translate into greater or lesser chances of finding a job following graduation.

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