Engineering Psychology Careers

What Is Engineering Psychology?

Engineering psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the relationship between humans and the products that we use everyday. Specialists in this field concentrate on exploring the relationships between man and machine, so to speak. They study how we interact with, perceive, and are influenced by everyday products and technologies. Engineering psychologists also play a role in making certain products easier to use and safer.

The history of engineering psychology began in the 1940’s, during World War II. The weapons used during this war were somewhat advanced for their time, but they were still not without error. For instance, weapon and equipment malfunction was not uncommon, and these malfunctions often led to costly mistakes. The main reason for the majority of these errors was traced to human error. It was found that the machines and other technologies of the time were not built with the needs and abilities of the users at the time, and they were very difficult to use. To correct this problem, psychologists were brought in to help engineers create more user friendly designs.

Why Do We Need Engineering Psychologists?

Today, with the boom of the technological industry and consumerism, the field of engineering psychology has exploded. We are surrounded by machines, computers, and software, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Consumers and businesses are now calling for technological devices and software that is safe and easy to use. Engineering psychologists are necessary, because they have a hand in making these products more user-friendly, more efficient, and easier to use. Read more on the employment opportunities for engineering psychology.

What Do Engineering Psychologists Do?

Engineering psychologists typically perform research and work as consultants in fields such as engineering, product design, and software development.

One of the main duties of engineering psychologists is to perform research on what consumers want and need when it comes to their products. Psychologists might do this by creating focus groups, test panels, and consumer surveys. In doing so, engineering psychologists are often able to study how people interact with products and spot potential problems, such as safety issues or difficult to use features. By consulting with engineers and developers, engineering psychologists can help create products that are less likely to result in problems due to human error.

Demographics and user abilities are also a big part of engineering psychology. For example, engineering psychologists are often asked to research which types of people are more likely to buy certain products, based on looks and functionality. They might also be asked to help change a product so that consumers find it easier to use or more appealing.

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What Are the Education Requirements to Become an Engineering Psychologist?

Below is the complete educational path for the Psychologists:
Psychologist Educational Track
School Programs Average Education Length Choosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree View Programs 4 Years Online or Campus
2. Earn A Master's Degree View Programs 2 Additional Years Online or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyD View Programs 2-4 Additional Years Online or Campus

Most engineering psychologists start their journeys with four-year bachelor’s degrees in general psychology. Generally, though, the majority of the engineering psychology positions are filled with individuals that hold graduate degrees in this area. Before you enroll in an environmental psychology degree program, however, you should check to ensure that it’s accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society.

Courses that you may take while working toward your engineering psychology degree often include general psychology, human factors psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, ergonomics, bio-mechanics, human-computer interaction, and statistics.

If you are looking into becoming a engineering psychologist, start by reading more about engineering psychology degrees.

Where Do Engineering Psychologists Work?

As an engineering psychologist, you will most likely find positions open in a number of different fields. Engineering psychologists work in areas such as software development, computer science, engineering, and aviation. Because an the ease of use of medical equipment can often make the difference between life and death, engineering psychologist positions are also quite common in the medical field.

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Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Engineering Psychologists

Using their training and knowledge to improve the way people interact with machines and other technology, engineering psychologists put their understanding of the human mind and behavior to good use to influence the engineering designs of various products and devices. The work they do plays an important role in the improvement of technology and consumer products, as well as job settings and residential environments. Most engineering psychologists find employment in the private sector, but as technology becomes a more significant part of everyday life, the need for these types of psychologists will continue to increase in other areas.

What Type of Positions Can an Engineering Psychologist Hold?

Professionals who enter this career field typically undergo a certain amount of training that combines both engineering and psychology, including coursework that concentrates on how to integrate the two disciplines. Because of this, engineering psychologists can find work related to nearly any engineering- and industrial-related profession that includes a wide range of fields, such as medical, aviation, the government, and even the computer software industry.

Learn more about how to become an engineering psychologist.

Jobs Settings That Provide Positions for Engineering Psychologists

Industry Setting: Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D., who is a professor at the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Psychology, says engineering psychologists work in industry settings where they concentrate on "formative and summative evaluations of new products and systems." She says they hold job titles, such as User Experience Researcher, Usability Testing Manager, and User Experience Architect.

Government Setting: Employed ingovernment settings (such as the Department of Defense), engineering psychologists may assume the role of a 'human factors specialist.' Job positions are found in various government offices, such as the Department of Transportation, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Association, NASA, and all branches of the military.

Business-Related Setting: Engineering psychologists are hired to consult with architects and designers regarding consumer products, such as GPS systems, telephones, cameras, and home appliances.

Medical-Related Setting: Working towards minimizing the risks of accidents and errors regarding medical technology, engineering psychologists help save lives by making medical products, medical equipment, and hospitals safer.

Aviation-Related Setting: Engineering psychologists complete research and projects that help improve aviation technology, such as air traffic control equipment and making a new piece of airplane equipment easier for a pilot to learn and use.

College and University Setting: In academia, those with a doctorate degree often assume the role of professor, and teach courses, including those that deal with "applied cognitive' or 'applied experimental psychology.' According to Rogers, some graduates also find work outside of psychology departments, and may teach courses in computer science, information systems, and industrial engineering. Some academia-related professionals may assume the role of researcher within an institution of higher education – conducting experiments and working towards advancing the overall understanding of the field.

"…jobs are available in all sectors including information/communication technology, education, health, transportation, etc."   

- Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D.

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Ways for Engineering Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

According to Rogers, "developing the tools of the trade" helps mold a more desirable job candidate for an engineering psychologist position – one who is able to fulfill the attributes that an employer typically looks for in an employee, such as:

  • demonstrating the ability to do task analysis and heuristic analysis
  • developing function flow diagrams
  • conducting strong research
  • clear communication skills regarding statistical knowledge
  • working on interdisciplinary teams
  • communicating well with designers and programmers
  • possessing excellent writing and presentation skills

Featured psychology degree programs someone interested in engineering psychology may consider:

Before an interview with a potential employer, James P. Bliss, Ph.D., who is a professor and Chair of Old Dominion University's Department of Psychology suggests conducting in-depth research regarding the target job and organization to appear well-informed.

Internships also provide students with experience that enhances their desirability, and strengthens a student's understanding of the field. Since there is an increasing demand for engineering psychologists, some students have received job offers while still on an internship.

Engineering TrainingActively seeking additional training and credentials not only increases a psychologist's abilities and knowledge, but also helps build a more impressive resume. Professionals who specialize in a number of different areas also increase their chances of appealing to a broader range of potential employers. A few specialties to consider include human performance, health care systems and technology, product design, workplace safety, environmental safety, and ergonomics.

"Enhance your resume by acquiring marketable skills such as programming, usability testing, experimental design, statistics, and technical writing"

James P. Bliss, Ph.D.

Ways for an Engineering Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary

An established engineering psychologist often experiences an increase in salary that comes after accumulating years of experience under his or her belt. They can also increase their income by shifting to another employment setting. For example, those who work in an academic setting generally earn a lower salary than someone employed within the private sector.

While a master's degree in engineering psychology (or a related field) is generally the minimum requirement for entering this career field, the pay is often much higher for professionals who possess a doctorate degree. Therefore, pursuing a Ph.D. and/or specialization within the field can have a positive effect on a professional's earning potential.

"Proving one's worth is always critical for professional development and advancement.  Be willing to make recommendations, based on literature, your own experience, and targeted research studies.  Communicate clearly and be able to tailor your communications to the target audience - user, customer, marketer, manager, etc." –

- Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D.

"Salaries in this field are generally competitive.  However, you can make yourself marketable by increasing your skill set.  Also, don't be afraid to leverage competing offers."

– James P. Bliss, Ph.D. 

Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Engineering Psychology

Attending a conference is one of the best ways that an engineering psychologist can interact with professionals in their field, as well as to learn and discuss guidelines, practical and actionable methods, and best practices related to engineering psychology.

According to a handful of engineering psychologists, the primary conference to attend concerning the field is the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society International Conference, which is held every fall. In addition to accommodating seasoned professionals, the conference also offers networking opportunities that target students and recent graduates.

Social media and online interaction is also becoming an increasingly popular method of communication and networking for engineering psychology professionals. According to Bliss, "LinkedIn is quickly becoming a great resource for making connections."

Organizations that provide additional networking opportunities for engineering psychologists include:

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)
  • American Society of Safety Engineers
  • International Civil Aviation Organization
  • Institute of Industrial Engineers
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association

"There are also more specialized conferences such as HFES-Health, Human-Computer Interaction (CHI), Transportation Research, Human-Robot Interaction, and many more."

Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D. 

"For international connections, the International Ergonomics Association hosts a triennial conference..."

James P. Bliss, Ph.D.

Continuing Education (CE) Sources

In addition to offering state-approved CE programs for psychologists, the APA provides continuing education programs that cater to the needs of engineering psychologists. Some of the ways that professionals can develop their career include earning CE credits in topics such as An Introduction to Statistical Moderation; Confidence Intervals and The New Statistics; and The New Statistics Part 1: Rationale, Effect Sizes, and Confidence Intervals.

Read engineering psychology expert Dr. Neville Stanton's career interview for further insights.

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