Engineering Psychology Degrees


Have you ever considered how intuitive it is for you to use a computer? When you’re driving in your car, do you realize that most controls, buttons, and dials are perfectly within comfortable reach? What about your mobile phone? When you turn it on, have you noticed how the interface works? How features and functions to operate the phone or change its appearance and capabilities are conveniently grouped together?

The chances are pretty good that you don’t realize how easy something is to use, simply because it’s so simple. Only when it’s difficult to complete a task with a piece of technology does it become frustratingly apparent.

It’s the job of engineering psychologists to ensure that you have a productive, comfortable experience with machines and technology such that you don’t even notice how easy it is to use a TV, phone, computer, car, and the like. It’s a field that incorporates many disciplines – engineering and psychology chief among them – but also research methods, design, mathematics, and analytics.

In today’s modern, highly technological world, engineering psychologists play an increasingly important role in helping people be more efficient in the tasks they complete by designing better technology. This is achieved by applying their understanding of human thoughts and behaviors to developing tools, technologies, and systems that enhance our personal lives and make our working lives more productive.

Engineering psychologists develop their knowledge and skills throughout their educational careers, which span undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies. And though there are many years required to complete these degrees, upon completion, engineering psychologists enjoy many different opportunities for employment, from the private sector to academia to positions with government agencies.

What is an Engineering Psychology Degree?

To begin studies in engineering psychology, one must complete a master’s degree or a doctoral degree program. But before students can be admitted to these programs, they must first complete a bachelor’s degree. Students can pursue any number of bachelor’s degree programs to prepare for advanced studies in engineering psychology. Among the most popular are psychology, engineering, product design, and computer programming.

Though these areas are quite different regarding the subject under study, what is common between them is that they require students to complete roughly 120 credits, which typically takes four years to complete. Additionally, to be admitted to a bachelor’s degree program, students must prove that they’ve completed high school and hold a high school diploma or that they got their equivalency and hold a GED.

At the master’s degree level, engineering psychology students must complete anywhere from 30-60 credit hours of studies, which include both classroom-based and field-based learning. Typical master’s courses in this field include:

  • Human cognition, which is the study of how people think and how their thoughts impact their behavior.
  • Human development, which includes studies of how humans grow and change over the course of their lives, from birth to death.
  • The psychology of learning, which is concerned with understanding the different means by which humans learn as well as how different people are better suited to different types of learning strategies.
  • Research methods and statistics, such that students develop the requisite analytical skills that are required for conducting research, identifying problems, and devising solutions.

Graduate students in engineering psychology are often encouraged to take courses outside the realm of psychology as well, perhaps including a work placement or internship in their field of interest. For example, a student that wishes to apply their learning to the field of nuclear power might take an internship position at a nuclear power plant to research how to improve how plant workers interact with the machinery and technological systems that control the plant’s functioning.

Though admissions requirements to graduate programs in engineering psychology vary somewhat, students can expect that they must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

Students that wish to continue their studies in a doctoral program in engineering psychology can expect to spend an additional 3-5 years developing even more advanced knowledge and skills.

Admission to doctoral programs usually requires completion of a master’s program and evidence of practical skills development, such as in an internship as discussed above. Often, doctoral programs require students to submit multiple letters of recommendation from graduate-level faculty members as well.

Once admitted to a doctoral program, students can expect to tackle coursework in the following areas:

  • Experimental psychology, in which students develop research questions, carry out research, and draw conclusions based upon their research.
  • Human factors psychology, in which students explore the interrelationship between human abilities and how to design technologies and systems that enhance those abilities.
  • Perception and cognition, which involves the study of how humans sense the world around them and how human thought processes work in various situations.
  • Systems design, in which students utilize their knowledge and skills to create environments, technologies, and systems that reduce human limitations and enhance human abilities.

What is an Online Engineering Psychology Degree?

As institutions of higher learning have embraced the internet, they have more frequently offered programs of study for students online. This includes a number of online programs in engineering psychology.

The advantage of an online program in this field is that students are typically able to study according to a much more flexible schedule. That is, instead of having to commute to campus and attend class at a specific time on specific days, students can work more independently and do so according to a schedule that works better for their situation.

Many colleges and universities have developed robust online learning platforms that assist online students in developing the knowledge and skills they need for success. This includes live chat capabilities, video chat capabilities, message boards, and interactive portals in which students and professors can interact. It is in these online environments in which students tackle the same type of studies that are outlined above – cognition, human development, sensation and perception, systems design, and the like.

What Does it Take to Get a Degree in Engineering Psychology?

Students that wish to successfully complete a degree program in engineering psychology need to have a variety of personal traits and skills, including:

  • Observational skills, which allows students to effectively conduct research and develop an understanding of how people interact with technology and technological systems.
  • Analytical skills, which allows students to dig deeper into the information they observe and draw evidence-based conclusions from their analyses.
  • Problem-solving skills, which are needed to facilitate research, product design, product evaluation, and developing solutions for issues that arise.
  • Patience, not just for the long road that’s required to obtain a degree in this field, but also for the sometimes-tedious work of research and evaluation to solve problems related to human use of technology.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Engineering Psychology?

Engineering psychologists enjoy many different opportunities to work in their chosen field. For example, some engineering psychologists choose to work in academia, where they teach coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels, oversee research, and write articles for publication in industry journals. Typically, engineering psychologists that pursue this type of work do so after working in the private sector to gain some real-world experience.

Other engineering psychologists work for government institutions. The U.S. Department of Transportation, NASA, and the Federal Highway administration all employ engineering psychologists to improve the manner in which humans interact with technology and human made systems. For example, NASA might hire an engineering psychologist to help them develop the cockpit layout of a space vehicle such that it increases safety for the vehicle’s occupants and improves their experience working with the vehicle’s controls.

Many engineering psychologists work in the private sector as well. In this capacity, engineering psychologists often work as part of a team of designers to create everything from mobile phones to home appliances. Again, not only are engineering psychologists involved in helping create products that are functional and ergonomic, but they also provide input regarding safety issues and ways that products can be designed to enhance the user’s experience.

Engineering psychologists also advise car companies, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and NASA. In addition, they consult with architects and designers of consumer products like telephones, cameras and home appliances.

What Degrees are Similar to Engineering Psychology?

Since it’s within the discipline of psychology, there are a number of related disciplines that students can pursue:

Psychology – Programs in have a focus on human behavior and developing an understanding of why individuals behave the way that they do. Rather than focusing on the interaction between humans and technology, as an engineering psychology program would do, a general psychology program would include coursework in the history and systems of psychology, and experimental psychology psychological statistics, as well as gaining practical experience in working with clients in a clinical setting.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology – Students that pursue a degree in industrial-organizational psychology learn how to address the issues of human behavior as they pertain to the working environment. This means applying their psychology learning to resolve problems related to on-the-job performance, evaluating employees, motivating employees, organizing an effective structure of work, and so forth. Organizational development and career development are two further areas of study in industrial-organizational programs that carry a lot of weight.

Health and Safety Engineering – Like engineering psychologists, health and safety engineers focus on using technology to help improve the quality of life of people. Specifically, students in health and safety engineering programs learn how review specifications for equipment such that they are safe for human use. Furthermore, students acquire the skills needed to identify potential hazards and issue correctives for those potential hazards. Health and safety engineering students also work to make everything from buildings and technology to chemicals and furniture safe for human use.

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