Engineering Psychologist Careers

The Basics

People are surrounded by technology. Most daily routines are saturated with contact with machinery. It may not be apparent to most people because they have grown accustomed to interacting with machines, but the extent to which technology has lodged itself into modern, industrial nations is bewildering. Even the way they wake up in the morning is regulated by machines – after all, most people rely on alarm clocks to ensure they arrive on time wherever they need to be.

Throughout the day, people use all kinds of computers and appliances. Almost all places of business rely on technology to some extent. With how pervasive and ubiquitous contact with technology has become, the task of making sure that this type of interaction is safe, intuitive, and innocuous is one that is in constant need. This is what engineering psychologists do.

What is an Engineering Psychologist?

Engineering psychologists are professionals that use psychological theories and principles of human behavior and capability to consider how people interact with technology. They explore the relationship between people and devices or systems. In doing so, engineering psychologists can provide guidance and insight into design to make them more user-friendly. They study this relationship by considering aspects such as how people perceive or are influenced by technologies as well as how they interact with them.

Often found within government and industries such as software creation and manufacturing, engineering psychologists also aims to make work places safer and more streamlined by advising on areas of potential difficulties of interaction between staff and technology. They achieve this by analyzing the needs and limitations of system users through techniques such as focus groups and testing panels. Once completed, they use their findings to guide design or adaptation of products to best compliment these areas. They aim to provide the most efficient and effective solution. Individuals with this specialty can be working in research as well as in product or system design.

What Does an Engineering Psychologist Do?

Engineering psychology is a field that combines the study of human behavior an ergonomics, or people’s efficiency at work. The simplest way to understand what engineering psychologists do is to imagine them making things more user-friendly. That is, taking something, in this case, technology of some kind, and making it safer, easier, and more natural for people to use.

Engineering consultants are often called upon when new products are being designed for use by large amounts of people. For example, a car manufacturer might want to ensure that their newest design is safe and easy to grasp for new users. This company could assign engineering psychologists to record and analyze how people interact with machinery. A concern could be, for instance, that a large number of people did not find the lever to open up the cover of the gas tank. After discovering this flaw, engineering psychologists would need to look at the layout of the dashboard on the car and figure out where they could relocate the lever. They would then have to talk to the engineers working on the dashboard to figure out what locations for the lever are both possible from an engineering perspective and easy to find and use for most consumers.

While studying how drivers and passengers behaved inside the car, the engineering psychologists could also discover that the way people were using the cup holders and the storage in the center console was very awkward. The people fumbled around a lot and dropped many things between the seats. They would often have to fetch things that had fallen this way. Fallen items sometimes even made their way to where the driver’s pedals were. This could obviously be highly dangerous as a fallen item could potentially prevent a driver from pushing down on the breaks and thus cause an accident. As a result, the engineering psychologists would need to draft potential solutions to the layout of the seats, the cup holders, and the center console.

That same company could also be concerned that their designs are not suited for people that do not have average body types or have certain disabilities. Upon investigating the layout of the car, engineering psychologists could discover that the way the driver’s seat could be adjusted was too limited for people below the height of 5 feet to use comfortably. If the company wanted to keep their car appealing to shorter people, they would need to alter the ways in which the driver’s seat could be adjusted.

This company could also be interested in something other than their product. Perhaps a manufacturing plant was producing fewer cars per month than other similar ones and the company wanted to increase the efficiency of the plant. Engineering psychologists could then be tasked to set up ways to observe employees, the machinery, the moving of raw materials and finished products, and other such things. While investigating the plant, the engineering psychologists could discover that layout of the floor space in the plant had the unfortunate consequence of forcing employees to often work in loud environments. This often complicated communications between employees and caused delays.

The locations of the machinery also complicated moving around the plant. As a result, employees would frequently have to walk long distances around the machines even though the places they wanted to reach were relatively close to them. In an effort to improve the efficiency of this plant, the engineering psychologists would then suggest alternative layouts to the machinery. They would also have to calculate both how much money the plant would lose as the machines would be shut down and relocated and how soon the increased efficiency of the new layout would recuperate the losses incurred during the transition.

Why is Engineering Psychology Important?

Engineering psychologists provide valuable services to vast amounts of people. Not only does their work make our daily lives easier, it can also save lives. Working with technology can be dangerous at times. Much of what engineering psychologists do is to make products safer for people to use. Not only that, everyone benefits from the convenience of well-designed products and services.

Involvement of an engineering psychologist not only make products more intuitive and easier to use, but can also make them safer by eliminating areas of potential error or misunderstanding in use of a product. Their overall aim is to reduce the human error involved in the use of a given device or system.

What are the Career Opportunities for an Engineering Psychologist?

Engineering psychologists are often employed by large corporations, particularly those who develop new technologies all the time. A prime example is the medical technical field. Corporations designing, for example, new surgical tools need to thoroughly test their products and ensure they are as well-made as possible because they will be used in life-or-death situations continually.

Engineers and developers often struggle to implement wider tests on products. As a result, engineering psychologists often work in tandem with professionals from other fields. This makes their services highly valuable. For example, engineering psychologists can work in fields like software development, engineering, and computer science.

In addition to being employed by private corporations, engineering psychologists can also work for large universities and government organizations.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become an Engineering Psychologist?

The vast majority of engineering psychologists have graduate degrees. Engineering psychologists are not expected to hold bachelor’s degrees in any specific field, but coming from a background in either psychology or engineering helps.

Even though a master’s in engineering psychology is valued quite highly, engineering psychologists with doctoral degrees are often rewarded with higher salaries and much more control over the projects they work on. Most engineering psychology masters and doctoral programs have a focus on courses such as development, computer programming, human cognition, psychology, physics, learning and perception, statistics, and engineering.

Completing a master’s level degree in the field is usually accomplished in 1-3 years whereas a doctoral degree can take over five years. Potential future engineering psychologists should look to see if the programs they are interested in are accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society before enrolling.

Important:In most states licensure is required before you can call yourself a “psychologist”. Licensure is also required for independent practice and counseling services.

What Does it Take to Become an Engineering Psychologist?

Becoming an effective engineering psychologist requires certain personality traits.

Sociability and being able to work with others

Engineering psychologists are often called to work with established teams and existing products. They are supporting members in these endeavors. This often means working with people they’ve met only a short while before. There’s no need to be a master of navigating social settings, but possessing the abilities to interact well with others certainly helps.

Being naturally curious

Much of what engineering psychologists do is look at systems, analyze them, and look for potential flaws within them. Being curious about new things will help potential engineering psychologists stay motivated and naturally guide them in their work.

Being a fast learner

Working on different projects often means having to pick up the nuances of that project on the fly. In order to perform their duties well, engineering psychologists will need to develop a deep understanding of the things they are investigating.

Having a technical mind

Understanding machinery requires you to be familiar with their inner workings. Having a mind suited for things like math and physics will make learning the subject matter required of engineering psychologists easier and continue to be invaluable during actual work.

Understanding people

Engineering psychologists need to be tuned to how people act and behave in certain situations in order to predict what would be best for them in designing solutions to problems. Without a keen intuition of how people behave, it is hard for engineering psychologists to create meaningful suggestions to issues.

How Much Does an Engineering Psychologist Make?

According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s 2013 report, engineering psychologists working for private institutions earn higher salaries than those working for the government or universities. For instance, engineering psychologists with doctoral degrees working in the private sector earned an average of $110,000 a year while those that worked for the government or universities earned an average of $107,000 and $93,000 per year respectively. For engineering psychologists with master’s level degrees, salaries range from an average of $75,000 to $90,000.

What Careers are Similar to Engineering Psychology?

Those interested in the field of psychology with an interest in designing better, more human-friendly products, or wishing to understand human behavior are not limited solely to a degree in engineering psychology.

Aviation Psychology

Airplanes are complex machines that require immense efforts to manufacture and produce in safe and efficient manners. In addition, there is a need for tests designed to assess the skills of potential pilots or stewards. Aviation psychologists work in a rare field that caters to the needs of airline companies, and airports. Most people working in this field have at least a bachelor’s degree, although master’s degree is more common. It is typical for psychologist working in this section to have specialty training in either aviation- or human factor psychology.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Those interested more in business than engineering might want to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. People who are interested in becoming professors and private counseling might consider getting a Ph.D. in this field. Those possessing degrees in industrial-organizational psychology often work in executive coaching, refine businesses to operate in more profitable manners, and change workplace practices in order to increase job satisfaction for employees.


Those interested in the technical aspects of new products over whether they are ideal for human use should look towards engineering. Most engineers specialize in a certain area, such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or civil engineering. Engineers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes about 4 years to compete. Graduate degrees in engineering are also highly valued for teaching positions at various universities.

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