Become an Engineering Psychologist – Schooling Guide – Online Degrees [2024 Guide]

Engineering Psychologist Career

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.

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.

Engineering Psychology Master’s Degrees

Programs of study in engineering psychology are relatively new. And while there are some graduate programs dedicated to the study of engineering psychology, the bulk of graduate programs seem to be in industrial/organizational psychology, human factors psychology, performance psychology, research psychology, or experimental psychology, with the opportunity to specialize in engineering psychology.

Regardless of the type of program, students should expect to spend at least 2-3 years completing their graduate work. The number of credits required to complete graduate programs is extremely varied. Some programs may require as few as 30-36 credit hours while others may require more than 60 credit hours to graduate.

Common areas of study in a graduate program in engineering psychology include:

  • Engineering psychology – Students explore the how humans process, store, and retrieve information and how the design of machines, technologies, buildings, and other systems can be developed to improve that flow of information. Courses in this area also explore human performance.
  • Methods of engineering psychology – Coursework on methods of engineering psychology shift the focus of study to analysis of protocols, costs and benefits, user interactions, and reliability analyses, to name a few.
  • Cognitive neuroscience – This class helps students develop a better understanding of how humans think, including the neural structures and processes responsible for thought. Additionally, students examine specific cognitive processes, such as attention, perception, memory, and language.
  • Quantitative methods – Graduate students explore concepts related to statistical analysis, including how to gather, analyze, and report on data in experimental and research situations.
  • Thesis research – Most graduate programs in engineering psychology require students to complete a thesis. This involves advanced research into a topic related to engineering psychology, and often must include some level of experimentation as well. Students must then present and defend their findings to a panel of professors.

Engineering Psychology Doctoral Degrees

As mentioned above, most engineering psychologists hold a doctoral degree. These programs commence upon the completion of a graduate degree program. In fact, most doctoral programs require applicants to the program to already have a graduate degree in hand.

Doctoral studies in psychology typically focus on one of two areas: research or clinical practice. Because engineering psychology focuses on research and practical application of psychological principles to the design and implementation of human-machine systems, doctoral programs in this field are designed to be reflective of those duties.

In fact, the vast majority of a doctoral student’s time will be spent conducting research in a specific area of interest. For an engineering psychology student, this might mean spending several years researching how to improve the ergonomic design of office products, such as office chairs or desks, that improve worker productivity.

Additionally, a doctoral dissertation is required. The dissertation also requires in-depth research into a specific topic, which must include theory analysis and experimentation to test one’s hypothesis. Dissertations often take several semesters to research and develop, and culminate with an oral defense toward the end of the period of study.

Another requirement doctoral students commonly must complete includes seminars on subjects of interest or relevance to their research. For engineering psychology students, this might include studies on ergonomics, systems design, or human-technology interactions.

What is an Online Engineering Psychology Degree?

At present, there are very few – if any – online graduate or doctoral programs specifically in engineering psychology. However, students interested in obtaining an online degree in a closely related field, such as human factors psychology or experimental psychology, may be able to tailor their studies toward engineering psychology.

Like on-campus studies, online master’s and doctoral degrees in this field focus on developing strong research and design skills so that students have the tools they need to address issues related to engineering and psychology.

While courses are similar to those offered on campus, obviously online classes are much more flexible in terms of when students complete their studies. However, some classes may require students to participate in an online forum or discussion at specific times.

To fulfill research, internship, or fellowship requirements, graduate and doctoral students pursuing an online degree often are given the opportunity to work at a location close to their home. In instances in which this is not a possibility, students may have to travel to campus to complete those requirements.

Online degree programs typically have similar admissions requirements as on-campus programs. In psychology, online students typically must demonstrate the academic and research abilities needed to complete these studies, as evidenced by adequate grades at the undergraduate or graduate level and appropriately high test scores.

Often, online programs will require students to submit other documentation to demonstrate their abilities, such as a personal statement or letters of recommendation from professors.

What Does it Take to Be 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.

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.

How Much Does an Engineering Psychologist Make?

As of February 2024, according to ZipRecruiter, engineering psychologists on average earn $92,1813 per year. However, the average salary of engineering psychologist who are in the top bracket is $205,500 per year.

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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