Biopsychology is the study of the biological processes of the brain and how they affect human behavior. Education programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Continue reading to learn more about what the programs entail and about the career options you could pursue after completing your studies in biopsychology.
Biopsychology combines the fields of biology and psychology to study the correlation between the biological and psychological processes in human behavior. It's relevant in many fields, particularly in the medical research of diseases and conditions of the brain and nervous system. Biopsychology is usually offered as a specialization in a psychology program at a university at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
With a degree in biopsychology, there are several career possibilities. For example, you could enter positions in medical, biological and pharmaceutical research. You could also become a clinical or counseling psychologist. For many of these positions, you must have a graduate degree, but with an undergraduate degree, you could pursue entry-level positions in social work.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to work in psychology or social work, you should be compassionate, sensitive and emotionally mature (www.bls.gov). For research positions, communication skills, self-discipline, leadership skills and the ability to work on your own or with others are important. Patience and perseverance are useful qualities since you may need to work on a project over a long span of time or work with the same patients for many years. The BLS projected that between 2008 and 2018, employment would increase by ten percent in the pharmaceutical sciences, by about nine percent in pharmaceutical manufacturing, by about 11% for clinical and counseling psychologists, by 19% for biological scientists classified as 'other' (wherein biopsychologists would be considered) and by 40% for medical scientists, all of these percentages ranging from about as fast as the average growth for all occupations during that period to much faster than average, so job prospects for those interested in biopsychology are good.
As of May 2010, the median annual salary for medical scientists was $76,700 and for biological scientists it was $68,220, according to the BLS. The BLS stated that counseling and clinical psychologists made a median annual salary of $66,810, child and family social workers made $40,210 and mental health and substance abuse social workers made $38,600 as of May 2010. The salaries for pharmaceutical positions varied greatly; for instance, as of May 2008 the median hourly wage for medical scientists was $42.07, for biophysicists it was $42.59, for biological technicians it was $19.88 and for managers in production and operations it was $28.91, according to the BLS.
To pursue a career in biopsychology, you should start by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, biology or biopsychology. Through a bachelor's degree in biopsychology, you'll learn how the brain works, how it affects behaviors and the ties between biology and the physiological and psychological systems. You'll take courses that address biology and psychology, including genetics, anatomy, brain-related behaviors, psychological statistics, cognition and personality theories. With this training, you could prepare for a graduate degree in biology, psychology or biopsychology. You could also pursue entry-level positions in social work, scientific research or pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Graduate degree programs in biopsychology are more common than undergraduate degree programs. Concentrations and specializations are available and you can conduct research that relates to biopsychology. Through master's degree programs, you may explore the ties between behavior and biology by identifying how the brain reacts while suffering from substance abuse or memory disorders, following human error and while making decisions. You'll also conduct research, usually with a faculty mentor and you'll be required to complete a master's thesis. This training can lead to a career in a clinical or counseling psychology, usually through the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist with a doctorate of their own, or industrial and organizational jobs.
With a doctorate in biopsychology, you can conduct independent research at pharmaceutical, university or government facilities, teach at a 4-year college or university or begin a private practice in counseling psychology. Through the degree program, you'll be required to conduct research and complete an independently-researched dissertation that addresses an issue in biopsychology. You're also likely to sit in lectures for topics such as assessing personality, the relevance of personality, neuroanatomy, hormones and behavior, neuropsychology and how gender affects the brain and behaviors.