Psychology is a social science dedicated to the study of thought and behavior in humans and animals. To understand why an individual engages in a behavior, psychologists investigate
- the biological basis of behavior, in terms of the central nervous system, endocrine system and genetic influences;
- the characterization of internal representation and processes that underlie perception, thought and action within the cognitive and perceptual systems;
- how individuals behave in a social context;
- the development of physiological, perceptual, cognitive, personality and social factors over time;
- the development of physiological, perceptual, cognitive, personality and social factors over time;
- psychological disorders.
The first psychological laboratory in the world was founded in 1883 – at Johns Hopkins. Since then, the department has played a leading role in the evolution and progression on American psychology. Its focus on research, rather than clinical training, has allowed it to remain one of the smallest of the top-ranked psychology departments in the country, giving students and faculty the flexibility to develop individual training programs.
Undergraduates who major in psychology receive an overview of the major sub-disciplines of the field, including courses in biology, biophysics, cognitive science, computer science, philosophy and sociology. Majors must also complete a year-long sequence in statistics and laboratory methods, and are encouraged to take advantage of research opportunities within the department and through the medical school.
Psychology can be applied to a broad range of fields, including health and human services, management, education, law and sports.5 Psychologists might work with business executives, performers and athletes to reduce stress and improve performance, or they recommend psychologically ideal jurors to lawyers during the jury selection phase of a trial. They team with law enforcement and public health officials following disasters to analyze the cause, or by helping the victims or witnesses recover from trauma. Psychology is applicable in a variety of real world settings, as well as preparation for graduate work in psychology or related fields such as business, medicine, law or computer science.
Because the major’s curriculum is so heavily individualized based on each student’s interests, the careers available to graduates vary widely:
- Research assistants and associates – prior to graduate school, many graduates go directly into laboratory research to further develop, explore and gain experience in their area of interest.
- Psychopharmacology – the study of drug-induced changes in mood, thinking and behavior, the specific interaction between drugs and their target sites or receptors, and the widespread changes in physiological or psychological function.
- Behavioral neuroscience – the study of the relationship between the physiological processes that occur in the brain and the behavior of an organism, and the types of altered communication between neurons that are responsible for dramatic changes in behavior and cognition.
- Physiological Psychology – the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior using combined skills in psychology and knowledge of the brain’s structure and function.
- Psychology – the study of the human mind and human behavior, typically n a research, clinical or corporate setting.
- Zoology – the study of the origin, behavior, diseases and life processes of animals and wildlife.
- Science Journalism – investigating and writing about advances and trends in the sciences for newspapers, magazines, online and journals. Public information officers, who prepare news releases and other summaries of institutional research for the general public, also fit into this field.
- Medical, veterinary, dental or law school – behavioral biology provides an excellent undergraduate foundation of knowledge for professional school when supplemented with necessary coursework, and provides students with a more humanistic perspective on this fields.
- Social psychologists - examine people’s interactions with others and with the social environment, and work in organizational consultation, marketing research, systems design, and leadership training
- Experimental or research psychologists - work in university and private research centers, business, nonprofit and governmental organizations to study the behavior of humans and animals
- Evolutionary psychologists - study how evolutionary principles such as mutation, adaptation and selective fitness influence human thought, feeling and behavior
- Forensic psychologists - apply psychological principles to legal issues through testimony and research on jury behavior and eyewitness testimony
- Health psychologists - specialize in how biological, psychological and social factors affect health and illness
- Neuropsychologists - explore the relationships between brain systems and behavior (clinical neurosychologists assess and treat patients, rather than working with data)
- Quantitative and measurement psychologists - focus on methods and techniques for designing experiments and analyzing psychological data
- Rehabilitation psychologists - work with stroke and accident victims, patients with mental retardation and developmental disabilities
- Social psychologists - study how a person’s mental life and behavior are shaped by interactions with other people
- Sports psychologists - help athletes refine their focus on competitive goals, become more motivated and learn to deal with the anxiety and fear of failure that typically accompanies competition.
In most areas, an additional degree in a more specialized field is required. The advantage of behavioral biology is that students can focus their studies on their area of interest, and they must utilize this opportunity in order to adequately prepare for the workforce or graduate study. Participation in research and internships are also highly recommended to further establish your knowledge and experience in a given area. Entry-level research positions following graduation provide an additional opportunity to explore particular areas of interest before committing to graduate or professional school.
Hopkins Psychology alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2007 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in Psychology
Jerry T. Wu-
Manager, College Relations, Macy's, Inc. Bloomingdale's Department Stores,
Psychological and Brain Sciences, Class of 2003,
Master’s in Organizational Psychology, 2005, Columbia University, Teacher's College
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Became interested Senior year when I took classes in I/O Psychology. Pursued Master's thereafter. Originally intended to be Pre-med and become a psychiatrist, but after working at Sheppard-Pratt, was convinced that was not the field I needed to be in.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I majored in Psychology undergrad, then obtained a Master's in Organizational Psychology. Joined Bloomingdale's in Training & Development Department and worked around until I landed in recruiting.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Yes. I was the manager for the Bloomingdale's Executive Development Program, a function in Human Resources/Organizational Development.
- What advice do you have for current students? - It doesn't matter what your major is. Be self aware about your own strengths/weaknesses and ask lots of questions. Finding a job is a matter of finding the right fit.
- What is your typical day like? - It changes daily. I may be on a college campus conducting recruiting seminars, in the office conducting interviews, interfacing with internal/external partners, traveling, or conducting analysis on my department.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Most rewarding is bringing in an entry-level executive from campus and watching them succeed in the organization. The most challenging are the organizational politics.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - There are very few entry-level Human Resource. If students are interested, I recommend interning or obtaining coordinator positions, building relationships by asking lots of questions and a job will result.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Taking an active role in shaping companies. Human Resources is key to shaping the direction a company goes in (through people) and ensuring a company's ability to adapt in a competitive environment.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field?
Heavy analytics and relationship building.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Usually there is no set career path, so it's really anywhere you want to be. You can start out in education, then go to recruiting, employee relations or benefits.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - SHRM- Society for Human Resource Management
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Any. Find an industry that interests you and you can learn to manage an HR department in that field.
Toan Le- Project Manager, General Dynamics Information Technology, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Class of 1998, PhD in Mental Health/Psychiatric Epidemiology
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - It's a natural progression from my previous job. I wanted to go to Hopkins since it's the only SPH with a Mental Health Department and that I would be supported in my interest.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - After graduating from college, I had an excellent job that exposed me to mental health and research. My previous boss was also instrumental in helping me along.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job had nothing to do with what I am doing today. It was the second that catapulted me to my current field.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Try to get into doing something that you might enjoy even if you didn't have any thing specific in mind. Stay broad and then be more focused as you progress through your work.
- What is your typical day like? - Busy. I oversee a team of analysts to provide important health information to clients to satisfy contractual obligations.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: The indirect impact my work has on our nation's health policies and people's life.
Challenging: Managing expectations - from clients and staff, and my own.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? -To be strong programmers and statistics. Have to be interested in public health and contributing to the improvement of people's life.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Demands for quality health data and analyses will stay strong.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - A public health education and related work experience.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? -
2 years - better analyst
5 years - Senior to lead analyst
10 years - expert to managerial position
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - APHA. JHU Alumni events. JHU Career Service.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Any thing related to health. Government and non-government opportunities.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with a Psychology Major go to What can I do with a major in Psychology.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Medicine, Public Health, Law & Paralegal, and Teaching.
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For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.