The workforce of science
BY DR. STEVEN J. BRECKLER • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE
APA’s Center for Workforce Studies collects, analyzes and shares data on
the educational pipeline and labor force of psychology. Housed within the
Science Directorate, the center conducts its own major periodic surveys
and draws upon national sources of data to gain a better understanding of
the supply, demand and need for psychologists. Much of the center’s work
focuses on psychology’s contribution to health-related services.
Understanding the settings in which psychologists work, and the
nature of their work in those settings, is critical to assessing the
nation’s future health-care needs. We know, for example, that an
aging population will increase the need for psychologists who
provide services for older adults. What we do not know is how
many psychologists currently meet this need, nor how many more
will be needed to keep pace with the growing societal demand.
Psychologists who provide health-related services are
keenly aware of the importance of an ongoing workforce
analysis. Those of us who work in basic research, however,
may be less attuned to the need for such analyses that bear
on the workforce of science. Yet, the environment for science
and research is rapidly changing, and scientists in all fields
(including psychology) must pay more attention.
Perhaps the best source of data on the scientific workforce is
the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators, published by the
National Science Foundation. The 2012 edition was just released,
and it continues to provide great insight into psychological
science, especially within the context of other STEM (science,
technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
The latest employment figures in the Indicators show
that recent psychology doctorates experience some of the
lowest unemployment rates in all of science, engineering and
health-related fields. And very few of those recent psychology
doctorates are working involuntarily out of their field.
Repeating a long-standing trend, fewer than 20 percent
of early career research psychologists hold tenure or tenure-track positions at academic institutions. A growing number
of psychology graduates are taking postdoctoral positions,
reflecting a very typical career trajectory for those who earn
doctorates in the sciences.
The salary data are also revealing. Research psychologists
in the education sector earn close to the average across
all science and engineering fields. Where they fall short,
however, is in business and industry, where recent doctorates
in psychology earn substantially less than their colleagues in
most other science and engineering fields.
Most of the Indicators analysis focuses on recent recipients
of the doctoral degree. Yet it is clear that this analysis
The analysis also reminds us
that the doctorate degree is not
always the minimal degree for entry
into the scientific workforce.
considers those who have earned a bachelor’s or master’s
degree as legitimate members of the scientific workforce.
The data reinforce the economic value of the doctorate in
the sense that unemployment rates are lower and salaries
are higher when compared with those who have bachelor’s
or master’s degrees. But the analysis also reminds us that the
doctorate degree is not always the minimal degree for entry
into the scientific workforce.
The Indicators data provide a wealth of good information.
Yet, much remains to be done to make the data collected by
federal statistical agencies of greater value to psychological
science. For example, the taxonomies that are used to identify
subfields of psychology are out of date and fail to reflect
where much of the field is right now. And relatively little is
known about what most psychologists who work outside the
academy are doing in their jobs. APA’s Center for Workforce
Studies is beginning to address these issues. By working
with federal agencies and initiating its own data collection
efforts, the center will help all of us gain a much better
understanding of the workforce of psychological science. n