Engineering Psychology Career Overview

Engineering Psychologist Careers

Engineering Psychology Career Overview

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 lay 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 lay 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 lay 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 lay 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 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 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.

More Resources


How to Become an Engineering Psychologist

Engineering Psychology Career Overview

Engineering psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the relationship between humans and the products that we use everyday.

Specialists in this field concentrate on exploring the relationships between man and machine, so to speak. They study how we interact with, perceive, and are influenced by everyday products and technologies.

Engineering psychologists also play a role in making certain products easier to use and safer.

The history of engineering psychology began in the 1940’s, during World War II. The weapons used during this war were somewhat advanced for their time, but they were still not without error. For instance, weapon and equipment malfunction was not uncommon, and these malfunctions often led to costly mistakes.

The main reason for the majority of these errors was traced to human error. It was found that the machines and other technologies of the time were not built with the needs and abilities of the users at the time, and they were very difficult to use.

To correct this problem, psychologists were brought in to help engineers create more user friendly designs.

Today, with the boom of the technological industry and consumerism, the field of engineering psychology has exploded. We are surrounded by machines, computers, and software, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

Consumers and businesses are now calling for technological devices and software that is safe and easy to use. Engineering psychologists are necessary, because they have a hand in making these products more user-friendly, more efficient, and easier to use.

Read more on the employment opportunities for engineering psychology.

Engineering psychologists typically perform research and work as consultants in fields such as engineering, product design, and software development.

One of the main duties of engineering psychologists is to perform research on what consumers want and need when it comes to their products. Psychologists might do this by creating focus groups, test panels, and consumer surveys.

In doing so, engineering psychologists are often able to study how people interact with products and spot potential problems, such as safety issues or difficult to use features.

By consulting with engineers and developers, engineering psychologists can help create products that are less ly to result in problems due to human error.

Demographics and user abilities are also a big part of engineering psychology. For example, engineering psychologists are often asked to research which types of people are more ly to buy certain products, looks and functionality. They might also be asked to help change a product so that consumers find it easier to use or more appealing.

Most engineering psychologists start their journeys with four-year bachelor’s degrees in general psychology.

Generally, though, the majority of the engineering psychology positions are filled with individuals that hold graduate degrees in this area.

Before you enroll in an environmental psychology degree program, however, you should check to ensure that it’s accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society.

Courses that you may take while working toward your engineering psychology degree often include general psychology, human factors psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, ergonomics, bio-mechanics, human-computer interaction, and statistics.

As an engineering psychologist, you will most ly find positions open in a number of different fields.

Engineering psychologists work in areas such as software development, computer science, engineering, and aviation.

Because an the ease of use of medical equipment can often make the difference between life and death, engineering psychologist positions are also quite common in the medical field.

Using their training and knowledge to improve the way people interact with machines and other technology, engineering psychologists put their understanding of the human mind and behavior to good use to influence the engineering designs of various products and devices.

The work they do plays an important role in the improvement of technology and consumer products, as well as job settings and residential environments.

Most engineering psychologists find employment in the private sector, but as technology becomes a more significant part of everyday life, the need for these types of psychologists will continue to increase in other areas.

What Type of Positions Can an Engineering Psychologist Hold?

Professionals who enter this career field typically undergo a certain amount of training that combines both engineering and psychology, including coursework that concentrates on how to integrate the two disciplines.

Because of this, engineering psychologists can find work related to nearly any engineering- and industrial-related profession that includes a wide range of fields, such as medical, aviation, the government, and even the computer software industry.

Learn more about how to become an engineering psychologist.

Jobs Settings That Provide Positions for Engineering Psychologists

Industry Setting: Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D.

, who is a professor at the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Psychology, says engineering psychologists work in industry settings where they concentrate on «formative and summative evaluations of new products and systems.» She says they hold job titles, such as User Experience Researcher, Usability Testing Manager, and User Experience Architect.

Government Setting: Employed ingovernment settings (such as the Department of Defense), engineering psychologists may assume the role of a 'human factors specialist.

' Job positions are found in various government offices, such as the Department of Transportation, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Association, NASA, and all branches of the military.

Business-Related Setting: Engineering psychologists are hired to consult with architects and designers regarding consumer products, such as GPS systems, telephones, cameras, and home appliances.

Medical-Related Setting: Working towards minimizing the risks of accidents and errors regarding medical technology, engineering psychologists help save lives by making medical products, medical equipment, and hospitals safer.

Aviation-Related Setting: Engineering psychologists complete research and projects that help improve aviation technology, such as air traffic control equipment and making a new piece of airplane equipment easier for a pilot to learn and use.

College and University Setting: In academia, those with a doctorate degree often assume the role of professor, and teach courses, including those that deal with «applied cognitive' or 'applied experimental psychology.

' According to Rogers, some graduates also find work outside of psychology departments, and may teach courses in computer science, information systems, and industrial engineering.

Some academia-related professionals may assume the role of researcher within an institution of higher education – conducting experiments and working towards advancing the overall understanding of the field.

«…jobs are available in all sectors including information/communication technology, education, health, transportation, etc.»

— Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D.

Ways for Engineering Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

According to Rogers, «developing the tools of the trade» helps mold a more desirable job candidate for an engineering psychologist position – one who is able to fulfill the attributes that an employer typically looks for in an employee, such as:

  • demonstrating the ability to do task analysis and heuristic analysis
  • developing function flow diagrams
  • conducting strong research
  • clear communication skills regarding statistical knowledge
  • working on interdisciplinary teams
  • communicating well with designers and programmers
  • possessing excellent writing and presentation skills

Featured psychology degree programs someone interested in engineering psychology may consider:

Before an interview with a potential employer, James P. Bliss, Ph.D., who is a professor and Chair of Old Dominion University's Department of Psychology suggests conducting in-depth research regarding the target job and organization to appear well-informed.

Internships also provide students with experience that enhances their desirability, and strengthens a student's understanding of the field. Since there is an increasing demand for engineering psychologists, some students have received job offers while still on an internship.

Actively seeking additional training and credentials not only increases a psychologist's abilities and knowledge, but also helps build a more impressive resume.

Professionals who specialize in a number of different areas also increase their chances of appealing to a broader range of potential employers.

A few specialties to consider include human performance, health care systems and technology, product design, workplace safety, environmental safety, and ergonomics.

«Enhance your resume by acquiring marketable skills such as programming, usability testing, experimental design, statistics, and technical writing»

– James P. Bliss, Ph.D.

Ways for an Engineering Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary

An established engineering psychologist often experiences an increase in salary that comes after accumulating years of experience under his or her belt. They can also increase their income by shifting to another employment setting. For example, those who work in an academic setting generally earn a lower salary than someone employed within the private sector.

While a master's degree in engineering psychology (or a related field) is generally the minimum requirement for entering this career field, the pay is often much higher for professionals who possess a doctorate degree. Therefore, pursuing a Ph.D. and/or specialization within the field can have a positive effect on a professional's earning potential.

«Proving one's worth is always critical for professional development and advancement.  Be willing to make recommendations, literature, your own experience, and targeted research studies.  Communicate clearly and be able to tailor your communications to the target audience — user, customer, marketer, manager, etc.» –

— Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D.

«Salaries in this field are generally competitive.  However, you can make yourself marketable by increasing your skill set.  Also, don't be afraid to leverage competing offers.»

– James P. Bliss, Ph.D. 

Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Engineering Psychology

Attending a conference is one of the best ways that an engineering psychologist can interact with professionals in their field, as well as to learn and discuss guidelines, practical and actionable methods, and best practices related to engineering psychology.

According to a handful of engineering psychologists, the primary conference to attend concerning the field is the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society International Conference, which is held every fall. In addition to accommodating seasoned professionals, the conference also offers networking opportunities that target students and recent graduates.

Social media and online interaction is also becoming an increasingly popular method of communication and networking for engineering psychology professionals. According to Bliss, «LinkedIn is quickly becoming a great resource for making connections.»

Organizations that provide additional networking opportunities for engineering psychologists include:

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)
  • American Society of Safety Engineers
  • International Civil Aviation Organization
  • Institute of Industrial Engineers
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association

«There are also more specialized conferences such as HFES-Health, Human-Computer Interaction (CHI), Transportation Research, Human-Robot Interaction, and many more.»

Wendy A. Rogers, Ph.D. 

«For international connections, the International Ergonomics Association hosts a triennial conference…»

James P. Bliss, Ph.D.

Continuing Education (CE) Sources

In addition to offering state-approved CE programs for psychologists, the APA provides continuing education programs that cater to the needs of engineering psychologists.

Some of the ways that professionals can develop their career include earning CE credits in topics such as An Introduction to Statistical Moderation; Confidence Intervals and The New Statistics; and The New Statistics Part 1: Rationale, Effect Sizes, and Confidence Intervals.

Read engineering psychology expert Dr. Neville Stanton's career interview for further insights.


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