PhD in Political Science or PhD in Clinical/ Social Psychology?
December 30, 2020 11:58 AM   Subscribe
I am wondering what would be a better career outcome with a Phd in Political Science or a PhD in Clinical Psychology or Social Psychology?

I am torn between pursuing a PhD in Political Science as well as possibly Clinical Psychology or Social Psychology. My background is in Political Science and Sociology. I am fascianted with Psychology and plan on taking some extra courses in it after I graduate as well. Yet, I am not sure which PhD route would be best to pursue for research or industry work -- especially outside of academia. I already know that it is mighty difficult to land a good university position with tenure but I also love research as well. I am just not sure if doing a PhD in Political Science would be a waste of time if I do not plan to secure an academic position, but I would still love to do academic research or even policy research with the PhD if possible. I also think clinical psychology would be rewarding as well - I always wanted to help others and I do find psychology fascinating but I am not sure if the clinical psychology route is already fiercely competitive - and I have no psychology research background but some courses in directed studies work in political science and sociology as an undergraduate student. I also am interested in social psychology as well, and connecting it to political science and sociology seems interesting, but I imagine social psychology in the industry would be difficult since it seems like an academic-oriented field rather than an industry field. Also, do a lot of clinical psychologist experience burnt out and exaustion with their practice and clients? Or is that more like social work and counselling therapists that experience burnt out and fatigue? I think I am torn between Political Science (basic income research, social policy, social health, political econonmy) and learning more about Psychology (Clinical and Social). I know that some Phds in Poli Sci end up in government or a research industry kind of job if they wish to leave academia or not join it as well. I hear that some practicing Psychologist still do research on the side and teach on the side even though they do not have tenure, they still produce a lot of academic research. Does anyone have any tips or ideas which field would be best to get into?
posted by RearWindow to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a data point for your decision making here, rather than advice. I work as an analyst for the UK civil service. There are lots of people in my department, and across government, doing qualitative and quantitative policy analysis who have PhDs in psychology or social psychology. I'd almost say it's the most common qualification among Government Social Researchers that I've encountered.
posted by knapah at 12:34 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

You will find a lot of PhD social psychologists (and especially organizational psychologists, which is sociology/psychology in a business setting) in corporate HR departments and in consulting firms. Survey work, both in politics and in government, draws on social psychologists as well, for both their subject-matter expertise and their facility with research design and analysis.
posted by DrGail at 12:44 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

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The types of non-academic jobs you can get with a PhD in Social Psychology vs Political Science are quite similar, the main difference would be how your research goes while you're at school and if you are considering a direct research job. Honestly this has more to do with what schools and programs you end up in vs the major. Some Social Psychology programs are very focused on in-person interactions, others are focused on larger network effects and there's a lot of crossover with Political science. I'm taking online courses in this area right now and my classes on things like Fake News have a mix of majors. I would say the main difference is in perspective: a social psychologist looks at things from the angle of how individual people interact with each other and works up from there to larger groups, a political scientist normally starts from larger groups and works down to the individual. The two fields often collaborate in research.

On the other hand, the research and job opportunities for Clinical Psychology are QUITE different. Clinical psych really is about working with individuals and there's a lot of cross over with psychiatry/medical skills. Many clinical psych PhDs do larger-group research, but it's usually extensions of the areas they focus on in their clinical work. It's extremely hard to predict what the job fields would look like 4+ years from now, so I would recommend focusing on what field might lead to a dissertation you would be motivated to work on for a long period of time
posted by JZig at 1:41 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

Here are the main options for doing research with a PhD in clinical psych:
-Work as a clinician at a VA and apply for VA or NIH (and other federal) grants to do your own research, hope you get them
-Get a non-tenure-track faculty job at an academic medical center, maybe see clients to cover some of your salary, apply for NIH/other federal grants to do your own research and hope you get them, because if you don’t you have no salary/job
-Work for a private research institute, either do research (not your own) for the institute, or hope you get your own federal grants so you can do your own research
-Get a tenure-track faculty job in a psych department, teach classes, mentor students, do service, maybe see some clients on the side, and apply for federal grants on top of that so you can do your own research and pay your students

I chose the second option even though I had tenure track offers, and I’m happy with it. Everyone I know who stayed in research does one of those four options. Clinical PhDs I know who are in industry started in academic jobs and got recruited out once they made a name for themselves.

You’re right to observe that academic positions (tenure track or not) are increasingly rare. But I’d also note that grants that make research possible are very hard to get, too- especially if your research doesn’t involve genes, neurotransmitters, brain imaging, or other biological aspects of psychology.

All of these options are more plentiful for clinical psych PhDs than social psych PhDs. Social psych PhDs don’t have the VA option and are more rare in academic med centers, and have fewer grant options due to the topics they research, although they’re more likely to go straight to industry. Clinical psych PhDs also always have the fallback of doing private practice, although that can be more complicated than it seems like it would be.

If you ever feel sure you just want to do therapy, a master’s is a much more efficient way to do that. However, it’s probably more expensive (a PhD should be free), and you’re less likely to get training in evidence-based therapies that way.

This is to say, there are tradeoffs for all of these options. Feel free to memail me if I can help think this through.
posted by quiet coyote at 1:58 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]

In some ways, I think you have the question backwards--in which of these fields are you mostly likely to find a topic in which you are sufficiently interested to finish a PhD with your mental health mostly as intact as it was going in? If you had to name a topic to become a world expert in, what is it? (Ignore for now whether it's fashionable, whether someone else is already the world expert, etc.) It's possible that your interests do straddle fields/departments, at which point you want to think about whether methodological or theoretical approaches of one vs another are a better fit for you.

Thinking about "What can I do with this degree outside of academia" is a very sensible question to be asking before embarking on a PhD, but answering "Should I even do a PhD" is the first question and that more or less* requires figuring out a potential topic or two and the departments you should be looking at will likely flow from that.

*NB: Math is an exception here. It's fairly common for people to start a math PhD (in the US) with only a loose idea of what they want to do or to change directions pretty dramatically. It's entirely plausible you could be applying to a math PhD without any exposure to the field you ultimately end up in.
posted by hoyland at 2:47 PM on December 30 [4 favorites]

In some ways, I think you have the question backwards--in which of these fields are you mostly likely to find a topic in which you are sufficiently interested to finish a PhD with your mental health mostly as intact as it was going in? If you had to name a topic to become a world expert in, what is it?

Oh god yes, this. I didn't mention it, because it was more about me than the question, but I quit my PhD in politics after 2 years and when it had wrecked my mental health.

Only do a PhD if you know why you're doing it and what you want to investigate.
posted by knapah at 3:16 PM on December 30

I am a social psych PhD who started out in clinical psych, dropped out to respecialize, and now works in industry. I’ve worked with many poli sci and clinical psych PhDs in various positions (mainly survey/market research departments/firms). While it’s not unusual to see PhD level professionals in such areas, I don’t think it’s really necessary to have that degree in order to do that type of job. If I’d known that I’d wind up doing what I currently do (consumer research and testing for a fragrance house), I probably would have skipped grad school entirely and just gotten hired at a more junior level early in my career, like many of my colleagues. At the very least I would have had 5 more years of income in addition to relevant experience.

So if you know for sure you’d rather work in industry and not academia, then my advice would be to pick the area you’re interested in and get a research associate job in that. What you learn will likely be much more applicable to your career and you won’t come out of it with as much debt (even though many PhD programs come with tuition remission and a stipend, you will still wind up in debt because it doesn’t cover all your costs of living and you’re not usually allowed to have another job—not that you’d have the time for that).

Feel free to memail if you have questions pertaining to clinical or social psych—I went through the grad school application process twice and have advised students in the past about career choices when I did dabble in academia.
posted by Fuego at 3:21 PM on December 30 [3 favorites]

Might be worth clarifying where you are. A D Clin Psy in the UK is a professional qualification, certified by the British Psychological Society, and is the base qualification for those wishing to practice psychology in a hospital setting.
posted by Faff at 1:05 AM on January 1

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