Although it seems like the last place a psychologist would be (aren't they just people who sit on chaise lounge chairs and ask people how they're feeling? Quick answer: no), psychologists often do play a role in the industry, solving research problems with a direct impact on society.
At Westat, a research corporation based in Rockville, Maryland, with several branches worldwide, psychologists of all levels and specializations conduct research for industry clients, who are often government agencies seeking statistics on a specific issue or assistance conducting digital media campaigns.
Today, me and the other APA Summer Science Fellows had the unique opportunity to visit Westat and meet with several of its senior study directors, research analysts, digital media directors, and graphics designers.
It was an eye-opening experience; most of us had this distinction in our mind that research in psychology = academia, and everything else comes under the umbrella term, "industry."
However, like research professors, researchers at Westat plan studies, test participants, and analyze and interpret data, but for a different kind of audience. One of the fellows summed this up nicely - academic research is primarily aimed at looking for problems or picking at issues, whereas industry research is directly aimed at solving problems presented by a client. At Westat, sometimes this involves conducting empirical studies, and sometimes it involves doing large statistical surveys of the population. Besides serving clients in the transportation and healthcare industry, Westat also does research related to education, energy consumption and the workforce.
One of the major concerns of psychology majors is whether we could still find good, challenging jobs with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Research analysts Jerry Singer and Kaitlin Riegler showed us that a bachelor's degree is not as limiting as it first seems.
Similarly, Laura Lourenco mentioned there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to getting either a master's or a doctorate degree to enter industry research. Laura is a Senior Project Manager in the Health Communications Group, and is involved with website development and information architecture for various public health campaigns. Although it is not a must for industry researchers to have a Ph.D., it would certainly be a benefit to have a master's degree at an earlier stage.
An in-house graphics department supports Westat by crafting the end-products of research - logos for the safety alert systems in cars, informational brochures, and even flyers advertising the company's fitness center to its employees.
I don't know about you (and maybe I'm biased), but I feel good having psychologists be behind this research, knowing that the user will always be the focus of their work.