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Social and behavioral scientists study the individual's relationship to the communities they belong to. Traditionally, this path has led to social work and counseling, but thanks to efforts to curb obesity and diabetes and reduce the cost of medical care, people pursuing a career in social and behavioral science can expect to be in high demand. In this role, they focus on identifying high-risk behaviors or trends in a specific population and propose solutions to improve overall public health levels in their communities.

  • National Average Salary

  • Top Paying States

    • $103,640 Virginia
    • $98,910 District of Columbia
    • $88,950 Hawaii
  • Number Employed

  • States with Highest Employment

    • 3,760 California
    • 3,190 Virginia
    • 2,740 District of Columbia

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Getting Started

Working in Social and Behavioral Sciences


Behavioral and social scientists working in the public health sector typically hold bachelor’s degrees in the following fields:

  • Psychology
  • Behavioral science
  • Health education

Many of their classes focus on human behavior in regards to health concerns, and courses may include topics on mental health, social research, and how to promote healthy lifestyles.

Outside the classroom, students should seek out research opportunities, whether they’re found in their department or elsewhere. Graduates can look forward to careers in a variety of public health settings, including hospitals, academic institutions, public health departments and nonprofits. Those who advance further in the field often go on to earn masters and doctoral degrees in select disciplines, which are generally determined by their particular occupation.

Work Experience

Previous work experience requirements for behavioral and social scientists vary based on the position they pursue. Applicants looking to boost their job prospects can do so by gaining public health experience before graduation. Possible strategies include pursuing a volunteer or intern position with a health clinic, hospital or nonprofit that provides health services and promotes healthy lifestyles. Some programs may include internships or externships as part of their graduation requirements, while others may help their students find an entry-level position before or upon graduation.


The certification and licensure opportunities available to aspiring social and behavioral scientists are often determined by location. Those interested in working as counselors in social and health services, for instance, may need additional certifications or professional licensure, and standards for licensure vary by state. More information about how states regulate social work practice can be found on the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website. The application process often involves submitting an application and school transcripts, passing a state background check, and sitting for a certification exam. Licensure examinations for 49 states are provided by The Association of Social Work Board. In California, exams are managed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.


Evaluation Specialist

Evaluation specialists collect data, conduct analyses, develop presentations and write grants, papers and research materials. They interact with senior management, program directors, technical consultants and community health workers, and they handle all aspects of data management and analysis in order to assess the effectiveness of clinical public health programs.

Main Responsibilities

  • Manage data collection and interpretation, build models to make this data accessible for other management teams
  • Conduct in-depth analysis of both qualitative and quantitative program data and produce recommendations
  • Conduct research and publish reports that contribute to the strategic and programmatic goals of the organization

Additional Requirements

Preferred candidates have at least a master's degree in public health, epidemiology, public administration, business, non-profit management or other applicable disciplines. They must be well versed in applied research methods and data analysis.

Intervention Researcher

Intervention researchers define programs and develop theories, gather information and synthesize data. They also formulate and test evidence-based intervention programs, and disseminate their findings through peer reviewed journals and conference presentations.

Main Responsibilities

  • Develop theories on the effects of intervention, establish treatment protocols and determine how to best measure outcomes
  • Compare target interventions with alternative interventions to address causality and guide clinical decisions
  • Conduct community-based research to determine the effectiveness, cost efficiency and the cost to benefit ratio of therapy in day-to-day clinical practice

Additional Requirements

Additional requirements for this specialization depend on where the researcher seeks employment.

Addiction Treatment Program Developer

Developers work on treatments that will help prevent relapses in those suffering from addiction, and from there, improving their overall quality of life. The best program developers are aware of the success rates of a wide variety of treatment methods and have a keen sense for customizing a program plan that best serves their patient community’s needs.

Main Responsibilities

  • Coordinate service delivery efforts throughout all levels of their organization
  • Ensure that all specified services meet legal and medical guidelines and that patient success rates are optimized
  • Oversee the financial health and sustainability of a program, including the hiring of qualified and effective care providers

Additional Requirements

A thorough knowledge of treatment for chemical dependency, community resources and the ability to provide services in diverse community settings is required. Professional capacity as psychotherapists and case managers is also helpful.


  • Duke University Summer Internship Program in Behavioral Economics

    The Center for Advanced Hindsight provides students with an opportunity to gain experience in conducting laboratory and field research for behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, and more. Interns work closely with research assistants, faculty, and graduate students on projects and experiments in order to prepare for grad school or a career.

    Eligibility: Undergraduates studying psychology or a related field

    Terms of Service: Interns must work 40 hours per week during this 10-week program.

    Deadline: Past for 2014; TBD for 2015

  • Baylor College of Medicine Psychology Internship

    The psychology internship program at Baylor’s Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences is accredited by the American Psychological Association and was founded in 1955 to provide broad-based training that complements and enhances the academic background for clinical students in professional psychology.

    Eligibility: Psychology students who have completed at least three years of doctoral-level course work and have sat for their qualifying exams.

    Terms of service: Interns must be willing to work at least 32 hours per week to work during this year-long internship.

    Deadline: November 15, 2014

  • UT Health Psychology Predoctoral Internship Program

    The University of Texas offers graduate psychology students an opportunity to gain experience working with children and adults in a clinical setting. Following a scholar-practitioner model, interns go through inpatient and outpatient rotations in areas that cover the autism spectrum, forensics, and general psychiatric needs for adults and children.

    Eligibility: Applicants must be graduate students in clinical and counseling psychology

    Terms of Service: This is a full-time program that lasts a year. Interns work 40 hours per week and split their time among a primary and secondary rotation and didactics.

    Deadline: December 1, 2014

  • FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Volunteer Internship Program

    An unpaid internship for both undergraduate and graduate students who wish to explore careers within the BAU. Interns work directly with FBI employees on day-to-day tasks and cases of current interest.

    Eligibility: Junior or senior undergraduates, graduates or post-doctorate students who are citizens of the U.S., enrolled in an accredited institution, with a GPA of 3.0. Applicants must pass drug tests, background checks and polygraphs.

    Terms of service: Interns must be available for ten weeks during the summer and able to work 40 hours per week in that time.

    Deadline: Past for 2014; TBD for 2015