Career Spotlight: Behavioral Scientists

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Spotlight on Behavioral Scientists

Social and behavioral sciences can have a dramatic effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of public health programs. Behavioral scientists are central to the understanding of public health issues and risk factors because they study the social, behavioral, economic, cultural and psychological factors that influence and impact health and disease.


For example, an increase in health problems (e.g. cardiovascular disease) has been linked to lower socioeconomic status. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, behavioral scientists can define the scope of public health issues and their related risk factors and develop interventions, policies and educational programs that address those issues at the individual, population and community level. Efforts in these areas may include disease prevention, chronic disease treatment and management, public health promotion, behavioral health interventions, public policy legislation and more.


How does a behavioral scientist effect change?

Behavioral scientists focus on understanding the factors that influence how and why individuals make certain decisions. Gaining a deeper understanding of the reasons behind actions can lead to solutions and better outcomes, such as helping people make better health choices, health care systems operate more efficiently and companies mitigate risk.


What can behavioral scientists learn in an MPH program?

Public health master’s programs offer a broad-spectrum curriculum covering topics that can be directly applied to work in behavioral science. Typical MPH courses include epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health and research methods, each of which can be useful in behavioral health.


The University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Public Health program immerses students in projects designed to build comprehension and real-world skills they can use in their careers as behavioral scientists. Students can even select topics based on their passions and interests to personalize their education and suit their individual career goals. University of Nevada, Reno online students learn directly from public health professionals actively practicing behavioral science in the field as part of a public health initiative.


Graduates of the program are prepared to:

  • Design investigative research modules relating to behavioral health
  • Collect data through a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methods
  • Analyze and draw conclusions from collected data
  • Communicate findings in a clear, concise manner
  • Collaborate with and advise other public health professionals, policymakers or other groups working in the behavioral science field



Behavioral scientists can make a difference in the world. And a world of difference.

For individuals who want to do work that can affect entire populations, the opportunities as a behavioral scientist are numerous. It’s just a matter of where your passion lies. Consider the following example of how the University of Nevada, Reno’s public health faculty are focusing their passion to actively shift behaviors and comprehension of current health issues.


Professor Julie Lucero has conducted extensive research concerning rural American Indians and their lack of acceptance of alcohol, drug and mental health treatment. Lucero and her colleagues identified four main obstacles to receiving or continuing care: self-reliance, privacy, quality of care and communication/trust. The study identified obstacles, outlined solutions and proposed policy changes.


Another University of Nevada, Reno professor recently concluded a study on addressing the opioid crisis with naloxone. Public health faculty member Karla Wagner worked with law enforcement officers (LEOs) on the front lines of the opioid crisis. She collected data from LEOs before, during and after they were introduced to a pilot LEO naloxone program. “LEOs administered naloxone 11 times; nine victims survived, and three of the nine surviving victims made at least one visit to substance abuse treatment as a result of an LEO-provided referral,” Wagner wrote. “Qualitative data suggest that LEOs had generally positive experiences when they employed the skills from the training.” The study found that naloxone training may have positive results for both LEOs and overdose victims.


Career outlook for behavioral scientists.

Salaries for behavioral scientists vary by employer, role and career experience. According to Payscale, as of September 2018 the median salary for behavioral scientists was $88,282.


Behavioral scientists with advanced degrees in public health are found in a variety of professional areas, such as the following:

  • Government
  • Educational Institutions
  • Corporations
  • Nonprofits
  • Health Care
  • Managed Care Organizations


Professional opportunities for behavioral scientists are diverse, spread across a variety of industries and career paths. Completing a Master of Public Health from the University of Nevada, Reno  can position graduates for future career success in the behavioral sciences.



National Center for Biotechnology Information. Training law enforcement to respond to opioid overdose with naloxone.

Rural American Indians’ Perspectives of Obstacles in the Mental Health Treatment Process in Three Treatment Sectors

Sociologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Master of Public Health (MPH), Behavioral Science Degree