Psychology in the MOD – Overview

Dr Alex Sandham

I will aim to share some of the knowledge I have gained from working as a Principle Psychologist within the MoD to help you see the wide range of ways that psychology is used within the Armed Forces and Government so that you can see if there are any areas of interest for yourselves for future jobs. My aim is to produce a series of these short blogs to give you examples of the work that is done and to hopefully whet your appetite for psychology in general and specifically for applied psychology.

In this first blog I will give an overview of the types of psychology used and then over the next few months will give examples of specific problems that MoD psychologists are asked to consider.

Pretty much all types of psychological theory and therefore disciplines are drawn on in the MOD. My main lines of work drew heavily on cognitive psychology, in particular decision making and situational awareness, cyber psychology, forensic psychology (but limited to interviewing and investigative hypothesis generation – sadly I did not do any work with the Military Police (MP) – a huge regret of mine) and an element of occupational psychology called Training Needs Analysis. Colleagues of mine used social psychology in particular to look at issues relating to culture and gender both within the armed forces and externally in relation to our friends and foes. Additionally, there is a large cohort of occupational psychology required looking at issues of organisation, training, and support (physical and emotional) for forces personnel and their families. Developmental psychology is not something that I needed to draw on personally, but I can imagine scenarios, such as when working with the families of service personnel, when that knowledge could be needed.

What do MOD Psychologists do?

MoD Psychologists are called on to: Provide advice; conduct research; develop methods and tests; evaluate approaches and practices; inform government policy and decisions; act as consultants for the MoD, answer parliamentary questions and act as an intelligent customer.

Where do I look for jobs?

All MoD roles are advertised on Civil Service Jobs:

Sometimes the roles are advertised as “Behavioural Scientists” and not just psychologists – so if you are job hunting keep this in mind. Many of the roles are available at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Cabinet Office or one of the Intelligence Services:

Remember that often the roles being recruited for will require a level of security clearance so it is often not clear from the advert exactly what you would be doing – but my advice is not to pass up a potentially exciting opportunity just because the advert is vague!

Essential skills that are needed

These are the official skill requirements:

  • Applied human sciences theoretical knowledge of psychology
  • Experience of applying a variety of quantitative and/or qualitative analysis/research techniques to solve complex problems
  • An ability to convey complex issues in a clear and concise way, including relevant caveats, both verbally and in written form.

But what I would encourage you to concentrate on is research design and methodology skills. You can always learn about a new subject area and read into a new problem space, but you will need to have a core understanding of research methodology and an appreciation of the give and take between experimental control vs ecological validity.


Examples of work undertaken

Here are a few examples of the types of work that I have been involved in:

  • Countering Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IEDs)
  • Green on Blue Attacks
  • Gathering Intelligence
  • Airport Security
  • Digital Forensics


All work undertaken in MoD roles are subject to governance from:

  • MOD Research Ethics Committee (MODREC)
  • Regulatory Investigative Powers Act (RIPA)
  • Law of Armed Conflict
  • Professional Organisation Ethics (BPS)

Ethics is a HUGE part of everything a psychologist does and working for the MoD is no different.

My aim over the next few weeks or months is to introduce you to the problems and hopefully to get you thinking about the issues involved in carrying out research in these areas. Hope you are looking forward to reading about it as much as I am looking forward to sharing it.


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