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Biography for SIOP

Paul R. Sackett 


     My parents met as students at Marquette University. Both were Milwaukeeans, he a vet going to engineering school on the GI bill, she an English major. I was their first child, born in 1953 in California where they had moved for a few years while my father did graduate work at USC.  They had four children in quick succession and soon returned to Milwaukee, where they’ve remained to this day. 

     We all read voraciously, aided in large part by my parents’ atypical attitude towards television.  We owned one, but rather than being a constant presence, it was reserved for special occasions. It is telling testimony to the pervasiveness of popular culture that I can to this day answer questions about the names of characters on popular shows of the day, although I’ve never seen them. 

     Our grade school offered piano lessons, which I enjoyed until the teacher moved when I was in the 5th grade. The replacement was appalled at what she viewed as my bad technique, and decided that I should start over from the beginning; my musical training ended right there. My parents hoped to keep me interested in music in some way, and a guitar appeared under the Christmas tree when I was 12, which I quickly learned to play by ear. The neighborhood was well-equipped with boys of the same age, and childhood was a non-stop seasonal rotation of baseball, football, basketball, and ice skating. When we turned 12 we were old enough to start picking up some money caddying at a nearby country club, and golf was added to the mix.


     We were very close to my maternal grandmother, two of whose brothers were Catholic priests. One was a missionary who spent his life in Asia. He was in China at the time of the Revolution, and lived a life that seemed to me exotic and dangerous. My earliest career aspirations were to follow in his footsteps. The concrete result of this was that a younger brother and I both attended the high school run in conjunction with St. Francis Seminary.


     I received a fine classical education there; everyone took 4 years of Latin, 3 of a second language, and college level math. I lettered in track and cross country (it is technically true that I still hold the school record for the 440 yard dash, but I must reluctantly reveal that the record is not at risk because the school closed a few years later), acted in school plays (taking a role in Room Service that I learned years later had been played by Groucho Marx in a film version of the play), was active in student council, and ended up as valedictorian. 

     Aspirations to follow in my uncle’s footsteps as a missionary priest changed, and I decided to go to college and major in psychology. College choice was not an issue: Both of my parents were Marquette graduates, and other schools never entered the picture. I was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and was bombarded with literature from many schools, but I did not visit or apply to any other school.


     Marquette was a complete joy. Al McGuire’s basketball teams were always strong and generated lots of excitement on campus. A strong honors program offered small classes and a very broad liberal arts education. I enjoyed singing with the university chorus. Two friends from chorus and I formed a band, emphasizing three-part vocal harmony, in which I played guitar and keyboards. We played weekends at local clubs.


     But the most important thing happened at the very beginning. A young woman named Pat Holt, from a small town north of Milwaukee, was brought to freshman orientation by her older sister Nancy. “Go talk to that guy over there”, said Nancy, pushing her forward towards me. So I met the love of my life in the first 15 minutes of freshman orientation. Nancy took a picture of us, which she found years later and had blown up into a large poster. Pat taped the poster to the kitchen cabinets on our anniversary a few years ago. A college-age nephew staying with us at the time walked into the kitchen and asked “who’s the guy in the picture with Pat?” I guess I have changed.


     About Pat: she has the broadest range of talents of anyone I’ve ever met. She’s a scientist – a PhD analytical chemist with a distinguished career with Abbott Labs, Pillsbury, and finally 3M. She’s a writer – humor columnist for the school paper, unpublished novelist, published poet, 100-word-a-minute typist who maintains an extensive correspondence with a wide array of people around the globe.  She’s an artist – her hand-drawn design on a piece of scrap paper beat out 50 pieces of professionally-drawn art as the t-shirt design for last year’s Twin Cities Marathon. She’s an athlete – over 60 marathons completed to date. She’s a renowned chef, known for the quality and quantity of her desserts (“as long as I’m turning the oven on, I might as well make four different cakes…”). She’s a reader, a theater goer, a movie lover, a friend to every cat and dog in the world, a surrogate mother to graduate students. She’s quiet and unassuming, and does not like being the focus of attention. She will not like it that I wrote this about her.


     I began college with no clear sense of the subfields of psychology. In my sophomore year, though, I experienced one of those quasi-random events that in retrospect I realize altered the course of my life. I was taking the course in tests and measurements from Mohamed Quereshi, the department chairman. I found myself drawn to the material more than in any other course I’d taken. I was also taking a course in the Fortran computer programming language offered by the engineering school. One day I was in the engineering building working on a programming project when Quereshi came in, giving a campus tour to a visitor. He recognized me from his testing class, and expressed surprise that I knew anything about programming. A couple months later I was suffering through what I will offer as a contender for the worst summer job ever: sandblasting rusted-out beer kegs to make them reusable (how’s that for an only-in-Milwaukee job?) I received a phone call from Quereshi asking if I’d be interested in a computer programming and data analysis job. “Can you do a factor analysis?”, he asked. I’d never heard the term before, but I was tired of sandblasting. “Sure,” I said, and headed for the library to start reading.


     I learned a lot about programming, about data analysis, and about research. Those were the days when statistics packages were primitive and quite limited. I wrote Fortran programs for a variety of statistical tests not included in existing packages. I got pretty good at data analysis and learned a lot of advanced stat. The computer center offered me a job as a stat consultant. My work with Quereshi continued, and expanded from analysis of existing data to designing new projects. Two papers we did together were published. I was a researcher!


     I was also drawn to social psychology. Jim Blascovich arrived as a new assistant professor, and I got involved in his work on the risky shift phenomenon. I then stumbled upon the elective course in I-O psychology, and the pieces all came together: Here was a way of merging my interests in tests and measurement and in social psychology. I devoured the McCormick and Tiffin text and decided to become an I-O psychologist.


     My dream was to go to grad school at Purdue. I pored over their grad catalog. I could have drawn a campus map from memory. But the issue was finding schools with strong programs in I-O for me and in chemistry for Pat. Purdue offered me a very attractive fellowship, but it was not a good fit for Pat. The strongest program for her was Minnesota; however I got a nice letter from Marv Dunnette offering me admission but noting they had no financial aid to offer. Ohio State came through with fellowship offers for both of us, so we got married and headed for Columbus.


     Milt Hakel headed the OSU I-O program, with Rich Klimoski, Bob Billings, and Ed Cornelius making up the I-O group. Robert (Bud) MacCallum in the quant methods area was the other key figure in my grad training. The emphasis was on breadth of perspective. Students were encouraged to work with and learn from each of the faculty. With Cornelius I did a job analysis and performance appraisal project with the Coast Guard. Klimoski and I conducted a consortium validation study in the real estate industry. Billings and I worked on a job satisfaction project. I did one summer internship locally with a city agency and then traveled to Connecticut for a summer to do assessment center work with Mel Sorcher.


     Milt Hakel was my major professor. Milt provides little explicit direction; he opens doors and then it’s up to you where to go. I had an idea for a masters thesis on assessor decision processes in assessment centers; Milt helped connect me with AT&T researchers to make the data collection possible. We had only the briefest of discussions about a dissertation topic before he left for a Fulbright year in Italy; I delivered the finished product upon his return.  A few years after graduation he offered me the chance to serve as Division 14 conference program chair, giving me my first exposure to the executive committee. One short phrase of his comes back to me time and time again and has driven many decisions in my career: “go where the trouble is”.


     A large part of my graduate education took place in the grad student bullpen offices in back hallways of Ohio Stadium (yes, our offices were in the football stadium. And there was a way to sneak into the games on football Saturdays). My classmates and I solved all the problems of the field (and of the world at large, for that matter) in our many hours of discussion. One important event was an inquiry from a local firm about something none of us knew anything about, namely, paper-and-pencil honesty tests. My office mate, Phil Decker, and I began looking into this, and decided that there was a need for a systematic review of the detection of deception literature, including polygraphy as well as paper-and-pencil measures. We prepared a lengthy review paper and submitted it for publication. The important thing was we did it on our own. We were not the helping hands on a faculty project. We were not doing a thesis project guided by a faculty committee. It was just us. And Personnel Psychology accepted it.


      Until my dissertation year, I had anticipated an applied career. Academic jobs seemed inconceivable: I was not the kind of person who could independently generate a career’s worth of novel and useful research ideas. But the thesis work on assessment centers was my idea, and it found a home at OBHP. And an idea about a novel way to handle job analysis data led to a paper in Personnel Psychology. And then the detection of deception paper was well-received. Maybe I could do this!


      So I entered the academic job market. As with the grad school search, dual career issues came into play. Pat was finishing her PhD at the same time and was looking for a non-academic job, so our search was limited to areas where she could find work. I still have the piece of paper where I listed every job I applied for and crossed them off one by one when the rejection letters came. I did get a few interviews and a job offer from the business school at the University of Kansas. And Pat got an offer from a research institute in Kansas City. So we packed up the VW Beetle, put in a cassette of the Association singing “hello life, goodbye Columbus,” and headed west.


     Kansas was a great place to start a career. They were in the midst of a huge growth spurt and were hiring large numbers of assistant professors. A number of talented people arrived at the same time I did, including George Dreher, Ron Ash, and Dan Spencer. George and I teamed up for a number of projects. We published several papers on assessment centers, the centerpiece being the 1982 Sackett and Dreher JAP paper on constructs and assessment center dimensions. A large body of research builds on those findings, which showed the dominance of exercise effects over dimension effects. We also produced a selection book, which took the unusual format of a selection of readings and quite extensive accompanying commentary.


     At Kansas I found my voice as a teacher. I had not had the chance for much teaching experience while in graduate school. Teaching ratings my first semester were, frankly, quite awful. It took a bit of experimenting to figure out what worked for me, in terms of level of detail, structure vs. spontaneity, and my role vs. the students’ role. But things got consistently better term after term, reaching the point where I became a well-regarded instructor. I am grateful to colleagues who offered encouragement in the early days; they helped me overcome a conviction that I was not cut out for this line of work.


     Kansas, however, did not prove a good fit for Pat. It soon became clear she’d need to look for work outside the Kansas City area. After two years she received an offer from Abbott Labs, the large pharmaceutical firm north of Chicago. She headed for Chicago and I started looking for work. We spent a year apart; when people ask how long we’ve been married we confuse them when we answer “28 years minus the rebate year”. I then accepted an offer from the psychology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


     Lots of good things happened during my stay in Illinois. I had my first opportunity to work with doctoral students. I chaired SIOP’s program committee for 2 years. Jim Larson and I wrote the research methods chapter for the Dunnette and Hough Handbook of I/O Psychology.  Most importantly, Milt Hakel decided to step down as editor of Personnel Psychology, and I was offered the editorship. This changed life in anticipated and unanticipated ways. I knew it would be time consuming. I was 31: too early to let my research slide. I decided not to do journal-related work during business hours at the university and did the editorial work in my home office evenings and weekends. Naively, I did not anticipate the effects on visibility within the profession. I was now corresponding with hundreds of authors and reviewers each year. I received more invitations to speak (fun!) and many more requests to write promotion and tenure evaluation letters (no fun!). Through the editorship I broadened my knowledge of the field and honed my critical analysis skills. It was wearing, though.  Two of the happiest days of my life were the day I was offered the job and the day I passed it on to Mike Campion.


     In 1987 Rich Arvey called to ask if I’d be interested in a position in the Industrial Relations Center at Minnesota. I declined a job offer initially, but reopened negotiations after some program changes at Illinois.  This time it was Pat who made the sacrifice for the dual career; she found a job at Pillsbury shortly after we moved to Minneapolis in 1988.


     I had a strong group of I-O colleagues in the IRC, including Rich, Ray Noe (who had been my undergrad research assistant for my dissertation research at Ohio State a decade earlier), Cheri Ostroff, and later Connie Wanberg. I spent 10 productive years there, continuing my research on counterproductive workplace behaviors and issues related to fairness in employment testing. A major paper with Steffanie Wilk on balancing concerns for performance and concerns for diversity was published in the American Psychologist in 1994 and received a lot of attention. I was gratified to win a teaching award from students in the IRC and to receive a named professorship.


     However, I grew increasingly dissatisfied with the IRC. As an interdisciplinary center for the study of work, different fields and different perspectives are represented. The IRC became increasingly dominated by economists, a number of whom were quite antagonistic towards psychology. I decided it was time to leave. At that point John Campbell came to my rescue, with a proposal that the Department of Psychology offer me a position. In 1998 I moved across the Mississippi River to join John and Deniz Ones, and to try to fill the shoes of Marv Dunnette, who was about to retire. We soon thereafter hired Steve Motowidlo and Joyce Bono to form an extraordinarily productive and collegial I-O group. As I write this I’ve just finished 5 years in the psychology department.


     The above is a chronological account. I’d like to discuss several important themes in my professional life that cut across the various places I’ve been.



National Academy of Sciences


     I’ve had the privilege of doing a considerable amount of work with the National Academy of Sciences. Their research arm, the National Research Council, was created by an act of Congress as a body the government could turn to for advice on policy issues with a scientific underpinning. The typical procedure when a problem is identified is to appoint a multidisciplinary committee of about 15 people to spend 2-3 years studying the problem and producing a final report in book form. The issues addressed are complex, the people serving on the committees are top scholars in their respective fields, and integrating perspectives across fields is challenging and rewarding. In the early 1980s I was commissioned to do a background paper and present the results to a committee on performance assessment in the workplace. That work caught the attention of Sandy Wigdor, who was assembling a new committee to study the issue of within-group scoring (“race-norming”) in the Department of Labor’s use of the General Aptitude Test Battery. Sandy invited me to serve on the committee, which produced the volume Fairness in Employment Testing. For that project I conducted meta-analyses and predictive bias analyses of the massive GATB data base. At least a dozen of my research articles over the next decade flowed from issues raised in that study. Later I served on committees investigating school-to-work transitions and the use of high stakes tests for school promotion and graduation. I’ve just finished chairing a committee on the youth population and military recruitment, producing a book entitled Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth. I view my National Academy service as some of the most rewarding work I’ve done. It addresses big issues, it is intellectually challenging, and bringing a committee of diverse people to consensus is often a delicate high-wire act.



Work-Life Balance


     I’m a believer in hard work but just as firm a believer in the need for a varied and active life away from work. I devote a good deal of time to volunteer work related to one of my passions, namely long distance running. I caught the running bug in 1984, lost 40 pounds, and have been running marathons and ultramarathons ever since. I spend a lot of time working on the Twin Cities Marathon. For several years I tried to put I-O theory into practice in serving as the elite athlete recruiter. The top Kenyan, Russian, European, as well as American athletes have many races to choose from, and my job was to build as strong a field as I could, given a fixed athlete travel budget. I could pay travel for about 25 out of several hundred interested athletes, and thus it is an interesting personnel selection problem.


     Pat and I are the race directors for something near and dear to my heart, namely, the FANS 24 Hour Race in Minneapolis. Runners attempt to cover as much distance as they can between 8AM Saturday morning and 8AM Sunday morning: whoever goes the farthest wins. The event is a fundraiser for a college scholarship fund for inner-city kids. It’s an early intervention program: 6th graders enter into a behavioral contract promising a scholarship in return for attending to one’s schoolwork and avoiding drugs, crime, and teenage pregnancy. Athletes obtain sponsors who commit to anything from a dime to a dollar per mile. I’ve run the event a number of times, and am about equally proud of reaching 100 miles in a day and raising over $3000 in the process.





     Though I’ve spent my career in an academic setting, one extremely rewarding aspect of my professional life has been the opportunity for applied work. I’ve enjoyed providing opportunities for applied work experiences for students. I’ve also benefited tremendously from the opportunity to collaborate with I-O colleagues around the country. From working on astronaut selection with Rich Arvey, Wayne Cascio, and Al Holland to working on selecting supermarket cashiers with Shelly Zedeck and Larry Fogli, to police selection work with Irv Goldstein, Jim Outtz, Mark Lifter, and Mark Ludwick, to dozens of other projects and collaborators, each has influenced my perspective on the field, and, I hope, helped me keep a science-practice balance.





     More than just about anything, I take delight in working with students. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with many extraordinarily talented students, and I try stay in touch with each of them. Watching their careers develop, each in very different ways, is deeply satisfying. Ann Marie Ryan’s recent election to the SIOP presidency was one such moment. She’s the first student of mine to be elected to that office, and I felt competing emotions. One was quasi-parental pride. Another was the disturbing sense that having a student reach this milestone is very inconsistent with my self-image as a youngster.


     Students with whom I’ve published or whose dissertations I’ve advised include Bruce Wade, Michael Harris, Anne Marie Ryan, John Orr, Pat Conley, Laura Burris Desmarais, Christine Callahan, Mark Coward, Cathy DuBois, Ann Noe, Ellen Mullen, Dan Ostgaard, Steffanie Wilk, Teresa Rothausen, Marcie Cavanaugh LePine, Hyuckseung Yang, Jim Wanek, Wei-Chi Tsai, Jill Ellingson, Melissa Gruys, Maria Rotundo, Hannah-Hahn Nguyen, Fred Oswald, Syed Saad, Aichia Chuang, Kathy Tuzinski, Cynthia DeVore, Roxanne Laczo, Michael Cullen, Allison Ahart, Zach Lippe, and Chaitra Hardison. I hope I haven’t inadvertently left anyone out; I also hope the list is outdated no later than next week!





     Finally, I come to SIOP. I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to be heavily involved in SIOP activities for over 20 years, and these are some of the most rewarding activities of my career. I started on the program committee, and in 1982 was given the opportunity to chair the committee. It may be a surprise to you to learn that it was a major innovation that year to move beyond a small committee, which read all papers, made decisions, and gave no written feedback, to the larger committee and written feedback system still in place today. After chairing the committee a second year it looked like my time on the SIOP executive committee was over. But at my last executive committee meeting I got involved in a late-into-the-night conversation about SIOP issues with Irv Goldstein, who was then president-elect. At the end of the conversation, Irv told me that while he had had someone in mind to chair Scientific Affairs, he was changing his mind and offering me the position. That kept me on the executive committee through the pivotal period of SIOP’s incorporation and the decision to hold what we originally envisioned as a small event known as the “midyear conference” (with APA as the major annual conference). As we know, the SIOP conference quickly exceeded all expectations.


     After Scientific Affairs, I was elected as Member-at-Large for a 3-year term. I then received news that I was nominated to be on the presidential ballot. As the competition consisted of far senior and far better-qualified individuals, I agreed to serve as cannon fodder. That pattern continued for several years, as Frank Landy, Rich Klimoski, and Wayne Cascio were elected. Finally, 1992, was my year. Even though you are told that it is an honor just to be nominated, I confess that I had gotten a bit tired of the annual defeat by that time. I want to encourage others to hang in there as well, and note that it is common to be on the losing end a couple of times before your turn comes around.


     The most memorable event of the presidential year was the presidential address. It’s given at the end of the presidential year, so you have 2 years to think about it from the day you learn you’ve been selected as president-elect. Often it’s a formal talk; sometimes there are some personal touches. I found myself thinking about the latter approach. Given the central role of music in my life, I started musing on the idea of writing and performing a song for the occasion. The initial choice was guitar or piano. I spend some time working on a guitar-based country song, titled “I Went to Bed A Scientist, But You Made a Practitioner Out of Me,” but thought better of it. I then hit upon writing SIOP-related words to the well-known Gilbert and Sullivan tune “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” which turned into “I Am the Very Model of a Scientist-Practitioner”.


     I remember vividly the day I decided to take the plunge. I called Bill Macey, the conference chair, and told him I would need a grand piano for the presidential address.  To my amazement, he didn’t bat an eye. No questions about what I needed it for. Just an “OK, it’ll be there.” Much later he told me “I didn’t want to pry.” On the day of the address, my stage fright was immense. I figured there were two possibilities.  It would either be the most embarrassing moment of my life, or it would be a big hit. I gambled that it didn’t have to be good: just doing something unexpected would carry the day. That proved to be the case; I don’t find myself receiving standing ovations from large crowds, but it happened that day. It’s a moment I’ll treasure. And for the last 10 years I’ve had many opportunities to recapture the moment, as I’ll be introduced to someone in the profession who I don’t know, and their opening line will be “I liked your song.”





     I’ve resisted writing this for 10 years. One supposed duty of one’s past-presidential year is to write an autobiography. But writing such a thing at 40 was something I couldn’t bring myself to do. I still feel it’s premature, but I’ve just turned 50, and so here it is. I want to thank all my students and all my SIOP colleagues for their contributions toward a career I wouldn’t change for anything. I hope there are many adventures yet to come.



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