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Elaine Pulakos

SIOP President, 1998-99    

I was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, where my family had a third generation manufacturing and retail business. Growing up, I assumed I would go to college, be a business major, and return home to work in the business.  My career did not work out that way, exactly. 
 
 
I attended Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college in Meadville, PA, and then Penn State University.  I found I-O psychology one summer when I was taking classes at Behrend College, a branch campus of Penn State, where I met Steve Knouse -- a professor and industrial-organizational psychologist.  I had not heard of I-O, but Steve explained that it involved applying psychology in work settings.  Since I was finding my psychology classes more interesting than my business classes, I was intrigued by a field that combined these areas. Steve became a mentor.  I declared psychology as my major and business administration as my minor.

I realized that by declaring psychology as my undergraduate major, I was also signing up for four years of graduate school. After considering several programs, I felt that the best fit would be at Michigan State, albeit with a twist.  I had received a letter from Ben Schneider asking if I would consider MSUs organizational behavior program rather than the I-O program.  Ben was the John A. Hannah Professor of Organizational Behavior and had a joint appointment in psychology and the business school. Given my fairly strong business background and interests, I decided to accept this offer, especially considering the very strong faculty there -- Ben, Ken Wexley, John Wanous.   
 
I had the good fortune to arrive at MSU when Ken Wexley was also new.  Since Ken did not yet have students, he took me under his wing.  I got a tremendous amount of experience working with Ken, conducting both research and applied work. At that time, Ken was interested in perceptual congruence between managers and their subordinates and during my first year in graduate school, we designed and conducted a research study on this topic.  By the time I was a second year graduate student, I was extremely fortunate to have my first published article. In addition to this paper, Ken and I subsequently published two other papers using the data set we had collected – one on the effects of perceptual and actual similarity on performance ratings and another on gender effects on performance ratings. 
 
 
I remained in the business school for two years.  Ben Schneider, who I never actually worked with in graduate school, was extremely supportive of me during this time. Through funding he received as Hannah Professor, he supported my work as a research assistant for Ken for part of this time. I will never forget Ben’s generosity. He enabled me to continue working on research, when he had no direct gain.  
 
Because the I-O and OB graduate programs were very collaborative at MSU, I also had the opportunity to work with Neal Schmitt, who was in the I-O program.  As time went on, it became increasingly apparent that my heart was in psychology and not business administration, so I transferred to the I-O program at the beginning of my third year.  In the business school, there was no requirement to do a master’s thesis but in the I-O program, there was, so I had catching up to do. 
 
 
Neal Schmitt became my advisor and by the end of my third year, I completed my master’s thesis.  At the time, there was a great interest in cognitive processes underlying performance evaluation and considerable research was focused on helping raters make more accurate ratings.  My master’s thesis was a laboratory study comparing rater error and accuracy training.  I had been reading quite a bit of Wally Borman’s research and took note of videotaped performance conversations he developed that I thought would be ideal for my study.  I contacted Wally and he sent me the tapes for use in my master’s research.  This began a relationship with Wally that has lasted throughout my career. 
 
My master’s thesis was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology – my first sole authored paper, and I was thrilled.  Ironically, I believe Wally reviewed my paper. 
I continued working with Neal Schmitt on various research projects. I don’t remember exactly how this happened but one of us came up with the idea that job satisfaction might be predicted by individual differences variables. Neal has a data set available from a previous research project that enabled us to investigate this hypothesis.  We ended up finding support for this idea and published this research in JAP.  We also conducted a related study examining relationships between life and job satisfaction, which was also published.  One of the most fortunate things that has happened in my career is having the opportunity to meet and work with Neal Schmitt. 
 
I think most everyone at MSU expected I would probably take an academic job, but I was much more drawn to doing applied work in organizations.  In fact, I thought some of the most exciting work in our field was being conducted by Wally Borman and his PDRI colleagues. At APA, I made it a point to meet Wally and told him about my enthusiasm for PDRI’s work. While, I’m certain he did not take me seriously at the time, I continued contact him periodically to let him know how interested I was in working there.  Finally, perhaps being tired of hearing from me, I was invited to PDRI-Minneapolis in January of 1984, at which time I met Marv Dunnette, Leaetta Hough, Norm Peterson, Janis Houston, and all of the other PDRIers.  They offered me a one-year post-doc, starting in July, which I enthusiastically accepted.
 
 
The only problem was that it was January, I had just completed my comps and had not yet started my dissertation. I did not want to leave MSU without having my dissertation complete, so I needed to move quickly. 
 
During my fourth year of graduate school, I had the good fortune to work with Dan Ilgen.  He was new to MSU that year and I was his graduate research assistant.  Working with both Neal and Dan, who were co-chairs of my dissertation committee, I designed a lab study – again on rater training – that I was able to complete in only a few months.  As a result, I finished my dissertation, defended it, and wrote it up for publication before leaving that summer for Minnesota. 
 
 
I arrived at PDRI in 1984, a time when the organization was immersed in conducting the largest selection research program ever funded, the Army’s Project A.  I worked on both the predictor and the criterion sides of this project with many wonderful new colleagues. In addition to Marv, Wally, Leaetta, Norm, and Janis, there was Steve Ashworth, Bruce Barge, Mike Bosshardt, Jeff McHenry, Meg Keyes, Steve Lammlein, Teresa Russell, and others.
 
During my first week at PDRI, I was asked to write a proposal for the Civilian Personnel Agency of the Army.  I had never written a proposal and did not have a clue how to begin.  After spinning my wheels for several days, I came across the PDRI library and all of the proposals PDRI staff had written previously.  Between using these as models and generous help from Mike Bosshardt, I was finally able to pull together a response.  This was my most difficult and stressful professional challenge to date, because I had no idea how to write a proposal.  I was relieved to get it done at all, let along my disbelief when we were awarded the contract.  This win helped to solidify my position at PDRI – if they only knew how much I sweated and how lucky I was...
 
 
During my time at PDRI, I continued working on Project A, traveled all over the country, and published several articles using Project A data with Wally Borman, Len White (from the Army Research Institutes), Mary Ann Hanson, and Scott Oppler.  This work involved examining race and gender effects on performance ratings, something I had been interested in since working with Ken Wexley, and developing and evaluating models of job performance. 
 
While I was very happy with my work at PDRI, I was not well suited for Minnesota.  In 1987, I moved to Washington DC and joined the American Institutes for Research.   I continued to work on Project A, because AIR was also on the contracting team that had been awarded this work.  It was an odd situation where I changed employers but not jobs. 
 
 
About a year and a half after joining AIR, HumRRO made my a great offer to lead a large assessment center development and implementation project for the Drug Enforcement Administration.  I had been working on Project A for several years and was ready for a new challenge.  Irv Goldstein was involved as an expert on the project, and I was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with him. Thus, I took the job and moved across the river from Washington, DC to the HumRRO offices in Alexandria, VA, where I stayed for approximately seven years, until 1995. I very much enjoyed my time at HumRRO, especially with colleagues such as Bev Dugan, Helene Felber, Deirdre Knapp, Teresa Russell, and others. 
 
During my HumRRO tenure, a highpoint was again working with Neal Schmitt.  We received a request for proposal to develop and implement a new entry-level hiring system for Special Agents at the FBI.  Since Neal had such deep expertise in selection research, I asked him if he was interested in teaming on this effort.  We wrote the proposal, won the work, and subsequently worked on this effort for over three years.  This was one of my most rewarding projects, both in terms of the growth it provided me and the opportunity to work again with Neal. The project, overall, was a great success and also bore several publications.
 
 
Outside the professional domain, my time at HumRRO was also marked by meeting my husband, Timothy Wall, in 1989.  This was the highpoint of 1989 and my marriage continues to be a highpoint today. 
 
My next major career event occurred in 1994, while sitting next to Wally at a conference luncheon.  We were discussing PDRI and I told him that I thought PDRI needed an office in Washington, DC to effectively compete for government work. This evolved into a further discussion of my starting up a DC office.  I was confident in my ability to develop business and run projects but not so much in starting and growing a business from scratch.  I was ready for a new challenge, however, and decided to join PDRI in 1995 as its single DC staff member.
 
 
The first two years at PDRI were filled with developing business in DC and supporting work in the Minneapolis and Tampa, FL offices, primarily in the private sector.  There were two professional highlights during this time. The first was collaborating with Dan Ilgen on a SIOP Frontiers Series book, titled The Changing Nature of Performance:  Implications for Staffing, Motivation, and Development.  A second was winning work from the Army Research Institutes to develop a model of adaptive job performance and innovative measures to predict adaptive work behavior.
 
In 1997, along with the adaptability work, we landed a very large project in the DC office with the Central Intelligence Agency that involved developing and implementing a fully integrated, automated human capital system. This included enterprise-wide job analysis, performance appraisal, employee development, and compensation.  The project was so large that we had to staff up quickly, going from an office of two to an office of 10+ almost overnight.  Hiring, training, and managing new staff at the time same we were expected to deliver work proved challenging. In the end, the work went very well, and we continue our work with CIA today. 
 
 
At about the same time, I learned that I had been elected as the President-Elect of SIOP.  The timing was not the best but I was very happy about the opportunity to serve in this role. Time passed quickly and before I knew it, it was time to start planning for my Presidential Address. The adaptability work with the Army had progressed and was yielding promising results.  We had a great project team, including Wally, Jerry Hedge, Sharon Arad, Michelle Donovan, Kevin Plamondon, and -- we also convinced Neal Schmitt to join us as well.  I decided about six months before the address that I would talk about this adaptability work, because it was a timely topic that could be made into a broadly appealing address. 
 
I remember the two days at SIOP after giving my Presidential Address as probably the highest point in my professional career.  I was honored to have been elected president, happy to have successfully completed my year, and even happier to have successfully delivered my address.  Culminating in Atlanta with my friends, colleagues, and husband Tim, there, was an amazing and special experience for me that I will never forget. 
 
 
 
Since then, the PDRI DC office has continued to grow and prosper, with a wonderful staff of people, including Gary Carter, Dave Dorsey, Sandy Fisher, Susan White, among others.  I continue to be very enthusiastic about our growth and the work we are doing.
 
I have had wonderful opportunities in my professional career to work with incredibly talented and supportive colleagues and to develop wonderful friendships and relationships as a result of my association with the field of I-O psychology and SIOP, which I am honored to be a part of and to have served. 
 


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