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TIP-TOPics for Students

Dawn Riddle and Lori Foster
University of South Florida

As you may have heard, April 1999 marks the end of our reign as TIP-TOPics' student editors. Of course we couldn't resist a little walk down memory lane, in honor of our final issue.

During the past 2 years, our mission has been to report on issues of TOP priority to our TIP readers. We've aimed our Spotlight on tools and training strategies that could potentially be incorporated into your current I-O program, your personal development plan, or your future workplace. With the help of a lot of folks, we've looked at innovative uses of role plays in I-O training, technology in the classroom, and mentoring programs targeting professional growth. In addition, we've identified unique opportunities for developing publishing skills, creating teaching portfolios, and broadening professional knowledge through doctoral consortia.

The "You Know, I've Been Wondering…" segment has certainly covered a lot of ground as well. This segment has shed light on a wide variety of questions that befuddled I-O students were afraid to ask, were unsure if it was appropriate to ask, or just plain didn't know who to ask! Many topics were demystified in this segment, including internships, the future of our field, the differences between theses and dissertations, the ins-and-outs of publishing, finding a job, and the workings of the annual SIOP conference. With the help of our TIP-TOPics student representatives, we've certainly learned a lot.

Finally, the gist of our TIPs for Balancing Life and Graduate School segment has been to collect and disseminate TIPs for maintaining that delicate balance among the many hats we all wear—student, employee, spouse, friend, volunteer, and so forth. We've received a wide variety of suggestions from our sources, and shared many of them with our readers. Advice has emphasized the importance of identifying and utilizing support groups, involving family in school-related activities, developing, obtaining, and maintaining long-term vision and perspective, finding family-friendly places to work, and utilizing online listserves. After receiving and following these TIPs during the last 2 years, we feel a lot better!

The success of our entire column (yes, we like to think of the column as a success!) was largely due to input, advice, and pointers imparted from the likes of Elaine Pulakos, Fritz Drasgow, Kevin Murphy, John Hollenbeck, Ken Smith, and Kenneth Blanchard—not to mention our many TIP-TOPics student representatives and guest writers! Thanks also go to Allan Church, who has been there to provide guidance and support. In short, many thanks to all who helped make the column enjoyable to create, write, and hopefully, read.

Now that we're through with our tearful remembrances and sincere thank you's, here's something to brighten your day…the July 1999 issue of TIP will introduce a new column! And guess who will be writing/editing that column? If you guessed us, you're right. Since we're nearing the end of our student days, we thought it might be time to graduate to a new column, one more in tune with our new interests—Early Career interests, that is! That's all we're saying for now. You'll have to catch us in the July issue to find out more—we don't want to spoil the surprise!

Okay, it's about time we got on with this issue's TIP-TOPics column! Our line up for this edition involves Spotlighting a seminar designed to arm students with the insight needed to successfully leap from textbooks and classrooms to the practical pragmatics of professional practice in I-O psychology. "You Know, I've Been Wondering…" covers questions I-O students often ask prior to that leap. Special thanks to Stephanie Payne and Sheila Simsarian Webber for providing answers to these questions based on their experience in the seminar described in the Spotlight segment. Lastly, our final TIP for Balancing Life and Graduate School offers a place to go to add some extra fun and relaxation to this year's SIOP conference.

In the Spotlight: Career Survival Training in the Classroom

If you are like most students, a few semesters of grad school under your belt has you feeling pretty comfortable with your role as Graduate Student. "I can handle this," you cautiously decide. Before long, you begin to master the core I-O competencies. Heck, you even start using words like "competencies" in everyday language! "I have arrived," you decidedly assert. But wait—hold it right there! A successful career in I-O depends on more than mere subject matter expertise, or so they tell us. According to Dianne Brown Maranto from the APA Science Directorate, "There are a lot of career survival skills that you don't learn in the course of the regular graduate curriculum in I-O, but that are just as crucial to your success in the field. Providing this kind of information to students in the form of a professional practice seminar is definitely going to give them an edge as they enter the field."

This segment describes a graduate seminar designed to equip students with a variety of career survival skills before they enter the job market. Entitled "Professional Issues in Psychology," this segment is conducted biannually at George Mason University (GMU). Its formal objective is to address issues that face psychologists as they function as professionals in various work settings. "It's like mentoring students, but on a larger scale," says Rich Klimoski,1 who has taught the course in the past.


The Professional Issues seminar meets weekly, and each week emphasizes a separate skill area. Most skill areas span academic and applied careers, making the seminar appropriate for students headed in either direction. During the course of the semester, the following skills are targeted: career planning, locating funding sources and writing proposals, project management, developing staffing plans and budgets, networking and participating in conferences and societies, mastering the criteria for publishable work, academic interviewing skills, making ethical judgment calls, balancing constituencies, developing professional partnerships, working by legal precedent, and handling political sensitivities.

Doesn't sound like your typical textbook, does it? So, how is this information conveyed to the students? It is presented through a variety of methods, including guest speakers, individual assignments, and team projects. The following subsections provide specific examples highlighting how these methods are used to bridge the gap between the textbook and the real world. Prepare to be impressed.

Guest speakers. Yes, throughout the semester, students receive words of wisdom from experienced career survivalists themselves! For example, Deborah Whetzel from the U.S. Postal Service once gave a talk entitled "Doing Professional Work in Agency settings." This talk was designed to help students learn about balancing constituencies (and related issues). "It's often a balancing act between doing work according to the textbook and getting the job done in a real, practical environment," Dr. Whetzel says. "Students should have exposure to both the optimal way of doing research and development as well as alternative approaches so that when confronted with practical limitations, they will not make compromises that lead to legal or ethical consequences later."

Bev Dugan's talk focused on client management skills—a topic she noted she'd learned nothing about in graduate school. According to Dr. Dugan, an
I-O psychologist from HUMRRO, "Many of the managers who seek the assistance of I-O psychologists are working in an environment that is dynamic and they are dealing with problems that are difficult to define and resolve. Tackling problems effectively requires a level of interpersonal skill and an ability to analyze situations and relationships that is not acquired in graduate school."

Marilyn Gowing, Director of the Personnel Resources and Development Center in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, has also served as a guest speaker for the GMU Professional Issues seminar. Her objective was to raise issues related to working in the public sector and the political sensitivities therein. When asked what "real world" information students learned from her talk, Dr. Gowing replied, "The students learned the importance of translating their research into terms that reflect the objectives of their new managers. As an example, when President Clinton and Vice President Gore came into office, they expressed an interest in `Reinventing Government.' Our Office of Personnel Management research center had been studying high performance organizations for years using an Organizational Assessment Survey. With a little repackaging, we were able to use our previous work and survey items in a Reinventing Government Survey to meet the needs of the new administration."

In short, knowledgeable guest speakers add considerable value to the seminar by painting vivid pictures of specific I-O careers, describing relevant issues and dilemmas, passing along advice, and simply allowing students to learn vicariously from others' professional experiences.

Individual assignments. Individual course assignments allow students to personalize their professional development during the semester. One example, designed to enhance students' career planning skills, includes marketing to a specific job. This assignment requires each student to prepare materials that are designed to make a strong case for his or her candidacy for a particular position. More specifically, this activity involves the following steps: (a) identifying a post-graduate job or position of interest; (b) identifying a mentor who can provide advice regarding the position's worker requirements and how one can best present him or herself in an application for the position; (c) creating, updating, or modifying one's current vita to target the position; and (d) preparing a persuasive cover letter. Students are required to bring these materials for class discussion. A subsequent assignment has students refer back to the list of worker requirements generated during this process, rank order the listed requirements relative to a self-assessed need for improvement, and create a 6-month action plan to remedy or strengthen identified personal weaknesses.

Another individual assignment requires students to develop a list of local, regional, and national professional/scientific societies relevant to their careers, and solicit membership information from those societies. Students must also examine societies to which they already belong and identify activities that they are eligible to participate in. Finally, students are required to join a new society and/or increase participation in a society to which they currently belong. In general, this assignment is designed to help students develop their networking skills and appreciate the role that societies can play in their professional lives. As Dianne Brown Maranto, former guest speaker for the seminar points out, "I-O is a heavy networking community and we rely on our professional societies to find each other. If a seminar can provide suggestions on how to maneuver through the various societies, students stand a better chance of establishing key contacts."

Team projects. Team projects also play a role in the development of career survival skills. One example assignment requires 2- to 3-person teams of students to respond to a military SBIR "call" for project proposals.2 Teams prepare project proposals that are appropriate for the problem outlined in the SBIR. The team proposals are required to be technically strong, well-informed by the literature, practical, and persuasive. In other words, they should be realistic. This project is designed to enhance proposal and grant-related expertise—a skill requirement common to a variety of work settings.

What's the Use?

A seminar teaching career survival skills can benefit students in a number of ways. But don't take our word for it—ask Elaine Pulakos, President of SIOP and former speaker at the GMU Professional Issues seminar. "Professional Practice seminars, like the one offered at George Mason, are useful to students because there is a gap between what one learns in typical theory and research-based graduate school courses and doing applied work in our field," says Dr. Pulakos. "A course that focuses on practice issues helps students to better understand the nature of applied work and the unique skills that are critical to performing this type of work (e.g., excellent consulting skills, communication skills, flexibility, etc.). The primary benefit of learning about applied work in graduate school is that this ought to help students make decisions about the career options they wish to pursue."

Stanley Gully from the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers agrees on the importance of a Professional Issues course. "Textbooks rarely focus on the underlying occupational socialization processes that are crucial to effective adjustment as professionals in our field. For example, it is helpful to understand the impact of the informal professional network on job search activities and research endeavors. Similarly, balancing our personal lives with work demands is difficult, and it is often useful to hear about strategies others have developed to cope with these demands. These seminars provide opportunities to explore such issues." Dr. Gully notes that the Department of HRM at Rutgers offers a course called the Professional Seminar (ProSem), which is similar to GMU's Professional Issues program.

What Does This Have to do With Me?

Okay, so GMU and Rutgers offer really cool professional seminars, but what does this have to do with everyone else? Glad you asked! If you are a graduate student or faculty member who likes this idea, consider initiating some change and incorporating this strategy into your current program! Depending on the specifics of your program, this may or may not have to take the shape of a formal seminar. Dr. Klimoski points out that this type of course could be modified and adapted to a brown-bag format. (In fact, rumor has it that Michigan State is currently conducting survival skills training in a less formalized noncredit series of brown bags held every Friday.) So, take the ball and run with it!

"You Know, I've Been Wondering…"

…what exactly do students learn in those professional development seminars? We recently got in touch with two students, Stephanie Payne and Sheila Simsarian Webber, who experienced the GMU Professional Issues seminar first-hand. According to Stephanie and Sheila, this course answered several nagging questions that they previously pondered. Since TIP-TOPics readers probably share some of the same questions regarding the pragmatics involved in the practice of our profession, Stephanie and Sheila agreed to give us the low-down on a few key issues. The following Q & A integrates responses from both students and represents their lessons learned from the seminar.

What is a "professional persona," and why should I want one?

A professional persona is "something you are known for"—something that differentiates you from others because you are the expert in that arena. It also reflects who you are—a scientist, who develops new knowledge and insights, a practitioner, who applies knowledge to an existing problem, or the ever famous scientist-practitioner, who tries to balance both roles. Your professional persona can be instrumental in establishing your reputation and marketing your knowledge and skills.

You really should start building your professional persona as soon as your I-O training begins. It is recommended that you choose a focal topic that (a) you know well, (b) is practical to study and of interest to the field, (c) will hold your interest for 5_10 years, and (d) permits interrelated studies. It is also helpful to choose a mentor to model that exemplifies the persona you want to portray.

How should I market myself for a specific job?

For starters, you may want to do a little "market research" so to speak. Find out as much as you can about the organization and the position. For instance, it is helpful to know, understand, and use the jargon adopted by members of the organization. It is important to gather background information because you will want to tailor your vita and cover letter to the specific organization. Your cover letter should make a strong case for your candidacy for a particular position, suggesting that you have what the organization needs and they have what you need.

When applying for academic positions, find out whether any faculty from the institution of interest have vitas posted on the web. If so, format yours similarly. In addition, if you don't have one already, be sure to include a section of "works in progress" on your vita. This section should focus on your individual research projects and interests, and it should specify where these topics fit within the broader field of I-O. Furthermore, you might want to become familiar with preferred teaching styles at the university or college of interest. Look at the university catalog and, in your cover letter, describe what classes they offer that you would be willing to teach.

In terms of marketing yourself in general, remember to keep your colleagues informed of your activities. Also, make others aware of your work by sending copies of your manuscripts to key people in the area and encouraging them to provide you with comments. One more idea—you might want to work with your advisor or mentor to organize and contribute to symposia at conferences.

How do I go about seeking funds for research?

A good place to start is your own backyard. Find out whether your university has an "Office of Sponsored Programs" or some similar office. These programs typically have access to the variety of sources for research funding. After that, consider checking the net. The following organizations routinely offer funds for research and are accessible on the Internet: National Council of University Research Administrators; Federal Information Exchange, Inc.; Federal Acquisition and Procurement Opportunities; Army Research Office; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; DefenseLINK; National Science Foundation; and National Institutes of Health. Even the most modest research is funded. It's never too soon to start pursuing financial support for your research.

And don't forget, just like marketing yourself for a job, you must market yourself for funding opportunities. When a request exists, represent your credentials in a manner designed to make you look like an attractive candidate. Similarly, revise your vita according to the proposal, and write a cover letter with the purpose of acquiring an interview.

TIPs for Balancing Life and Graduate School

SIOP is just around the corner, and this year's conference presents a brand new opportunity for you to hone your work/leisure balancing skills. If the "leisure" side of the equation starts looking a little thin, consider attending "Graduate Students' Night Out" for some fun and relaxation. This event will take place on the rooftop deck of Lulu's Bait Shack, Saturday, May 1, beginning around 9:00 PM. Lulu's is located at 3057 Peachtree Road in Atlanta's Buckhead district. Their signature item is a 94-ounce "Fishbowl" drink with a little bit of everything in it. (You'd better bring a friend, otherwise "balance" will no longer be an option!)

"This will be very informal," says Mike Fetzer, a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi. "I've set this up as a meeting place for us to get away from the `ambiance' of the conference."

Directions to Lulu's will be posted on the bulletin board at SIOP; or, you can visit their website at http://www.lulusbaitshack.com. For further information on Graduate Students' Night Out, contact Mike Fetzer at the University of Southern Mississippi (fetzer@netdoor.com).

1Many thanks to Dr. Klimoski, who provided lots of valuable information for this column.

2 For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) funding consists of money set aside, by the government, in order to (a) address government agencies' research needs, and (b) help small businesses conduct research and develop new products. Small businesses may bid on SBIR projects by submitting proposals that outline potential research solutions and their associated costs.

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