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Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Graduate School Rankings:  A Guide for I-O Graduate School Applicants 

Carrie A. Bulger
Quinnipiac University

Michael Horvath
Clemson University

Michael Zickar
Bowling Green State University
 

Note:  Order of authorship was determined alphabetically.

Overview

When evaluating graduate programs in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, many sources and types of information are important.  One of the sources of information that you will encounter are ranking systems that quantify the quality of a particular school according to a set of criteria.  There are an increasing number of these ranking systems, and they often produce different rank orders because they use different criteria to rank the programs.  Unless you understand the criteria, the results are more likely to be confusing than helpful.  We wrote this report to help you evaluate individual ranking systems so that you can make a more informed decision about which program best fits your interests and needs.

In general, when evaluating a particular ranking system, pay attention to the criteria that are being measured with that system.  Some systems rank programs on reputation as determined by department chairs or esteemed faculty.  Other systems tabulate research publications and presentations by faculty and/or graduate students and use those tabulations as an indication of the quality of a graduate program.  Finally, other systems survey current graduate students within programs to assess their satisfaction with their program.

Each of these ranking systems has its own strengths and limitations.  There are often important factors that are left out of the equation of a particular ranking system.  For example, the fit between faculty interests and your own interests is left out of all equations.  In addition, each ranking system measures some aspects of graduate school quality and ignores other aspects.  Systems based on number of faculty publications assume that quality of doctoral education can be linked to faculty research productivity.  That assumption may be reasonable if a graduate student desires to publish lots of research articles while in graduate school.  That assumption may be unreasonable if a graduate student is less interested in research productivity.  In the following report, we discuss general criteria to evaluate each ranking system and we provide specific evaluations of some of the ranking systems that have been conducted. 

Making a decision about which graduate program to choose can be difficult.  Remember that the decision of which school to choose is a personal one.  You need to understand what is important to you and make your decision accordingly.  We hope that this report helps you better evaluate information that you will encounter.

 Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Graduate School Rankings: 
A Guide for I-O Graduate School Applicants

This guide was written for people who are considering entering a doctoral program in Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology.  Just as there are many different ranking systems used to evaluate professional and collegiate athletics teams, there have been several different attempts to evaluate and rank I-O psychology doctoral programs.  Making sense of different ranking systems can be difficult.  Systems vary widely on the factors and methodologies used to rank programs.  This guide highlights issues and concerns of ranking systems, and although we criticize the ranking systems more than we praise them, ranking systems do provide helpful information.  Our goal is to identify issues to consider and questions to ask that will make you a better consumer of the information the different ranking systems provide.

Questions for All Ranking Systems

The following four questions should be considered while examining all ranking systems.

What matters for you? 

There are lots of factors that can be used for ranking doctoral programs.  Some ranking systems weight a factor heavily whereas other systems ignore the factor entirely.  Make sure that the factors considered in a particular ranking system are criteria that are important to you. 

Who is doing the ranking?

Different sources may have different preferences and biases.  In addition, certain sources may be in a better position to evaluate doctoral programs in I-O psychology than other sources.  Always try to determine who is providing the judgments or rankings.

Which programs are considered in the rankings?

Different ranking systems may omit certain programs.  Just because a program fails to make a list does not necessarily mean that that program is of poor quality.  Find out what the criteria were for considering programs. 

What is the methodology of a particular ranking system?

Consider that each ranking is just like any other psychological study.  A particular study may have its own strengths and limitations.  Use methodological criteria that you would use to evaluate other psychological research.  For example, is the sample size appropriate for the conclusions made?  Is the operational definition of the ranking system adequate? 

Three Types of Ranking Systems

We have classified ranking systems into three categories.  Some systems rate perceptions of a programs prestige using external perceptions (e.g., US News & World Reports Best Graduate Schools, 2005), whereas others rate the productivity of faculty (e.g., Gibby et al., 2002) or student satisfaction with the program (Kraiger & Abalos, 2004). We discuss the strengths and limitations of each of the methods in the following sections. 

Program Prestige

Overview

US News & World Report publishes a ranking of I-O programs in their annual publication, Best Graduate Schools. They send surveys to many individuals who are either department chairs or are the heads of I-O programs. These people are given a sheet with 10 blank lines and are asked to list the top ten schools in I-O psychology.  The responses are compiled, and the schools ordered based on the frequency of being mentioned in the rankings.

Strengths of this rating system

This system rates schools using individuals overall impressions. Therefore, a possible strength of this system could be its comprehensiveness. That is, when individuals make their ratings, they can use any information at their disposal, which could increase the chances that all relevant sources of information are considered.

Another strength of this system is its visibility. Employers or recruiters unfamiliar with the world of I-O may be more familiar with this rating system than with the others. Therefore, employers may use these ratings to gauge the prestige of the program, and consequently your quality as a job applicant (note that this strength has nothing to do with the actual quality of your education, but it could still be an advantage in the job market).

Limitations of this rating system

The first limitation of this system is the number of programs rated. US News & World Reports Best Graduate Schools (2005) lists only the top 10 schools, giving no information that one could use to evaluate many other possible programs. Also, as mentioned above, this rating system measures the perceived prestige of each graduate program. Although prestige may be related to the quality of education you would receive at each school, this is not necessarily a rating of how well you would be taught at each institution.

The next limitation has to do with the quality of the raters. For ranking systems like this one, given the number of programs that exist, it is becoming difficult for a rater to be accurately informed about all of them (Graham & Diamond, 1999).  In addition, many department chairs may have little knowledge about I-O doctoral programs.  The link between their ratings and the quality of doctoral education may be based on hearsay, outdated information, or overall reputation of the entire department. 

Another problem with the US News & World Report rankings is that there is an assumption that program quality is a unidimensional variable.  Clearly there are many dimensions that could be used to distinguish programs.  Some programs may be high on certain dimensions but low on other dimensions.  In addition, applicants may value particular dimensions.  By measuring overall program quality, the US News & World Report rankings miss important information that could be used to help applicants make better decisions.

A final limitation of this system has to do with the ways in which ratings can be biased. When individuals rate each program, their assessments may be contaminated by issues unrelated to the quality of the program. For instance, previous research on the US News & World Report and similar ranking systems in other fields has shown that the rating of a particular program may be biased by someones perceptions of the university as a whole (e.g., Jacobs, 1999; Paxton & Bollen, 2003). Even with everything else held constant, programs may be rated more positively if the university has recently had a top-ranked football or basketball team. Additionally, programs may receive lower than expected ratings if they are located in urban areas, are part of public universities, or are located in the South. It has also been found that the size of a program can have an undue influence on ratings (perhaps because larger programs produce more alumni, so that the pool of raters is biased toward those universities; Paxton & Bollen, 2003).

Summary

The strength of this system (raters are able to use a comprehensive set of information when making their ratings) can also be its limitation (that is, raters can be biased by extraneous or inaccurate information). Furthermore, this system only lists the top programs, giving no information with which to evaluate many other programs.

Student Satisfaction

Overview

Kraiger and Abalos (2004) collected information used to rank masters and doctoral programs using graduate students (it would be possible to collect data on internal reputations using faculty though no study has done so).  In their analysis, they collected data from current doctoral and masters students.  Kraiger and Abalos assessed twenty variables that spanned the range from Faculty Support and Accessibility, Research Opportunities for Students, Cost of Living, to Availability of Funding.  Programs were ranked based on a combination of these 20 variables derived from importance ratings solicited in a previous wave of data collection. 

Strengths of this rating system

This system uses graduate students to determine the ranking of programs.  For many variables, graduate students may be the best source of data.  For example, graduate students will undoubtedly be the most appropriate source to judge whether the level of support provided by the university is enough to live on in a particular city.  In addition, assessing faculty support and culture of the program would probably be best done by graduate student informants. 

An important aspect of graduate life is the extent to which faculty and fellow graduate students create a supportive environment, or climate, that helps promote productivity and emotional well-being (see Slaughter & Zickar, in press, for empirical evidence supporting this assertion).  Consistent with this, I-O psychologists incorporate climate variables in their studies of organizational effectiveness.  It is reasonable to consider climate variables when making your decision.  In fact, it is common for students to visit programs that they are seriously considering before committing to that school.  Climate dimensions are perhaps best assessed using the members of the department being considered. 

Limitations of this rating system

In Kraiger and Abaloss study (2004), several programs refused to participate.  In those cases, program directors either thought that the validity of the ratings was suspect or did not bother to pass on the information to graduate students.  Lack of full participation hurts the overall quality of the ratings. That is, if a program is not listed, it may be because of a low rating, but it could also mean that the program would have had a high rating if it had participated.

In addition, although graduate students may be appropriate sources for judging program quality on many dimensions, there are other dimensions on which they may not be very good judges.  This criticism is similar to many of the criticisms about the validity of student ratings of course instructors.  Graduate students may be influenced by the likeability of faculty. 

Finally, all subjective ratings suffer from the possibility that respondents may inflate ratings to promote their graduate program.  Respondents would be motivated to promote their own school in order to increase the value and prestige of their degree.  Given the visibility of these ratings, this is quite possible. 

Summary

We think that many of the dimensions that are best assessed by internal reputations are important ones that all potential graduate students should consider.  Climate variables, cost of living, and faculty support are all important variables that are best assessed by current doctoral students.  The limitations (especially the possibility for self-promotion), however, of internal reputations are serious.  We recommend that applicants treat the results of Kraiger and Abalos (2004) and any other studies that use this method with caution.  In general, applicants should visit several programs that they are considering.  There is no substitute for observing the interactions between faculty and students (and students with students) in person. 

Research Productivity

Overview

One way that I-O programs have been evaluated and ranked has been to look at the research productivity of the schools. Research productivity has been examined by looking at the frequency of faculty publications in top I-O psychology journals (e.g., Gibby, Reeve, Grauer, Mohr, & Zickar, 2002), at representation in the SIOP conference program (Payne, Succa, Maxey, & Bolton, 2001), and at student presentations at the Annual Graduate Student Conference in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior (IOOB; Surrette, 2002).

Gibby et al. (2002) is the most recently published examination of faculty publications in I-O journals. The authors report five sets of rankings based on faculty publications. The first index ranked institutions based on faculty publications during the years 1996 to 2000 and the second index ranked institutions based on faculty publications during the entire career of the faculty member. It is important to note that these rankings accounted for the number of authors on the publication and the location of the faculty member in the author order (authors listed first typically contributed more to the research). The third and fourth rankings were based on the total number of publications, regardless of journal, for the five year period 1996 to 2000 and for the career of the faculty member. The fifth ranking was an average rank for the institution based on a summation of the four previously described rankings.

Surrette (2002) provides an update to his 1989 examination of the presence of I-O programs at the IOOB conference. This examination shows the number of student presentations from various institutions at the conference for each year from 1992 to 2002. He further identifies the rank for each school (where applicable) from the Gibby et al. (2002) ranking system. Finally, he reports a small, but statistically significant (p. 113) correlation of .19 between the number of student presentations at IOOB and the Gibby et al. productivity score, indicating that programs ranked high using one system are also somewhat likely to be ranked high in the other.

Payne and her colleagues (2001) examined research productivity of I-O programs indirectly in their look at the frequency of presentation at the SIOP conference during the years 1986 to 2000. This examination focused only on affiliation and not on whether the individual was a faculty member or graduate student. Further, the authors did not weight the rankings by the role the individual played in the session. The authors also did not differentiate affiliation by department, thus, these rankings may include authors from departments outside of Psychology, such as the Management department.

Strengths of this rating system

Getting some idea of the productivity of the institutions you are considering can be very important. One of the key components to success for all I-O psychologists is a clear understanding of the science of I-O psychology. So, whether your goal is to become an academic or a practitioner, you should make sure that your graduate school experience will provide you with opportunities to participate in the research process. Knowing whether faculty are publishing in I-O journals and whether the people at the institution present at SIOP and/or IOOB is one way to determine this.

It is also true that having research presentations and publications on your curriculum vita by the end of your graduate training is a very important factor in securing a good job. This is probably more true for those seeking academic employment than employment in the field, but either way, presentations and publications cannot hurt your prospects.

Another reason to pay attention to productivity-based rankings is based on the emphasis on dissemination of research in academia. Any research methods course will teach you that dissemination is the end goal of any research project. The main reason for this is the dissemination of knowledge. However, when an individual publishes or presents research the name of the institution accompanies the name of the individual in the journal or conference program. This serves to enhance the reputation of the institution which can also increase the prestige of the degree you will earn from the institution.

Limitations of this rating system

With that said, you must also consider some limitations of the evaluations of productivity. First, though Payne et al. (2001) and Surrette (2002) include graduate student representation at conferences, no evaluation of graduate student publications has been conducted.  One thing to note might be whether faculty include graduate students as co-authors on their own publications.  This can be an indication of the extent that faculty involve their graduate students in research.  As of now, none of the indexes have considered this.

It is also true that ratings change over time. Though some institutions have consistently ranked near the top, the rankings reported by Gibby et al. (2002) look somewhat different than those reported by Howard and his colleagues in 1985, which were different still from those reported by Cox and Catt in 1977. Such changes could occur for many reasons including changes in faculty, changes in the focus of the psychology department, and the like.

Even more important to keep in mind when looking at productivity rankings is what they do not tell you. Productivity of faculty and/or graduate students does not tell you about the coursework you will be required to complete. It does not tell you whether you will have the opportunity to gain practical experience. And, most important, simply looking at the productivity rankings of the institutions does not tell you whether a given program is the right place for you. It is much more important to find a school at which you will be able to pursue your interests than it is to attend a school that is highly ranked. Thus, you must look beyond the number of publications or presentations to the topic areas and foci of the various faculty at the institution.

Summary

Because research is such an important part of a doctoral program, looking at productivity rankings can be informative and useful when applying to graduate school. However, applicants should remember that number of publications and presentations does not tell the whole story. Anyone applying to doctoral programs should be sure to find programs where there are faculty members who do research of interest to the applicant.

Additional Caveats

There are some limitations that apply not just to one single rating system, but to all of them. First, they can quickly become outdated. Faculty move from university to university just like employees in any other job, so the ratings you see may reflect a different group of faculty than are currently at a particular university. Good faculty may leave an institution, or a university may have recently hired several top-notch professors. As you look through the ratings, you should keep in mind how old the ratings are. Furthermore, as you begin to investigate schools, you should find out whether they have lost or gained any faculty since the ratings were made.

Another issue common to all rating systems is that of making meaningful distinctions between schools. That is, as one moves up or down the rankings, the differences between each school and the next may be very small, large, or could change depending on where you are in the rankings. Some of the rating systems can give you some indication how close the schools are to each other, but others do not. As you use these rankings, you should try not to put too much weight on small differences in rankings. For instance, dont choose the #8 school over the #9 school just because it has a better ranking use other criteria to make this decision.

Finally, most of these systems rank only Ph.D. programs. Therefore, they may omit schools that offer only masters degrees (Kraiger & Abalos, 2004 and Surrette, 2002 are the exceptions). Also, schools that offer both terminal masters degrees as well as Ph.D.s may differ in the quality of each type of degree (for instance, by offering different levels of support). Use these rankings with caution when making inferences about the quality of terminal masters programs.  Although this report focuses on making decisions about doctoral programs, many of the same criteria and ideas apply to process of choosing between masters programs. 

Conclusion

The amount of information available to help you make your decision can be overwhelming.  Please remember to evaluate critically all information presented to you during this process.  There are many aspects of any doctoral program to consider when deciding where to apply and, ultimately, where to go for your degree.  This guide has focused on three areas you might encounter in popular media or through the SIOP website.  Throughout this document, we have alluded to other areas to consider in addition to those we discussed.  We list below, not necessarily in order of importance, several areas for you to consider when choosing a doctoral program:

  1. Student satisfaction/climate: Discussed above in the second section.

  2. Prestige/external reputation: Discussed above in the first section.

  3. Productivity: Discussed above in the third section.

  4. Research fit: This involves determining whether there is a faculty member at the institution who is doing research on the topic area you would like to study.  Most programs seek to admit students who will work on research that will further the lines of research already being conducted.  Faculty members will be looking for new advisees who will not only help them conduct research they already have going but who will bring new ideas to their program.

  5. Coursework: This involves looking at what you are required to take and the kinds of courses that will be available to you.  For example, you might be very interested in taking a lot of quantitative/statistical courses.  In that case, learn whether the institution offers many different kinds of such courses.  Most programs will require one or two Methods and Statistics courses, but some will offer many more.

  6. Applied Experiences: Some doctoral programs require an internship, others encourage an internship, and still others discourage an internship experience.  Additionally, schools differ in the extent to which they can help you obtain internships (for instance, some schools might have good relationships with nearby industries). If gaining applied experience is important to you, pay close attention to the ways the school handles internships.

  7. Where people get jobs when they graduate: It can be very informative to identify the kinds of organizations that hire graduates of a program.  If, for example, you want an academic career but the graduates of a particular program tend to pursue careers in industry (or vice versa), the program may not be a good fit for you.  Remember, the alumni network is an important source of information about internships, research opportunities, and job opportunities. 

  8. Financial support available: It is pretty common for doctoral programs to offer funding for students in many forms.  For instance, many programs offer tuition waivers, teaching and/or research assistantships, fellowships, and even health insurance.  They do this because they expect you to be a full-time student and that you will not be working outside of school.  Getting funding has many advantages, but the primary advantage is that it allows you to focus on your coursework and your research as opposed to supporting yourself financially. 

  9. Student opportunity to present/publish research:  In addition to knowing the level of research productivity at the institution, you should determine to what extent students are included on research with faculty members and to what extent students present and publish their own research.  As we indicated above, publishing and presenting research is a key component to finding a good job when you graduate.

  10. Fit with particular professors: This is different from research fit, which we discussed in #4.  Fit here is about whether you think you could get along with the faculty at the school.  The best way to determine this is through conversations with the faculty in person, via telephone and even email.  Talking to current graduate students is another important way to learn about the interpersonal styles of the faculty members.

  11. Quality of Life:  Youll only be in graduate school for a few years, so the quality of life at a particular school may not be as important as some of the other considerations. However, if you have strong preference for certain types of environments, you should of course take this into account (for instance, if you are married, you might want to see if there are many nearby job opportunities for your spouse).

  12. Probable success at gaining admission into the program: It is good to set your aspirations high, but you should also be realistic. Many universities have provided data (available on the SIOP website) about their GRE and GPA cutoffs and average scores, as well as how many people apply (and are accepted) to their program each year.  

References

Cox, W.M., & Catt, V. (1977). Productivity ratings of graduate programs in psychology based upon publication in the journals of the American Psychological Association. American Psychologist, 32, 793-813.

Gibby, R. E., Reeve, C. L., Grauer, E., Mohr, D., & Zickar, M. J. (2002). The top I-O psychology doctoral programs of North America. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39, 17-25.

Graham, H. D., & Diamond, N. (June 18, 1999). Academic departments and the ratings game. Chronicle of Higher Education, 45, B5.

Howard, G.S., Maxwell, S.E., Berra, S.M., & Sternitzke, M.E. (1985). Institutional research productivity in Industrial/Organizational psychology. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 233-236.

Jacobs, D. (1999). Ascription or productivity? The determinants of departmental success in the NRC quality ratings. Social Science Research, 28, 228-239.

Kraiger, K., & Abalos, A. (2004). Rankings of graduate programs in I-O psychology based on student ratings of quality. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 42, 28-43.

Paxton, P. & Bollen, K. A. (2003). Perceived quality and methodology in graduate department ratings: Sociology, political science, and economics. Sociology of Education, 76, 71-88.

Payne, S.C., Succa, C.A., Maxey, T.D., & Bolton, K.R. (2001). Institutional representation in the SIOP conference program: 1986-2000. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39, 53-60.

Slaughter, J. E., & Zickar, M. J.  (in press).  A new look at the role of insiders in the newcomer socialization process.  Group and Organization Management. 

Surrette, M.A. (2002). Ranking I-O graduate programs on the basis of student representations at IOOB: An update. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 40, 113-116.

Surrette, M.A. (1989). Ranking I-O graduate programs on the basis of student research representations. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 26, 41-44.

US News & World Reports best graduate schools (2005). Washington, DC: US News & World Report.

 

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