Education and Training in I-O Psychology

David Costanza
The George Washington University


Jennifer Kisamore
University of Oklahoma-Tulsa

This months Education and Training in I-O Psychology column continues the tradition of having the SIOP Teaching Award winner write up his/her thoughts on the state of teaching in I-O. This years award recipient, Marcus Dickson, has written about some of the lessons he has learned about being an educator. His writing has adroitly captured both the key benefits and the humbling realities of being an I-O psychology professor. Aided by his wry sense of humor, Marcuss lessons learned offer excellent insights and some points well taken.

Looking ahead, we are still interested in publishing pieces on alternative education models and other pressing issues in the teaching of I-O at the graduate and undergraduate level. There were a number of interesting panels, roundtable discussions, and symposia at this years SIOP dealing with education and training. Beyond the formal program, there were many informal discussions over lunch, dinner, and at social hours about the future of I-O psychology and how we educate the next generation of I-O psychologists. I was involved in several of these discussions, including an extended one among several graduate school colleagues and our former advisor about the future of I-O education. This is a pretty fun-loving bunch of folks who many times put an awful lot of social into the SIOP social hours and beyond, and so to have us engaged in a lively back and forth on the state of I-O education and training suggests that it is a really important and timely issue. Or, perhaps, it suggests that we are just getting old. Maybe both. 

One thing is clear: The environment in which I-O exists and in which I-O psychologists teach, research, and practice is changing. We see the E&T column as one avenue for exploring these changes and for establishing an ongoing dialogue about education and training in I-O. We look forward to future columns dealing with some of these issues. Accordingly, please feel free to send any comments about this column or ideas for future ones to Jennifer Kisamore ( or me ( If you have any questions or comments about this months column, please send them to Marcus Dickson (

Recipient of the 2005 SIOP Distinguished Teaching Contributions Award

Try Not To Be Mean. Try To Have Fun.

Marcus W. Dickson
Wayne State University

At the moment, I am sitting in seat 24A of a 727 heading back from Los Angeles to Detroit after the SIOP conference. Its Sunday afternoon, and Ive been thinking about what exactly to write for this TIP article. I know that it is supposed to be about teaching, but thats a pretty broad assignment. I looked at Paul Muchinskys TIP article from last year after he received the inaugural SIOP Teaching Award, hoping to find some ideas there. But Paul talked about his life and 40 years of teaching, and what led him to become the teacher he is today. Ive been teaching for 8 years, and I hoped, for a moment, that David and Jennifer would be happy with an article that was 20% as long as Pauls. Probably not, though. 

I also find it difficult to write something about teaching without sounding sort of pretentious. We have a sacred charge and duty and all of that. Its not that I disagree with those things, but its not quite what I want to say. Added to that, Im not really sure that I am that great of a teacher. I am sure that many of the doctoral students in my program were surprised (and probably a bit confused) when they heard that I was to receive the SIOP Teaching Award. They probably assume that no one else was nominated. But theyve been kind enough not to say such things where they thought Id overhear it, and besides, the award comes with a check. So, let me just say that Im delighted to be the second recipient of SIOPs Award for Distinguished Contributions in Teaching. 

Last night at the Rice University reception (thanks, Brent, for the drink tickets), I was talking with a good friend about learning from students rather than teaching them and that rather than talking about me in this article I could talk about them. Well, using this venue as an excuse to talk about students is essentially justifiable gossip, so Im on board with that idea. Ill take my few little words for posterity and use them to tell a few stories about students over the years, and make a few small points about being a teacher. (Thanks, Jill Ellingson, for the idea.) People who know me know that I tell a lot of stories anyway, a trait I am sure I inherited from the Dickson side of my family. So here are a few that come to mind. Stop me if Ive told you this before. 

After my freshman year of college at West Virginia Wesleyan College (an alma mater I share with David Nershi, SIOPs new executive directorGO BOBCATS!), I had the chance to spend my summer as one part of a student exchange program between the Western Pennsylvania conference of the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of the Bahamas. I got to leave Pittsburgh to spend my summer on various islands in the Bahamas, and a poor guy named Trevor had to leave Nassau and spend his summer in Erie. One of my responsibilities was to help lead a day camp for kids from the poorest parts of Nassau. These kids were truly poor, they were excited about getting to do the activities of the camp, and they were a handful for a 19-year old whod never been in charge of that many kids before. Sandor was the one with the biggest smile, the most energy, and by far and away the most mischief (as a trait, I believe) of all the kids in my camp. He wore dress shoes that were easily 20 years old and six sizes too big, but those were the shoes he owned, so those were the shoes he wore. Id guess he was maybe seven or eight. 

Id tell the kids to line up, and Sandor would turn around and shout to the other kids to line up, and then when they were almost lined up, Sandor would be running off to do something else. One morning I was again rapidly losing control of the group after several days of barely maintaining order in the chaos, and Sandor went running off again. I grabbed him by his shoulder and pulled him back into line, yelling for him to get back in line and probably squeezing his shoulder a little too hard in the process. He looked up at me and said, Why you gotta be so mean? I thought this camp stuff was supposed to be fun, and you just mean. He didnt come to camp the next day, though (to my relief) he came back the day after. 

I dont know what happened to Sandor, and it would probably be impossible to ever find out. But I have seen his face and heard his voice so many times over the years. Sandor reminds me to try to make learning fun, because they may not come back if it isnt. That doesnt mean it shouldnt be hardmy doctoral students will probably tell you that they hear Its a PhD, its supposed to be hard more often than theyd like. I do believe that graduate work is supposed to be hard, but I also believe that graduate workalong with undergraduate work, and all the rest of school as wellought to be as much fun as it can be. Lesson learned: Try not to be mean. Try to have fun.

When I received my PhD from Maryland, my father and stepmother gave me a beautiful Movado watch, engraved on the back, to celebrate the accomplishment. My mother and stepfather, on the other hand, gave me a Mickey Mouse watch, to remind me not to get too full of myself for having a PhD. Im proud of having earned a PhD but have often been reminded that it doesnt always really mean that much. For example, I generally teach Introductory Psychology once each year. This is a large lecture course (generally 300450 students in the lecture, which I give) with smaller laboratory sections (usually 25 students per lab section, which are led by graduate teaching assistants). One day, a few years ago, two women from my Intro Psych class wandered into my office looking at the handout (also known as the syllabus) to figure out where they should go if they had questions. They somehow didnt realize that the person who would be trying to answer their questions was the same person who stood up in front of class twice each week, and when they wandered in, one of them said, Oh, youre my lecture assistant! Oh my goodnesswhats your name? Well, anyway, Professor Davis said I should come here to see you. Professor Davis was, in reality, the first-semester graduate teaching assistant for this undergraduates section. I had the degree and I was in charge of the class, but the teaching assistants were the ones who had personal contact with the students and knew their names, and were the ones that the students trusted and turned to. Lesson learned: Being the professor doesnt mean youre important to the students.

Some of my mentors from graduate school had warned me that as a new assistant professor, I shouldnt expect to have doctoral students for a few years. But when I arrived at Wayne State, I was really the only faculty member focusing on organizational psychology issues like leadership and culture. I ended up having students asking to work with me almost from my first day (and in fact was sitting on a dissertation committee before I even arrived). Mike Sherman was the first new student to ask to work with me, and Jeff Thomas was the first student to ask me to chair his dissertation, both during my first year (and possibly first semester, I dont recall). For them, it was probably an issue of pragmatics; for example, Jeffs previous adviser had died the year before, and I was the only person available to work with him in the area of leadership. But regardless of the reason, these (and other) students were willing to put themselves in my care. They were trusting me to look out for their best interests and to shepherd them through a program and a dissertation, even though I was barely done with my own program and dissertation. It was frightening and somewhat overwhelming. I knew how much I had relied on my adviser at Maryland, Paul Hanges, and I wasnt at all sure that I was capable of providing the kind of advice and guidance and support that I had received. Nonetheless, these students deserved the best advising I could give. So far, its worked out, 12 students have received PhD degrees under my supervision, and 6 have received masters degrees. A few more are in the pipeline. I still wonder, though, when a student asks me to chair a committee for them, surely theres someone better qualified, isnt there? Lesson learned: Sometimes students entrust themselves to you, whether or not you think they should. Try to live up to their trust. 

As I said above, I work at Wayne State University, in the heart of Detroit. Wayne describes itself as a research university with an urban mission. Part of what urban mission means is that a lot of our undergraduate students are the first in their families to ever attend college. Many of these students dont get to go full time, they dont get to go when theyre 18, and they dont get to go during the day. Many of them have to work full-time jobs, be full-time parents, and then learn for themselves what it means to be a college student.

I was fortunate enough to have two parents who both graduated from college, and I remember attending my mothers commencement from Lambuth College in Jackson, Tennessee, when I was maybe 9 years old. Academics were always emphasized in my home growing up, and there was never any question about whether I would go to college. I have read through my mothers parents college yearbooks and seen my papaws picture from 1928 when he played football (both ways, for those who still know that term) for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Ive talked with my fathers mother about her undergraduate and graduate studies and with my fathers father about him wishing hed been able to go to college. In a nod to Ben Schneider, Id say that my family had a climate for college. The policies, practices, and procedures that were rewarded, supported, and expected in my home about education all moved my brother Scott (BS 1985, MS 1988, Penn State) and me towards higher education. Not everyone has those advantages. Certainly many of the students at Wayne State dont. 

A few years ago I was attending commencement, and as he always does, the president of the university asked the graduating class members to stand if they were the first person in their family to graduate from college. My guess is that at least 35% of the graduates stood up (including several of the doctoral candidates receiving degrees). I always get a little choked up when I see that moment at our commencements, and it makes me feel like the urban mission is a good thing. Then, when degrees were being awarded, the students of the College of Science were called forward. The faculty of our college stood as well, something we do as a sign of respect for the students in our charge who are receiving their degrees. The students file past the applauding faculty while the band plays, and at our commencement, it can be a pretty raucous moment. As I was standing, I heard over the noise Dr. Dickson! Dr. Dickson! Look! Look! I turned towards the voice and saw a student from that semesters Intro to I-O Psychology class, grinning from ear to ear, pointing to his robe and to the honor cord he was wearing. He shouted, I did it! I did it, man! Twelve years, but I did it! and then he put his hands together and gave me a little bow. He turned to the person next to him, pointed up at me, and said, Thats my professor, man! 

Now, I didnt know this student well, but Id talked with him before class started from time to time, and I knew him well enough to know his name, to know that hed not started college until he was about 30, and to know that hed never been able to go full time. Over 12 years of his college work, Id been his instructor for one semester. But at that moment I got to represent for him all the people who had taught him over the years, and I got to be one of the ones there to celebrate his accomplishments and to give evidence that those accomplishments were important. Lesson learned: Sometimes its pretty cool to be a teacher. 

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