What I Learned Along the Way
Frank J. Landy
The twists and turns of a career in I-O psychology remain the theme of this column. Monica Hemingway followed the traditional path that began with the study of subcutaneous fat, continued through the normal feeder positions of bartender, grape picker, and sheep herder, culminating in a position of research assistant in which she spent most of her time hiding from the researcher to whom she had been assigned.
Bob Lord saw grad school as a way out of being drafted (it didnt work), cut a class taught by Herb Simon to watch the Detroit Tigers in the World Series assuming his absence would not be noticed (it didnt work), and eventually settled down to the hard work of donating time in reviewing the work of others and embracing others reviews of his own work (it did work).
Bill Macey traveled to his current position by being the only one around the department on a Christmas holiday and having the good fortune to marry a partner who required substantial dental work. Interested? Go read.
Remember that this column depends on your submissionsrecollections of serendipitous events that played a significant role in getting you to the place you currently occupy. Send those recollections to me for future columns.
A Long and Bumpy Road
Dow Chemical Company
My path to I-O psychologist and selection person wasnt exactly a straight roadthere were several major bumps along the way. In high school, I decided I wanted to be a medical doctor, so I went off to university to study life sciences/pre-med. Two years later I finally realized that (a) I didnt like doctors (Perhaps a result of too much time spent in the ER after one of my many injuries?) and (b) I didnt like genetics, chemistry, or biology very much. In fact, the only truly interesting course Id taken was an elective in psychology. So, much to my parents dismay, I changed majors to psychology (bump in the road #1).
My honors thesis was on the impact of localized subcutaneous body fat on skin surface electromyographic recordings of paraspinal muscle activity. It didnt have much to do with psychology (which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much), but I made up my mind to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology, specializing in pain management. Then came my thesis defenseI failed (bump #2). Apparently the thesis wasnt psychological enough. Eventually it was accepted (and published in
Biofeedback and Self-Regulationmy first pub!) and I graduated, but by then Id given up on the idea of grad school and taken off for what turned into a 2-year backpacking trip around New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia.
I worked a lot of odd jobs along the way (bartending, picking grapes, tending sheep, braiding hair) but the one job that ended up as bump #3 was as accounts manager in an infertility clinic in Sydney, Australia. The accounts department was a mess. We were billing clients for maternity care when they hadnt even gotten pregnant. Not a good thing when youre dealing with women taking massive doses of hormones. So I reorganized the department and lines of communication between the lab, nurses, doctors, and accounts department. By the time I left, we had fixed all the billing problems and thankful women were bringing me bouquets of flowers. Thats when I thought I could do this for a livingits always nice to have flowers in the office. Seriously though, I enjoyed the experience immensely and decided to pursue it as a career. I just had no idea what it was. Id never heard of I-O. So when I got back to Canada, I called up a bunch of management consultants, asked them what sort of training they had, found out I could get a PhD in this thing called I-O psychology, and started applying to grad schools.
The next year I started in the I-O PhD program at Bowling Green. I spent that first year hiding in peoples offices whenever I heard Carlla Smiths voice in the hallway. I was her research assistant. I knew I wanted to study climate and culture and occupational stress; I definitely wasnt interested in the I side of things. So when I was deciding which school to go to Id called Carlla and asked if it would be possible to work with her if I came to Bowling Green. Her reply, in a distinct Texas drawl, was Honey, I dont know what its like in Canada but this is a free country, you can work with whoever you want. It took 2 years before I stopped being scared of her! In any case, I was well on my way to a career in occupational health psychology and feeling pretty good about it.
Then came bump #4: an internship at Procter & Gamble doing selection work. I knew I hated selection, but hey, it was good money. After that internship I decided that maybe selection wasnt all that bad after all so the next year I went back to P&G for more. It was growing on me. Maybe this was the career for me. So when I graduated I went to work for a consulting company doing research in applied linguistics. What does that have to do with selection? Nothing. Key learning here: Never accept a job offer without a written agreement! The job I thought Id accepted didnt actually exist (bump #5). When I showed up for work they didnt know what to do with me so I ended up as European business manager, senior statistician, and test development manager (yes, all three roles together) for an English language testing program. Not quite what Id had in mind but it did have one advantage, I got a huge dose of global exposure, working mostly with clients in Japan, Korea, France, and Argentina. The international component added a degree of excitement and complexity not found in domestic I-O work. Ive lived and worked in five different countries and have never really thought of myself in terms of any one citizenship, cultural background, language, and so forth, so global work was a good fit. Finally, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, an I-O psychologist specializing in global selection. Two years later I went to Dow Chemical to lead the design and development of selection processes worldwide. What a blast! For 3 years life was good. This was exactly what I wanted to do. But slowly over the next couple of years I strayed away from selection, ending up as a Six Sigma Black Belt (bump #6). Interesting work (a useful skill set to learn and its good to speak the language of Six Sigma) but not where I wanted to be. So in January, I dove back into the world of selection and joined PRA (now Valtera) in Chicago. Whod have thought that a soft and fuzzy O type would end up very much on the I side of things and happy to be there?
When I look at my MD friends from the university I think how lucky I am to have run into so many bumps in the road. Without those bumps Id probably have ended up as a family doc somewhere in the Canadian wilderness!
Good Theory and Good Colleagues Can Make
Psychology a Lot of Fun
Robert G. Lord
University of Akron
When I entered the University of Michigan in 1964 as an engineering student, I had little knowledge of psychology and no thoughts of becoming an I-O psychologist. But I was open to new ideas. By my sophomore year, I realized that I was more interested in economics than engineering because of its strong unifying theory but also because it seemed more relevant to national issues, and I liked my professors better, so I changed my major to economics. However, as I considered graduate school and a career as an academic, I thought psychology would be a better career choice. Where economic theory made assumptions about human behavior such as the idea that people were rational decision makers, psychology actually tested these assumptions, finding them to be generally incorrect.
I went to Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) for graduate school, in part, because I was impressed by the work of Herb Simon in both economics and psychology (his notions of satisficing and bounded rationality have been relevant to both fields and later won a Nobel prize in economics) but also because at CMU they would let me teach as a graduate student and hopefully avoid the draft. For those who do not remember the 1960s, the war in Vietnam was not popular even at its beginning, and it put many of us in conflict over whether to participate. CMU turned out to be a great choice, but it did not work out exactly as I hoped.
I entered graduate school in 1968, but was drafted anyway. I spent 1969 and 1970 in the Army but was lucky enough to be sent to Germany rather than Vietnam. Overall, being in the Army was a much more positive experience than I had expected. I met people from all over the country and from very different backgrounds. (Until then I had lived a typical upper-middle class life in a suburb of Detroit.) I also learned that if you have a job to do, you do it and do it wellno excuses and no procrastination. This lesson served me well later on as reliable role performance is required by most organizations.
I resumed my graduate studies in early 1971 and graduated in August 1974. While I was there, CMU created a wonderful climate for graduate students, making us feel more like faculty than students (both graduate students and faculty attended psychology department faculty meetings and many other professional/social functions) and making us believe that we could make important contributions to psychology, which some of us did. Decision making and problem solving were exciting issues for faculty members at this time, and I was fortunate enough to take courses from Hillel Einhorn and Herb Simon on this topic. It was especially stimulating to read the classic book by Newell and Simon (1972),
Human Problem Solving, both in draft versions and after it was published. The book is almost 900 pages, but the draft version was even more impressive, creating a stack of paper about a foot high that Simon handed out on the first day of class. That left an impression!
Later I read several other classic books by Simon, but what really surprised me was how he found out that I went to the World Series the one time I cut his class. (Detroit lost that game 101, but they did win the 1968 series). The next day he started class by asking me if I enjoyed the World Series. That was characteristic of Simon, he always seemed to know more than he should, yet he was approachable and interested in students as well as their ideas and experiences. Like all CMU psychology students at that time, I developed a detailed understanding and appreciation of the notion that you could build artificial models of human cognitive processes that could be implemented on computers and that these computer programs provided reasonable theories regarding how cognitive processes operated. This idea was a radical departure from the experimental, behaviorist orientation that dominated psychology at that time. However, I did not realize that this was a revolutionary idea, as it was certainly widely accepted at CMU. Later I grew to appreciate the fact that this was indeed a novel perspective that could be applied productively to many topics such as social cognitions and performance appraisals.|
Often we dont realize the consequences of some experiences until many years later. My experiences at Michigan and particularly at CMU have had three important effects. First, I received great educations at both institutions. Second, I had wonderful mentors, whether in economics or psychology, and got caught up in the intellectual excitement that permeated both universities. Forty years later, I still find new ideas exciting. Third, I learned to cross conceptual boundaries in pursuing problems, and I saw many other faculty do this rather successfully. For example, early in my career we were very successful in applying cognitive theories of categorization to explaining leadership perceptions, and more recently we have had some success in understanding the role of neural networks, emotions, and physiological mechanisms in motivation.
One consequence of such experience was a preference for theory that is sliced thickly. (This preference applies to cake as well.) Personally, its the broader understanding in terms of multiple theoretical perspectives that makes the more narrow practical questions interesting to me. One example pertains to research on control theory that I began in the early 1980s with
Mike Campion, who was then a young graduate student from Minnesota. Our initial focus was on the topic of changes in goals over time, but subsequent work with
Mary Kernan and Paul Hanges helped me see the broader relevance of hierarchical self-regulatory systems for understanding the interaction of both goals and feedback.
Although it is exciting to learn new ways to think about research problems, my experience is that there is also a hidden challenge, namely to convince colleagues (or reviewers and editors) that nontraditional orientations toward a phenomenon are interesting and worthwhile. I learned this lesson early in my career in 1976 when
Mike Rush, Jay Thomas, and I sent our first article on implicit leadership theories to
JAP. It was rejected with a one-paragraph review saying that it was a decrement, rather than an increment to the leadership literature. We didnt save that review! Reactions at
OBHP were more positive, perhaps because the articles theoretical orientation was a better fit with this journal. Whatever the reason, this article was published in 1977, and it started a long series of studies with many students and colleagues that is still receiving attention today. The obvious lesson is not to let one (or two) bad reviews hold you back. There is a second lesson here, which took me much longer to realize. That is, although conventional research is easier to do and publish, integrating typical I-O topics with broader theoretical perspectives like categorization theory can produce research that has a greater long-run impact.
Another lesson I learned along the way was that it generally takes more time than you first realize (and more feedback from others) to do a good job, whether the task is conceptualizing theory, analyzing data, or writing. This has been the case with my understanding of the role of cognitive processes, which, though starting out in the 1960s, benefitted from teaching graduate courses in information processing for many years. It is also true of my work on leadership, motivation, and self-regulation, and more recently on emotions. Similarly, initial data analysis rarely works the way we anticipate. I can easily recall several instances when it took multiple years to find the right way to analyze data or to find ways to filter data to reveal what you wanted to see. For example, an early study I did with Jeff Hohenfield in 1979 on the performance of major league baseball players supported none of our predictions until we realized (far too slowly in retrospect) that data from players with less than 50 at bats should be ignoredno modern major league batting average should be above .400! Writing and rewriting also take time. First drafts probably should not be shared with colleagues, and especially not with advisors, reviewers, or editors. Patience, rethinking, and rewriting generally improve the product.
Looking back on my career, I can see where a few people had major impacts that could not have been anticipated when I first met them.
Jerry Barrett and Ken Wexley convinced me to come to the University of Akron, but it was the long-haired hippy Jerry brought with him from Rochester, who was wearing a peace necklace and cut-off jeans when I first met him, who had the most impact. For those of you who didnt know him then, that was Ralph Alexander, who was to be a friend and colleague for the next 19 years. Until his sudden death in 1993, Ralph was always there in the office next door to answer statistics questions, talk about the field, or just go have a beer. Jerry Hunt was another important person, who I first met at one of his biannual Carbondale, Illinois. leadership symposia in the late 1970s. What I didnt realize then was that Jerry had a unique talent for bringing leadership scholars together, making the events exciting, and finding ways to publish the resulting work. He has done this repeatedly in many forums. Jerry had an early effect on me personally, and he has had a lasting effect on the leadership field. Remarkably, Jerry is still doing that today!
Another important event was Neal Schmitt inviting me to serve as an associate editor of
JAP. (I have no idea when I first met Neal.) That kept me busy for a number of years. What I learned from this experience is that good reviews and receptive authors can often improve work immensely and that many people are willing to donate their time and effort to improving the work of others. Although the review process is sometimes frustrating, it is really a remarkable system.
What did these individuals have in common? All three worked hard over a number of years, were good thinkers, were committed to developing the field of I-O psychology, and brought others along with them. I have tried to do the same and have had lots of fun doing it.
Dental Plans and Career Paths: Making the Connection
It appears I was a lucky person early in my career The good breaks that came my way seemed to result from just being in the right place at the right time. Of course, thats my perspective with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes, things dont look quite as good at first as they later turn out to be. Let me explain.
In December of 1973 I was an ABD in the experimental program at Loyola University of Chicago. Looking forward to an academic career, I was nonetheless more than a little concerned because jobs were particularly scarce at the time, and I had visions of an appointment in a major university setting. The holiday break from classes had just begun, and I was sitting outside the office of Homer Johnson who was department chair at the time. Homer called me into his office and suggested I take advantage of an opportunity to apply for a position at North Central College in nearby Naperville, Illinois. It seems that he had just received a call from Olga Engelhardt, chair of the psychology department at North Central, who had an immediate need. I told Homer that the opportunity wasnt exactly what I was looking for (I had a much grander career vision), but he essentially suggested that I might not have another chance in the short-term to find a position of any kind. The job market was just plain awful, and looking back, it would be an understatement to say that I probably had more than a slightly overblown sense of self-worth. At any rate, I went for the interview and was offered a position to start on January 2, 1974! The timing couldnt have been better, as my wife had just told me she was pregnant with our first child. I hardly felt in a position to say not interested.
That opportunity turned out to be all that I could have ever hoped for in a first, or any, position. I completely enjoyed every second I was there. The facultystudent interaction was terrific, and I had a small decision-making and perception lab that absorbed much of any slack time I had outside of classes and the normal administrative stuff. Nonetheless, I found myself forced to look for employment elsewhere. Why would I leave if I was so happy? And what does this have to do with I-O psychology?
Well, soon after joining the faculty, Olga introduced me to the I-O field and its opportunities. Its difficult looking back to identify the exact time and place, but somewhere during my first year there, I became convinced that I-O was a better fit for me. Olga, a Division 14 Fellow, who also possessed a significant consulting background prior to her time at North Central, gave me enormous support as I struggled to absorb a new literature and learned that practice could be combined with science.
Of course, I could still have stayed on at North Central, following my new research and teaching interests. I was comfortable in the academic role and probably would have simply stayed my course there for a career. But, a different challenge provided redirection. It seems that my wife had a significant dental problem, the initial payment for which was around 5% of my yearly income. Unfortunately, North Central didnt provide any form of dental coverage. As I knew that we were facing even more extensive dental fees going forward, I decided that it was time to consider a career change if for no other reason than to find improved healthcare benefits. It was my new I-O orientation that created the opportunity. To make a short story even shorter, I left North Central to take an HR staff position at a local Chicago company, and quickly thereafter a position in human resource planning at Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee. They both had good benefitsincluding dental! It was soon after joining Miller that I met
Erich Prien, who became my close friend, mentor, and advisor. Erich provided the guidance I needed to round out my I-O background. Were it not for my wifes dental care needs, my path might never have crossed with Erichs, and I might still be in a small college environment. Nothing wrong with that, but Im quite fortunate that it all turned out.
You might take my little stories to mean that I see these events as sheer luck. There is certainly something to be said for being at the right place at the right time, but many other events in the years since I founded my own firm have led me to recognize that its the small things you do that make for success. Looking back, Id like to think that it was because I was the only graduate student around the departmental offices during the holiday break that led Homer to call me in his office. It may be self-flattery, but Id also like to think that it was my own effort and willingness to invest the time necessary to retrain in I-O that made my mentors see some degree of potential. Regardless, Im grateful to many for the opportunities theyve provided. By the way, our family dentist tells us weve done much to support his lifestyle, so Im grateful to our insurance providers as well!
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