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Spotlight on Local I-O Organizations

Lori Foster Thompson
North Carolina State University

Dingos and possums and roos, oh my! This issues Spotlight takes us to the land down under, affectionately called Oz by those in the know. As youll soon learn, our Australian colleagues have made excellent use of regional and national meetings to promote networking, information sharing, and the expansion of I-O psychology across the country. Read on for an intriguing account of how Australians interested in I-O have managed to stay connected to each other and the profession over the years.

Oz I-O

Brett Myors
Griffith University

The main body representing I-O psychologists in Australia is the College of Organisational Psychologists (COP) of the Australian Psychological Society (APS). COP is to Australia as SIOP is to the U.S. By way of history, the Australian branch of the British Psychological Society was founded in 1945 and became the independently constituted APS 20 years later. Within the APS, an organisational division was first established in 1971 from whence the College was founded in 1993. Today COP has about 450 members, the size that SIOP was in the early 1950s. 

One of the greatest hurdles for any organisation in Australia is maintaining contact with an extremely geographically dispersed membership. If you look at a map of the world you will see that Australia is about the same size as the continental United States, 5% smaller in fact, but has only 7% of the population, about 20 million people. Most of the population is concentrated in eight capital cities, but there are many I-Os scattered throughout regional areas, working in small towns or for mining companies and so forth, and this poses a great challenge to stay connected.

The formation of the College in the early 1990s marked an invigoration of I-O psychology in Australiaa vitality that has continued to the present day. Today, 11 of Australias 40 universities offer graduate programs in I-O. (Information about these programs, COP, and other APS units can be found at the APS Web site: http://www.psychology.org.au/). Much of the credit for this invigoration must go to the first National Committee of the College chaired by Beryl Hesketh and including such notable practitioners as Patricia Quealey, Geoff Payne, Bruce Crowe (who went on to become president of the APS for two consecutive terms), Winston Horne, and Graham Firth. The first committee established much of what we now take for granted, including support for the establishment of state sections, a college newsletter superseded in recent years by the Web, national standards for accreditation, and, of course, the first national conference. I was one of Beryls graduate students during those heady days and can well remember her hurrying off to yet another meeting or canvassing some new initiative. Her vision was to establish something like SIOP in Australia, and we were all encouraged to attend the SIOP conference and bring back new ideas. Since then, I have served on the National Committee as well as the New South Wales and Queensland State Committees, and this overview of COP is based mainly on my recollections of these experiences. 

From the outset, COP sought to establish regular monthly meetings among members to facilitate professional development, promote networking, and share information. Wherever there was a critical mass of interested I-Os, a new section was created. There are now six state sections (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory) overseen by the National Committee, currently chaired by Denis Flores. State sections usually meet for a couple of hours one evening per month. Meetings are generally for professional development and begin with refreshments followed by a presentation from a local practitioner, academic, product supplier, or researcher in the field. I can remember attending sessions on organisational change, workplace stress, new approaches to testing, and virtual teams to name a few topics that have been addressed over the years. 

Undoubtedly the single biggest event that brings Australian I-O psychologists together is the Australian Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference held on behalf of the College. As you can see from Table 1, the conference occurs every 2 years in a major Australian city and has attracted many eminent I-O psychologists from around the world. There are also plenty of presentations by local academics and practitioners. We are all mighty proud of this conference; I can clearly remember the opening keynote of the first conference in 1995 delivered by Dan Ilgen on Teams in Organisations and the closing keynote by Bill Byham on Assessment Centres. We all left that first conference with the feeling that this was the beginning of something big. 

The Australian Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference is small by U.S. standards, attracting only about 500 delegates, but people come from all over Australia, New Zealand, and Asia to attend 3 days of symposia, practice forums, and poster sessions covering all aspects of I-O psychology. The mix of academics to practitioners is about 50:50 and the atmosphere is very friendly and collegial. All submissions are rigorously reviewed, full papers blind reviewed by two reviewers, and the standards have always been very high. I convened the most recent conference at Surfers Paradise on Queenslands Gold Coast last July and was very pleased with the outcome, although it almost ended up being a total washout. A once in a thousand year downpour almost washed us all away. The local airport was closed and many roads in the area were blocked by flash floods. You could even surf down the main street. I know of some delegates from Sydney, which is normally only a 1 hour flight away, taking more than 12 hours to get there. But they still came! Fortunately, Queenslands familiar blue sky managed to break through by Friday afternoon, and the rest of the conference was fine. 

Table 1.
Past, Present, and Future Australian I-O Conferences
Year               Location                              Convenor                                         Keynote Speakers

1995 Sydney Beryl Hesketh Bill Byham, Cary Cooper, Dan Ilgen, Gary Latham
1997 Melbourne Phyllis Tharenou Mike Arthur, David Campbell, Alice Eagly, Robert Hogan, Gary Johns, Frank Landy, Gary Latham, Ivan Robertson
1999 Brisbane Boris Kabanoff & Mark Griffin Phil Ackerman, Walter Borman, Robert Hogan, Ruth Kanfer, Deniz Ones, Ben Schneider, Phyllis Tharenou, Mike West
2001 Sydney Ann Williamson Dave Bartram, Robert Dipboye, Beryl Hesketh, Malcolm Higgs, Daniel Kahneman, Steve Kozlowski, Denise Rousseau
2003 Melbourne Janice Langan-Fox
Neil Anderson, Murray Barrick, Mike Frese, Carol Gill, Richard Klimoski, Roy Lewicki, Sharon Parker
2005 Surfers Paradise
Brett Myors Jeanette Cleveland, Tom Cox, Bob Dick, Cynthia Fisher, Jerald Greenberg, Kevin Murphy, Mike ODriscoll, Paul Sackett
2007 Adelaide Maureen Dollard & Tony Winefield TBA


This year marked the 10th anniversary of the conference, and Kevin Murphy was approached to present the opening keynote address. Both Kevin and Jan Cleveland were with us at the first conference in 1995. Kevin gave a personal appraisal of developments in I-O over the preceding decade in a presentation entitled I-O Psychologys Greatest Hits and Misses. This got proceedings off to a great start, generating much debate over personal Top 10s, although it was probably Kevins Bottom 10 that caused the most discussion. Fortunately I-O psychology has generated quite a few solid gold hits, but there have also been a few golden turkeys. A particular highlight of the conference for me was a symposium organised by a group of Chinese academics entitled Leadership Research in the Peoples Republic of China: The Applicability and Limitations of Western Models. This suggests that our conference is likely to spawn some very interesting cross-cultural research. Mike ODriscoll, from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, gave the closing keynote in which he recapitulated Kevins theme while providing a more regional perspective. Mike content analysed past conference proceedings and summarised what we had been focusing on over the preceding years. It turns out that the topic that had attracted the most symposia was teams and team performance, followed by job stress/occupational health, personnel selection/assessment, and leadership. Fortunately none of these topics were on anybodys miss list. Other areas of growing interest for the profession in Australia are consumer psychology and online psychometric assessment.

In 2007, the 7th Australian Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference will be held in Adelaide, South Australia, a.k.a. the city of churches, birthplace of Elton Mayo of Hawthorne Studies fame, and the burial place of Sir Ronald Fisher of F-test fame. In the meantime, were all back in rehearsal at our state sections, working on that elusive Top 10 hit.

Concluding Editorial

Clearly, our Australian counterparts have managed to cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, within a relatively short period of time. And youve just got to hand it to people with the good sense to host a conference in a place called Surfers Paradise. Whod want to pass up that professional development opportunity?

This brings our tour of I-O psychology in Australia to a close. Say, as youre unpacking your sunscreen and surfing attire, be sure to make room in your suitcase for something a little bit warmer. Come January, well be heading to the U.K. to learn how British Psychological Society members with I-O interests accomplish their meeting, learning, and networking objectives.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any comments, suggestions, concerns, or ideas for future columns. Id enjoy hearing from you. My e-mail address is lfthompson@ncsu.edu, and my telephone number is 919.513.7845.

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