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TIP-TOPics for Students

Kim Hoffman
University of South Florida

April is upon us which means, even as you read this, you are probably on a plane (or in a car) to New Orleans to attend the 2000 SIOP Conference. This conference should be even better than the last because there will inevitably be more attendees and infinitely more ways to "go out on the town," err, I mean broaden your intellectual and professional horizons. The conference is a perfect time and place to meet other students with whom you can commiserate. All joking aside, I do hope you take opportunities to meet students from other programs. Instead of only going to dinner with people from your program, take some risks and invite several people from several different programs to go out to have coffee, dinner, or drinks. Personally, I am looking forward to meeting some of you with whom I have corresponded, and trading stories with those of you I have not. Reminiscent of last year's fish bowls and in the spirit of fun, look for announcements concerning the when and where of a "Grad Student Night Out" posted around the conference. However you do it, don't be shy; go forth and make yourself known to the (I-O) world.

Also, take the chance to speak with those "names" you have seen on your articles and in your texts. They are people too, and probably would be delighted to discuss the merits of their latest research endeavors or share some wisdom about the state of practice. You'll never know until you try, and life without risk is just routine (to be trite). In fact, I have heard from trusted sources that all of us will have the opportunity to meet and speak with several members of SIOP's Executive Committee during the conference.

Even more exciting is the fact that this event has been set up specifically to foster a conversation between Student Affiliates and full members concerning the role of students in the future of SIOP. Calling all Student Affiliateshere is your chance to be more involved at the "grass roots" level with the inner workings of our society. The Executive Committee is interested in hearing your ideas, suggestions, and comments about how to more formally integrate and involve student affiliates in supporting and advancing the Society. Again, don't be shy (or apathetic); come to this discussion and show the members that we, the students, are committed to the profession and are eager to help achieve the goals of SIOP. Could it be that we are on our way to the vision shared of a SIOP Student Network shared in the January 2000 TIP-TOPics column (see Making the Right Connections)?

With all of that said, let me introduce the segments for this issue. In Meeting of the Minds-Scientist and Practitioner, questions are raised surrounding the customers of research and practice, including: Who are the customers? Are we reaching all the audiences we would like to? And do science and practice have different customers? While I make no claims to having any answers or even meaningful insight, perhaps this segment may be a springboard for discussion in your courses, research meetings, or late-night musings. In the next segment, a group of students from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI), share the strategies they have used to assist in the professional development of their graduates. Perhaps you will be inspired to help implement one or more of these ideas in your department. Lastly, in TIPs for Balancing Life and Graduate School, I encourage all of you to be wild and crazy, throw caution to the wind and put some spontaneity back into your life. Road trip, anyone? Hey, if you have better ideas, feel free to send `em in (my resources are drying up and I'll have to start recycling soon!! HELP!). Be certain to grab me during the conference and tell me what you think about TIP-TOPics (but remember what your mother told you, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all) or just share some good ol' grad school experiences.

Meeting of the Minds-Scientist and Practitioner:
Who are the "Customers" of I-O Psychology?

This segment marks another exploration into the complexities of the S-P model. In a field committed to following a dual model, the evolution of both the science and practice are dependent on its "apprentices." Consequently, it is imperative for students (us) to dissect, analyze, question, strengthen, and develop the principles upon which it rests. That is a fancy way of saying, "Hey folks, part of training involves thinking about how our field operates, including the strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out ways (now) to address those issues that are likely to `hassle' us in our professional careers."

In contrast to the first segment on this topic, the opinions and comments of full-fledged (and degreed) professionals in both academia and practice are not offered within. Consequently, the following disclaimer is offered. The rantings, ramblings, reflections, and propositions expressed in this piece are purely my own and therefore do not necessarily have much credibility. They are offered solely to stimulate conversations and possibly insights on the matter. And, of course, following in that vein, I do not offer any definitive answers on the subject. That, my fellow students, is the task at hand for each of us individually and collectively.

To the crux of the matter, the issue for this segment is: Who are the customers of I-O psychology? Improved customer service, customer-centered focus, and all the other synonyms by which this concept masquerades, seem to be the latest trends in business. And, why should I-O psychology be left out of this latest revolution? In other words, shouldn't we also be concerned with identifying our customers and providing the best customer service? But wait, the true reason businesses are so concerned with their customers is probably not a sudden urge to be humanistic or altruistic but rather because in this era of unlimited choice, customers are life. Customers/consumers provide the resources by which companies become viable, grow, expand, and endure. Without them, companies, businesses, markets, and industries simply cease to exist. Consequently, knowing who your customers are and providing "services" to meet their needs is vital to any and all organizations, including our own.

Back to the question: Who are the customers of I-O psychology? At first glance, that question may seem easy to answer. However, if you ponder the issue for a while longer, you may find more questions than answers. More specifically, are there different consumers of the science versus the practice of I-O psychology? If yes, then how can we "serve" both at the same time, assuming they have differing needs and challenges? Within practice, are the customers those who control the purse strings? Or are the true customers those who we hope benefit from our work? Within academia, are the consumers of scientific knowledge other academics who have the same educational background as us, or are they others within fields such as management, human resources, OB or even John Q. Public?

This issue is not a new oneindeed the motivation for my musings originated with an article in the July 1999 TIP, Dateline 2020: A Look Back at I-O at the Turn of the Millennium in which Marc Berwald postulated that in the year 2020 practitioners and academics would be working together with their "customers" to solve the daily problems of organizations and that a new "journal" would emerge in which information could be disseminated to those who actually could (and should) use it. In an earlier correspondence for the October 1999 TIP-TOPics, Drs. Joyce and Robert Hogan suggested that academics and practitioners differ in the audiences to which they play. Specifically, the problems which they each address and the products they produce come from and flow to different sources. And, of course, this issue has come up, albeit in subtle ways, in various courses including ethics, which ask, "Who exactly does the data belong to?"

More specifically, in practice, it is easy to assume that the customers are the management/executive types who hire us and pay our fees. This limited perspective may be one reason that I-O psychologists have been criticized (both from within and without our field) for taking a "management" perspective, rather than concentrating on fulfilling the "true" needs of employees and society at large. Perhaps, our "customers" should also include those employees whose circumstances we purport to enhance. Is it possible to satisfy the needs and desires of both management customers and employee customers? Assuming those needs are at odds, how can we fulfill our moral and professional obligations to both groups? Although, I simply raise the questions and have no means or intention of providing answers in this space, I urge you to go beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking on this topic and view the problem from a multitude of perspectives. The answer is likely to involve considerations of the values which you bring to the profession as well as your perception of the goals of our field, not to mention the opinions of countless others who have wrestled with these questions before us.

In addition, we could view our customers as all organizations and employees within them whether we are hired for service or not. For example, despite the vast job market for I-O types, too many executives, managers, and employees do not understand, know about, or have ever heard of I-O psychology. Of those who do, I am willing to bet that a great number of them do not understand the difference between a management consultant who has an MBA degree and an I-O psychologist with a PhD (or master's), for example. Although both may provide "good service," there is a difference of which our customers should be aware. I contend that part of our job is to educate the business world about the services and benefits that I-O types can provide and which others in related fields may not. In this regard, those who hire us, at least, may be able to make more informed decisions.

Several discussions in a course I took revolved around the topic of customers, particularly as it pertained to academic settings. Although this did not necessarily reflect the opinion of the instructor, he explained that given the nature of the reward system (number of publications) in academia, the customers of our research are often viewed as other I-O psychologists. In fact, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether I-O research is even intended for practitioners or merely only for other academics.

Also, there is no formal reward for publishing in trade journals to explain research findings in a format and language which managers and employees can understand. The consequences of this seem to be minimal articles appearing in journals or sources which managers, employees ,or professionals in related fields are likely to read. The question is: Is our research only meant to be shared with other academics? Or should the customers of our research include practitioners, managers, employees, the media, and so forth. Perhaps we should consider sharing our knowledge with those who are likely to use and benefit from it (practitioners and managers/employees, maybe even John Q. Public) which means communicating in ways that we are not accustomed to and may not be formally rewarded for. From a "customers are life" perspective, it is important to the advancement of our field to inform others of the incredible value we can offer. Personally, I am proud of the work which has been done by scientists and practitioners in this field and would be delighted for everyone in the world to know that they cannot function effectively, efficiently, or satisfactorily without us. And as a side bonus, I would appreciate not having to explain to everyone I meet (not in the field) just what is I-O psychology.

As we read in an earlier Meeting of the Minds, it certainly is possible (and beneficial) to balance the roles of scientist and practitioner. Several of the panelists even implied that all I-O psychologists should attempt to integrate both sets of roles and responsibilities into one job, whether in academia or practice. The obvious question is: Are the customers of scientists and practitioners truly different? Or should each of us be considering how we can better serve ALL of the consumers of I-O research, tools, and knowledge? Similar to any other business, we should strategically position ourselves for future success. Translation: Research, discover and implement new and innovative ways to better serve our existing customers (i.e. disseminate the fruits of research labor to the masses) and reach others who could become our customers. Before we can do that, however, we must first identify who our customers are as both scientists and practitioners and who they should be.

Spotlight on Student Development Programs at IUPUI

The MS program in I-O within the psychology department at IUPUI has instituted several student developmental and support activities that have been well received by graduate students and faculty alike. We would like to share a few of these ideas with the I-O community and encourage discussion of such activities in other programs. These activities are aimed at refining graduate students' personal and professional development, assisting in timely completion of the master's thesis (although these may be modified as needed to apply to doctoral programs as well), and helping to effectively socialize new students into the graduate school lifestyle. The activities are a semiannual feedback meeting for each student with all faculty, a summer research program, and a mentorship program. The following paragraphs combine a brief description of each activity with student reactions. Each description is then followed by comments from faculty.1

1 Contributors to this segment include graduate students (in alphabetical order): Marc Fogel, LaRita Jarvis, Emily Leonard, Jennifer Philips, and Mindy Phillips. The faculty contributors include John Hazer (program head), Jane Williams, and Dennis Devine.

Self-Appraisal Faculty Feedback (SAFF)

The purpose of SAFF (pronounced "safe") is to provide a structured opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences in the I-O program as well as plan and set goals with regard to future activities. These meetings occur after each semester, are developmental as opposed to evaluative, and are designed to stimulate self-learning, insight, and joint problem-solving with faculty. Essentially, the overall goal of the SAFF process is to ensure that a student's remaining time in the program contributes maximally to his or her professional and career development.

The SAFF process begins as the student obtains the appropriate set of "thought" questions in advance of the SAFF session. The thought questions are provided by the faculty and are tailored to focus on the issues most relevant to the student's stage in the program. The thought questions concentrate on the various aspects of the program such as research skills and involvement, oral and written communication, I-O content knowledge, thesis topic and timelines for completing thesis, career development, organizational citizenship, and overall thoughts about the program. Students review the questions in advance of the meeting with specific emphasis on (a) identifying issues for faculty input and (b) identifying personal goals and objectives for the upcoming semester. Next, the student schedules a meeting with the faculty on one of the days set aside for the SAFF sessions. Lastly, the student meets with all members of the faculty in a SAFF session to discuss his/her reactions to these thought questions, ask additional questions, problem-solve, and plan and set goals for the upcoming semester.

The SAFF process allows the I-O faculty to stay abreast of students' concerns or questions as well as to provide a venue for students to gain feedback from faculty at the end of each semester. It is a positive experience that provides an opportunity for students to reflect, to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and to identify opportunities for improvement. During the semester, faculty and students' time is often consumed with coursework, teaching, and research. SAFF provides an opportunity for each student to meet jointly with the I-O faculty to discuss issues that they did not find time to consider or discuss throughout the busy semester.

Faculty comments include the following: SAFF sessions have been conducted now for 4 years. Although the level of self-reflection does vary across students, most have approached the SAFF process in the developmental spirit intended. In addition, many students have used SAFF meetings to ask miscellaneous program-related questions, get career information, and discuss ways to effectively structure their remaining time in the program. Generally, "students get out of it what they put into it." Also, SAFF has been instrumental in establishing and transmitting norms regarding student behavior and involvement in research. The program has also served as a mechanism for shaping a program culture that emphasizes a high degree of informal interaction between faculty and students. SAFF meetings have proven to be great vehicles for acquiring information about student welfare and interaction, as well as feedback about teaching effectiveness. There is one noticeable cost however; the time invested by all faculty to attend SAFF meetings is not inconsequential and comes at the worst time (i.e., end of the semester). Still, the consensus feeling is that this feedback program has been very successful in achieving its goals for both students and the I-O program.

Summer Research Program

The summer research program is designed to ensure progress on the master's thesis during the 3-month break between the first and second year. Four meetings are scheduled at equal intervals over the course of the summer. The sequencing closely follows the conceptual development process of the thesis and is intended to stimulate critical thinking by both students and faculty about the student's research idea. Participation in the program is voluntary, but students remaining in the Indianapolis area usually choose to attend these monthly meetings. Meetings are relatively informal, with each student presenting information for 15 minutes and answering other student and faculty questions for 5 minutes. The meetings cover the following topics:

  • Research questions, construct definitions, and design accuracy
  • Empirical and theoretical rationale for hypotheses
  • Operationalization of independent and dependent variables
  • Description of appropriate statistics and mock data analysis

The format and content of these meetings is beneficial for both quality of thinking and progress in writing the thesis. Each student is able to improve upon the original version of his or her thesis. In addition, these meetings offer a valuable opportunity to practice presenting and defending ideas, skills that are necessary in the proposal and thesis defense. Overall, students feel the time spent in summer research meetings is helpful.

Faculty comments include the following: This summer research program was initiated to address the long delay that frequently occurs between the end of course completion and graduation. As in many graduate programs, this delay at IUPUI is usually due to the time taken to complete one's research, and a thesis is required from each of our students. To date, this research program has been conducted in each of the last three summers and has had a total of 12 student participants. Given that, it is too soon to judge the program's impact on the three students who completed the program last summer. Program success can be most appropriately judged by examining the thesis completion rate and timeliness of the first nine students: Six of these nine students finished their theses by the end of the following summer, the end of their second year in the program. Thus, the program's success is mixed in that 67% of the participants have achieved the stated goal of timely thesis completion. Nevertheless, they feel that this is a definite improvement over the prior base rate of 30_40%. Like the SAFF program, "students seem to get out of the summer research program what they put into it."

Mentoring Program

The mentoring program at IUPUI teams second-year students with first-year students in order to help ease the transition into graduate school as well as bridge the gap between the first- and second-year students. Once the school year begins, students become more and more involved with coursework. Therefore, the mentoring program is a great way for the students to get to know each other, in addition to providing the new students with answers to their questions regarding the program. Furthermore, a student-designed pamphlet is distributed to all incoming students, which provides basic information about the campus, the Indianapolis area, as well as helpful tidbits such as where to obtain student identification cards and departmental keys.

As the school year progresses, informal relationships grow. These not only benefit the first-year students by providing them insight into the workings of daily life as a graduate student but also benefit the second-year students by helping us all become a more cohesive group. Overall, the mentoring program helps students find support in each other. This gives the program a unique component not found in many graduate programs, making life as a graduate student a little more enjoyable.

Faculty comments include the following: The goal in organizing both the mentorship process and the pamphlet is to effectively socialize students to Indianapolis, the University, and the program. The success of the program has been observed through a couple of avenues. First, the camaraderie and level of interaction between the first- and second-year students has increased since the inception of the mentoring program. Secondly, students have reported that being contacted by a formal mentor before coming to Indianapolis made them feel more welcomed and that they experienced less anxiety during the entrance process and beyond. Finally, they believe that this has initiated discussion among the students so that they do appear more prepared for the heightened expectations that occur in graduate school, the process of choosing a thesis advisor, and the general expectations of the program. The mentor pamphlet has now been expanded to be appropriate for all graduate students in the Psychology Department. Each year students find information to add so that now, in its third edition, the wealth of information available to students in the pamphlet is considerable.

Conclusion

Overall, the three activities combined with the cohesiveness of a small program (five students accepted each year) help define the MS program at IUPUI as one that nurtures its students by providing a climate that is both developmental and demanding. There are at least three benefits of these activities. First, the activities encourage active participation by students in their own personal and professional development. The SAFF meeting is structured to compel students to reflect on past experiences and set goals not only with regard to class work and research, but also regarding other personal characteristics such as general career goals and overall communication skills. These issues are believed to be an integral part of graduate education but are not normally systematically addressed in other graduate school activities. Second, goal setting and better time management are supported: For example, the SAFF meetings require that students set personal and professional goals to be achieved within a self-determined timeline. Also, thesis-related goals are supported by the summer research program, which has the potential to lead to a more timely graduation date. In addition, the mentorship program fosters the goals of new students by providing them with a more realistic outlook of the program and their near future. Third, although only time will tell how effective these activities truly are, customer (student) satisfaction and program climate already indicate the positive utility of these activities.

Faculty and students in other programs are invited to consider various student developmental activities and initiate such activities where they do not currently exist. In addition, discussion and evaluation of developmental strategies within the I-O community are encouraged. Implementing developmental activities such as the ones described here will contribute to a more beneficial graduate experience for the next generation of I-O professionals.2

2 For more specific information regarding the information presented in this segment contact: John Hazer (program head) at jthazer@iupui.edu

TIPs for Balancing Life and Graduate School

Summer is fast approaching as the semester closes. For months on end, you've been slaving away at papers, tests, research, and well, you get the picture. And that meansyou deserve a break. Time to break up the monotony of educational strife. This column's tip should prove to do the trick nicely.

Instead of vowing to spend additional hours locked in your "dungeon" (which is what I unaffectionately call my study room) to finish that research project, take some time off. Travel the world on a luxury liner or traverse the globe in a hot-air balloon. Or more realistically, grab a few friends, pick a destination, and jump in the car to begin your ROAD TRIP! Remember: all work, no play makes graduate students go postal!!

A road trip is the perfect opportunity (and excuse) for adventure, mayhem, and complete disconnection from "professional development" that you have been yearning for since your advisor handed your fifth thesis draft back with still more red ink than black. You haven't even seen daylight since you started graduate school, so driving to a far away place that you have wanted to visit since you were this high will be stimulating indeed. Hey, you may as well do it while you don't have a job!! And with 3-4 friends, it won't cost that muchhow much is your sanity worth?

Road trips come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. You can camp in the woods with only a tent, fire, and sustenance from the land. Or you can play tourist in a big city, dine at the finest restaurants, and treat yourself to an overnight stay in a luxurious 5-star hotel. Or perhaps, you can just jump in the car and start driving for wherever the road takes you and enjoy the scenery along the way. And for some, a relaxing and comforting trip "home" to see parents, siblings, or other friends and family might be the ideal vacation. Whatever type of trip you and your friends decide upon, remember the goal is to enjoy your youth and vitality and forget about the responsibilities and drudgeries of graduate school (for a little while).

The choice is yours, but here are a few suggestions. Make it long enough to get away (physically and mentally) from the tempestuous concerns of graduate school and its local confines. It will take you more than a weekend to silence those pesky voices in your head nagging you about the latest work to be done.

Besides, if you are driving you may not want to spend ALL of your trip in the car. Yes, you can afford to take a week away from that project/researchyou may even come back and be so inspired that you finish ahead of time.

You certainly don't have to choose a certain destination, particularly if you are the spontaneous type, but if you do, pick a place you've never been to before. Or choose a destination that provides a multitude of distractions to prevent any guilt from creeping in. Either way, it should provide stimulation to all your senses, not just your intellect! In fact, I say the less intellectually stimulating the better. Bring on the mind-numbing activities.

Before you embark on this journey, choose your travel companions wisely! Don't you remember what happened when you decided to room with your best friend from high school all through college? Exactly. You should be willing AND able to spend every waking (and sleeping) hour with your fellow roadies, so don't invite someone who crawls under your skin after 30 minutes. Of course, someone with a sense of adventure and humor would be an asset to your jaunt into relaxation! Most of all, go with friends you enjoy and who know how to shed their poker faces and get down to the business of having fun!

Lastly, make only one rule: NO SHOP TALK! Remember, you are trying to restore balance to your life. And, unless you are superhuman or possess wondrous secrets the rest of us are not privy to, you are (almost) hopelessly lopsided toward too much work and not enough play.

Unfortunately I don't have any brilliant ideas as to where your adventure should lead you, but to quote an enlightened "sports entertainment" icon, "it doesn't matter!" The point is to break away from the status quo and learn how to have some fun for awhile. And for those who need a little more help breaking away, it's the process that counts, not the goal (at least in this situation). Send me a postcard from the roadenjoy!

To contact the TIP-TOPics columnist:

Kim Hoffman (khoffma2@mindspring.com)
Fax: (813) 974-4617/Attn: Kim Hoffman
Mail: Department of Psychology, BEH 339
Tampa, FL 33620-8200


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