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The Academics' Forum: I-O Rodeo, Anyone? 

Satoris S. Culbertson
Kansas State University

I was recently on a flight in which I was seated next to a gentleman who, being nervous about the flight, expressed to me that he’s “just a country boy who doesn’t fly much.” He continued on, telling me that the only times he flies is when he makes his annual trip to and from Kansas City. Taking the bait, I asked what he was doing in Kansas City, at which point he informed me he had been to the Lineman’s Rodeo. “Oh?” I asked, “What events do you do?” secretly hoping he was going to say he was a bull rider because, well, in the words of Paris Hilton, that’s hot. As if he was reading my mind, however, in a sweeping statement, he crushed my hopes as he said, “Not that kind of rodeo.”
Over the course of the flight, Jim explained to me that the Lineman’s Rodeo was an event held annually in Kansas City for professional lineworkers (aka powerline technicians) from around the world. At this rodeo, the individuals showcase the abilities they have mastered in their trade by participating in events that are scored on the basis of factors such as safety, timely completion of the event, work practices, and equipment handling. A sample event has participants climb a 40-foot pole while holding a bucket, change an old bucket at the top for the new bucket, and then return to the ground as quickly yet safely as possible. Oh, and they have to carry an egg in the bucket on the way up and carry it down in their mouths without it breaking.
This got me thinking. There are many occupations that have events in which professionals can demonstrate their expertise while having fun. Lumberjack competitions exhibit the skills of individuals in the logging industry with sawing, chopping, climbing, and logrolling events. Cosmetology students and professionals can compete in competitions that highlight (pun intended) their talent, skill, and creativity through events such as demonstrated expertise in cutting, styling, and coloring hair. NBA players have the NBA All-Star weekend with events including the slam dunk contest, skills challenge, and three-point shootout. What do I-O psychologists have?

An easy answer to this question would be that we have the annual SIOP conference. Certainly, it’s a place where we showcase our abilities in terms of research and presentation skills. I suppose it’s a “competition” because not all submissions are accepted. I guess there are “winners” because individuals can have the top posters at the conference or receive awards for their scientific contributions or early career contributions. And, of course, we have the “fun factor” with the various social events that take place. But, after talking with Jim, my lineman friend in coach, it just isn’t the same. First, we aren’t highlighting all of the things we do. As it is, the SIOP conference is mostly focused around research. What about the other activities we as I-O psychologists perform? And, perhaps most importantly, what about events in which we compete with eggs, possibly in our mouths?

After much thinking, I have come up with some “events” for an I-O rodeo that could be incorporated into the annual SIOP conference (hint, hint conference planning committee…).

Reviewer #2 Race: Bound to be a crowd pleaser, this event has participants take on the role of the dreaded Reviewer #2. Participants will be given a short manuscript to read and review. The winner is the participant who can most quickly make the best case for why the manuscript should be rejected. Much like how Wheel of Fortune has become weak over the years and simply provides contestants with the letters R, S, T, L, N, E, all participants in this event will automatically be provided with the comments “not enough theory,” “cross-sectional data are bad,” “potential single-source bias,” “no incremental contribution,” and “failure to measure and account for third-variable effects.” Of course, all participants will complete this event with an egg in their mouths. If the egg breaks, the reviewer must admit that sometimes student samples are appropriate, effectively resulting in their elimination from the event.

Elevator Talk-Off: Participants in this event must demonstrate their ability to briefly describe and discuss their research findings in ways that individuals outside of our profession can understand. To be the winner in this event, participants will have to drop the jargon and translate their research into easily understandable terms that even my grandma would understand. In fact, my grandma would be judge for this event. And lest you be mistaken, she’s not the warm, cuddly grandma with cookies out to make everyone a winner. Nope. She’s out for blood and will demand perfection. This, of course, will be made even harder because participants will all have to balance an egg on a spoon while standing on one leg. If the egg falls and breaks, my grandma will shake her head in disapproval, thereby eliminating you from the event.

I-O Authors Spelling Bee: Similar to spelling bees held in children’s academic rodeos, where children must demonstrate their knowledge of the English language, this event pits participants against each other in a nail-biting competition to demonstrate their ability to accurately spell the last names of I-O authors. In a typical spelling bee, children are given the word and may also request the word’s definition, part of speech, language of origin, alternate pronunciations, and for the word to be used in a sentence. In this event, participants are given the individual’s last name and will be allowed to request the author’s first name, a title of one of the author’s publications, and the author’s favorite color. Oh, what fun will ensue when a participant spells “S-C-H-M-I-T-T” rather than “S-C-H-M-I-D-T” or forgets the acute accent on the “e” in Tubré! And, let’s not forget the egg. Participants in this event will have to spell the names while pushing eggs through a short maze with their noses. Misspellings will result in the person whose name was misspelled getting to throw the egg at the participant, thus causing it to break and eliminating the participant from the event.

Collaborators’ Challenge: As an increasing number of people are collaborating on academic and applied projects, many across great distances, the ability to communicate and stay focused are essential skills. As such, this event has participants demonstrate their ability to work as a team. In teams of 3–5, participants must keep one egg (the “paper/project”) moving between them. To keep things interesting and more realistic, there will be distractions that occur during the event, including blocking of some participants by judges who will be representing such factors impeding progress as “illness,” “travel,” and “computer virus.” In addition, participants will be required to take two steps away from each other every time a whistle is blown (approximately every 20 seconds). If any member has the egg for too long (say, 2 seconds) then their paper/project is deemed a flop (i.e., they are eliminated). In addition, any team that breaks their egg will automatically be eliminated due to paper/project rejection/failure.

Committee Cage Match (aka Meeting Melee): This thrilling event has participants (referred to as “committee members”) thrown into a ring (called “The Committee Meeting”) and faced with a seemingly trivial issue. They must battle (possibly to the death) for their stance on the inconsequential issue. Last person standing is the winner. They win an egg.

As you can see, Jim the Lineman, unbeknownst to him, gave me a lot of food for thought. In the event that the I-O rodeo doesn’t have quite the draw that I might hope, however, he mentioned one other thing that I thought was really a cool idea. He said that linemen each bring about 10–15 shirts from their companies and trade them with other linemen during the course of the weekend so that, by the end, they all return home with souvenir shirts from electric companies around the world. I remember doing a similar thing at an International Military Testing Association meeting years ago where people all brought local beers from their respective areas and “sampled” the beers together. I think these sorts of activities have a certain appeal to them, and it would be nice if we had something similar.

I’m open to suggestions and would be happy to participate in and spread the word if anybody felt strongly about doing something like this. Anybody want a K-State shirt or some Tallgrass beer?