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TIP-Topics for Students

Moving I-O Psychology Forward Together

Jessica Sorenson, Grace Ewles, and Thomas Sasso
University of Guelph

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Throughout our tenure as TIP columnists, we have written each of our columns with the aim of critically discussing a number of topics relevant to the graduate student experience and the field of industrial-organizational psychology. For our final column we wish to take a more reflective approach. We aim to synthesize and contextualize our previous columns and provide recommendations to further support the development of graduate education in I-O. To accomplish this, we have broken our column into three parts: first, a reflection to highlight the learnings and themes that have emerged across our columns. This is followed by contextualizing these themes within broader discussions happening in TIP and across other forums, as well as the identification of future directions. We conclude our column with recommendations and key takeaways to support change. By doing so, we aim to summarize our learnings and inform the future direction of our field, with a particular emphasis on the importance of holistic learning and development.

A Reflection on the Holistic Graduate Student Experience

In looking back on the issues raised in our past columns, we are left with three questions for I-O graduate students, faculty, and administrators to reflect upon. (a) How might we unify our field to address the current dichotomization of I-O? (b) In what ways can we leverage new educational opportunities to broaden the experiences of future graduate students in I-O psychology? (c) How might we imbed compassion within our education systems in order to prioritize the well-being of students?

First, how do we go about unifying our field? Throughout our tenure, we have recognized the increasing tensions between subgroups in I-O as a result of dichotomization: academic/applied, MA/MBA/PhD, social good/profit, scientist/practitioner, industrial/organizational. As a field, we need to move beyond false dichotomies in our work and educational systems in order to address the nature of contemporary graduate education and adequately prepare graduate students for the future. At the heart of this issue, we need to stop thinking about our field as industrial or organizational psychology. More and more we are coming to realize that challenges facing workplaces require joint perspectives of both I and O. Rather than distinguishing between the two facets, can we move away from programs and courses being defined by this categorization and instead appreciate our interdisciplinary foundation? Similarly, unquestioned assumptions associated with value of one degree or another (e.g., PhD vs. MA or MBA) does little to support our understanding of the knowledge, skills, or capabilities of the person who holds either degree. Ultimately, solutions to real world problems will require the combination of skills, perspectives, and expertise from varying backgrounds.

To support this change, individuals must challenge dialogues that artificially reinforce the separation of research and practice or applied versus academic. Such dichotomies limit rather than expand discussions in our field. Our research pursuits should be informed by real world topics and in partnership with practitioners who can tether us to workplace realities. In turn, practitioners must continue to engage with the multisource data of academia to formulate evidence-based approaches to their work. By considering both sides of the coin perhaps in time we can move closer towards our lofty goal of embodying the scientistpractitioner model.

Our second point of reflection is based on the need to broaden the horizons of graduate education beyond traditional limitations. Graduate students today will benefit greatly from breaking free from institutional and regional boundaries by exploring topics from a global perspective. As a field, we must move into more innovative platforms, with greater knowledge mobilization and translation, which will help break down the ivory tower and democratize knowledge. Individuals must think about different forms of knowledge within our field such that we do not prioritize traditional methods that represent only a small segment of experience as truth. Rather, to support the growth of our field, we must be willing to explore alternative forms of data collection and dissemination, allowing I-O researchers to transcend traditional empirical boundaries. Similarly, we must expand our networks, both within and beyond SIOP. Our discipline will be more likely to grow if we create opportunities for collaboration and integration among individuals with diverse perspectives. By doing this we will, at the very least, promote greater understanding and transference of the skills learned in graduate school to different situations and events.

Our final reflection from our columns is that being a graduate student is tough. Students face many competing challenges, including coursework, research, teaching responsibilities, and practical development just to name a few. At times it is impressive that we can continue to function without caffeine. In addition to these demands, we struggle to maintain the financial resources to pursue our education. As a result, we have competing goals that require different actions and processes in order to succeed, often at the expense of our own well-being. Showing compassion to ourselves, and one another, will be important in evaluating the nature of how these challenges are created, sustained, and what they are meant to achieve. This is particularly true for individuals in graduate school with marginalized identities who experience additional barriers to success. By emphasizing compassion, we provide an opportunity for individuals, programs, and our field at large to develop a culture of support for students, a component of success often forgotten.

We’re Not Alone: A Movement for the Progression of I-O

Thankfully we’re not the only ones discussing these issues; rather, our thought process is reflective of larger conversations. Not only does the dichotomy of our language (e.g., I-O, research-practice) have a long history, but a recent TIP article goes as far as to ask whether or not I-O psychology has lost its way (see Ones, Kaiser, Chamorro-Premuzic, & Svensson, 2017). Our discussion of unity is directly epitomized by this article, highlighting academia’s loss of influence by turning away from practical issues. Despite the acknowledged impact of the research–practice gap, little has been done to develop sustainable approaches to unify and support a diverse range of practice-based research. For example, whereas several SIOP talks offer a reflective (assumingly somewhat critical) lens, only a small subset of these sessions aim to openly tackle the issues brought up in our columns (e.g., The I-O of the Future: Identifying and Closing Skill Gaps by Reinecke et al., 2017, Theme Track: Shaping the Future of I-O Through Multidisciplinary Approaches Lee et al., 2017). We can only hope that these discussions continue at SIOP, in the pages of TIP, on Twitter, in classrooms, and at coffee shops, thereby allowing the community to move forward in a unified manner, as suggested by Fred Oswald’s presidential theme hashtag, #TeamSIOP.

Additionally, Ones et al.’s (2017) discussion regarding our loss of influence further speaks to our point regarding the necessity of broadening empirical, practical, and interpersonal horizons. This issue goes beyond I-O, with many fields discussing globalization, knowledge mobilization, and interdisciplinary networks as critical components to support long-term sustainability. In a changing world, academia has been forced to adapt traditional learning environments to support professional skill development. Based on this, graduate programs in I-O must also re-evaluate traditional approaches and methodologies to support the development of transferable skills at both the masters and doctoral levels. Only by broadening our horizons to alternative teaching methods and opportunities can institutions be proactive in graduate education and training.

Last, with respect to compassion, although the authors hold possibly biased views as current graduate students, our position is echoed by researchers and shared by many graduate students around the world (e.g. Levecque, Anseel, De Beuckelaer, Van der Heyden, & Gisle, 2017). As recognition of mental health and well-being in the workplace continues to increase, so too should conversations about the impact of work demands on well-being for graduate students in their occupational settings. In line with this sentiment, Anna Sverdlik at McGill University is conducting research examining the work–life balance and well-being of doctoral students. Results from this study will help inform individuals and institutions of the barriers facing graduate students and support evidence-based approaches to enhancing graduate well-being.

Using Past Learnings to Inform Future Directions: Key Takeaways

We believe that we all share a responsibility in crafting the future of I-O psychology and must be held accountable for ensuring our discipline is effective and impactful. In this vein we propose tangible suggestions for SIOP as an institution, for I-O programs, and for individuals to advance I-O psychology as we move forward together. We also acknowledge our personal responsibilities to modernize our field. This list is not exhaustive; rather, we encourage our readership to use this as a resource to initiate conversations.            

What can SIOP do?

  • Encourage conference submissions that prioritize multidisciplinary presentations and representation of marginalized voices (e.g., people of color; non-Americans; people with disabilities; indigenous individuals).
  • Develop and encourage greater formalized mentorship opportunities for graduate students outside of the annual conference. Similarly, we should encourage opportunities for networking and professional development between practitioners and academics.
  • Use our influence as a professional association to support local communities and increase advocacy that removes barriers to employment.
  • Challenge gender inequities and discrimination within our discipline and association vis-à-vis greater representation and recognition of women in I-O, as demonstrated in Mikki Hebl’s Shaken and Stirred presentation at the recent SIOP Conference.
  • Call SIOP members to action to discuss social issues and generate solutions and directions within our field as practitioners and academics. We can showcase different perspectives and build broader expertise when invoking greater purposeful action and participation, with initiatives such as SIOP’s current relationship with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

What can I-O programs do?

  • Foster more open communication with students to examine issues in graduate education. The landscape of graduate education has changed dramatically because most faculty completed their degrees; therefore, it is appropriate to give voice to current individuals to indicate the tangible supports needed to increase well-being and quality of life. Engaging in program audits can help determine what requirements for graduate students are essential and what redundancies or barriers may exist.
  • Allow and encourage programs to evolve with changing demands and interests. Housing practitioners-in-residence within academic units and developing greater collaboration between MA, MBA, and PhD programs could be assets moving forward by keeping programs current.
  • Recognize the practical value of I-O psychology as a discipline. Programs must be reminded that we have a duty to use our research and expertise to improve internal systems within our programs and institutions. We must be accountable to fostering healthy, sustainable workplaces by practicing what we preach.
  • Engage with innovations in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning to increase alternative practices in curriculum that foster the facilitation of learning over the communication of knowledge. We can look to program alumni, international institutional collaborations, and nontraditional interdisciplinary partners to expand our scope and reach.

What can individuals do?

  • Use critical thinking to question norms and assumptions within our discipline and our practices in order to generate innovative paths and solutions. However, we can’t just be critical, we must also take an active role in addressing issues by building collaborations and claiming leadership roles in order to be part of the solution.
  • Accept discomfort and unfamiliarity. These feelings will become more common as we move into the future of I-O psychology. Although sometimes anxiety-inducing, it is also an opportunity for great potential. In the words of Miss Frizzle of The Magic School Bus, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” Our path may not be linear or smooth, but if we become too scared of mistakes we won’t push our growth to its potential.
  • Reward and recognize achievements, effort, and dedication. The current systems don’t often provide positive reinforcement; nevertheless, we must persist. It is our responsibility to build cultures of mutual respect and support around us. We need not reinforce hostile competition; instead, we can work to build ourselves and each other up.
  • Finally, we know there are problematic events and individuals all around us. We must be prepared to speak up. Only by using our voice and providing constructive feedback can we hope to change our environments. If we remain silent, we will bring our current underlying problems with us into the future.

We, your outgoing TIP-Topics columnists commit to working towards changes within our discipline, institutions, and within ourselves. We are holding ourselves accountable to challenging our assumptions and questioning tradition in everything we do, and having open discussions around our hopes for the future.

I-O psychology is advancing at a rapid pace, and the graduate students of today will be the discipline’s members and leaders of tomorrow. As such, SIOP’s membership needs to ensure that the training and development of graduate students equips I-O to grow and stay relevant.

Acknowledgements

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who have supported our tenure as TIP columnists, including Peter Hausdorf, Morrie Mullins and Tara Behrend, everyone behind the scenes at TIP, and our dedicated readership. We are grateful for this platform and the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions that impact the field of I-O. Thank you for a wonderful two years!   

It is our pleasure to introduce the new TIP columnists, Stefanie Gisler, Bradley Gray, Jenna-Lyn Roman, and Ethan Rothstein from Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). We look forward to their fresh ideas and insights that will, no doubt, continue to move us forward together.

References

Hebl, M. (2017). What if gender mattered less? In Weiss, J., Shyamsunder, A., Neacsiu, C., & Pickett, M. (2017), Shaken and Stirred. Event at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/-KqFAUw-RAU

Lee, V. B., Taylor, S. A., Grubb, A. D., Hammer, L. B., Hawkes, B., … Miller, J.(2017). Theme Track: Shaping the Future of I-O Through Multidisciplinary Approaches. Session at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL.

Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868–879.

Ones, D. S., Kaiser, R. B., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Svensson, C. (2017). Has industrial-organizational psychology lost its way? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 54(4). Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/tip/april17/lostio.aspx

Reinecke, O. C., Toaddy, S. R., Cerasoli, C. P., Handler, C. A., Morelli, N., & Vaughn, D. (2017). The I-O of the fFuture: Identifying and Closing Skill Gaps. Session at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL.