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Jenny Baker
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Meet Christy Nittrouer: Winner of James L. Outtz Grant and a Graduate Student Fellowship

Liberty J. Munson

As part of our ongoing series to provide visibility into what it takes to earn a SIOP award or grant, we highlight one of a diverse class of award winners in each edition of TIP. We hope that this insight encourages you to consider applying for a SIOP award or grant because you are probably doing something amazing that can and should be recognized by your peers in I-O psychology!

This quarter, we are highlighting Christy Nittrouer, winner of the James L. Outtz Grant for Student Research on Diversity as well as a Graduate Student Fellowship. Below is the story of how she won both this year.

 

Share a little a bit about who you are and what you do.

My name is Christy Nittrouer, and I have a BBA in Management and an MS in Special Education as well as an MA and PhD in I-O Psychology. My background cogently illustrates my interests, but essentially, I was interested in human behavior in the workplace as an undergraduate and then went to work in a start-up organization (in which I saw much of what I learned come alive). I concluded through that experience that I wanted to learn about influencing human behavior at work because there seemed to be many opportunities for improvement. I also deeply care about diversity and inclusion issues, so I took 2 years to explore disability from the individual and family perspectives. With that collective experience, I realized I wanted to conduct research affecting employees at work, and in particular, I wanted to influence organizational practices related to people with disabilities and other underrepresented identities.

What award did you win? Why did you apply?

I applied for this award (James L. Outtz Grant for Student Research on Diversity) because I had just finished defending my dissertation proposal for a research project that I was passionate about, and I knew it would benefit from additional funding. I had worked hard on the proposal, received a lot of valuable feedback from expert researchers through the dissertation proposal process, and I thought it might be competitive.

Graduate Student Scholarship: Same as above, but I was also trying to put together money for my final year in graduate school.

 

 

Describe the research/work that you did that resulted in this award. What led to your idea?

My dissertation was an experimental field study that investigated a current practice regarding hiring employees with an intellectual disability: For this population, employment specialists or disability advocates interface with employers, advocating for the hiring of their client with a disability. However, no research has examined if this process works or if there’s an approach within this practice that’s more effective than another. Essentially, every time I found myself writing a paper about the population of people with disabilities in the workforce, I reiterated continually dismal employment statistics, and I knew I wanted to do a deep dive examining the perceptions about this population. But disability is broad, and I wanted to focus on underresearched disabilities or those types of disabilities that have the lowest employment rate. I chose people with cognitive disabilities, as lack of employment is one of the biggest barriers to these individuals achieving independent living or other life outcomes that are predicated on economic self-sufficiency. My advisor is a pioneer in field studies and an incredibly creative methodologist, and I didn’t want to leave graduate school without spearheading a large-scale field study under her tutelage. To date, it has been one of my favorite studies that I have ever done.

What do you think was key to you winning this award?

I think I had success this year because my proposal had already been critically vetted by several expert researchers in my specialty. I had already been given several rounds of feedback and gone through several rounds of edits, and I think that’s what made this proposal good.

What did you learn that surprised you? Did you have an “aha” moment? What was it?

In terms of submitting a proposal for a SIOP grant or award, I strongly believe that the key to submitting something competitive is getting feedback on what you submit from others beforehand. Rather than writing something in a vacuum, I encourage others to start thinking about the opportunity early, and either leverage something on which you have already received and implemented helpful feedback or be sure to get at least one round of feedback before you submit. (Also, it’s important to choose something that fits well with the call for submissions.) The older I get, the more I solicit others’ opinions before I go full throttle on a project—it makes the outcome of the project so much better.

In terms of actually conducting the research, during the first round of data analysis, when it looked like I clearly had an effect that was replicating across analyses, this was a huge relief. The hard work, planning, and organization of the logistics all seemed to finally pay off at that point. Due to this experience and others, I firmly believe working hard and thoughtfully and putting in the time leads to high-quality research. It has shaped my approach to data collection, and I almost never choose convenience samples (or at least not by themselves) now.

What do you see as the lasting/unique contribution of this work to our discipline? How can it be used to drive changes in organizations, the employee experience, and so on?

My research suggests that making the moral case to prospective employers to hire individuals with an intellectual disability is more effective than making the business case or trying to reduce stereotypes about the disability. I’m still exploring the robustness and generalizability of this finding, but it maps onto other research in the management literature. It suggests that actually making an ethical case for employers to “do the right thing” may be more effective than just trying to connect a cause to the bottom line, which I think is a bit counterintuitive.

How did others become aware of your award-winning work/research? 

I was able to highlight my SIOP awards for my dissertation in my job talks and in the 2019 SIOP symposium in which I presented my dissertation work.

Who would you say was the biggest advocate of your research/work that resulted in the award? How did that person become aware of your work?

My advisor’s belief in the importance of the project definitely propelled me to devote the maximum amount of time I could to it and otherwise kept me on track in terms of doing everything I possibly could to collect my data with the highest degree of accuracy possible. Her letter of support was also tremendous. I know people in my specialty also advocated for me for which I am very grateful!

To what extent would you say this work/research was interdisciplinary? What was the “turning point” moment where you started thinking about the problem/work through the other disciplines' lenses? 

I would not have come up with the research context and worked with my advisor to hone the research idea without my experience in special education and adult-disability services. I think interdisciplinary experience, or exposure, is some of the best breeding ground for research ideas.

What, if any, were the challenges you faced doing this work across disciplines (e.g., different jargon)? 

I examined the interdisciplinary context from an I-O perspective, and fortunately, I didn’t find the jargon overwhelmingly challenging because I had previous experience in that field.

How do you think the work benefitted by having multiple disciplines involved?

The measurement lens that I-O lent to this question made the research far stronger than merely examining it from a more traditional disability, special education perspective.

What recommendations would you give to others if they are doing interdisciplinary research? 

If you don’t know the other discipline well (and even if you do!), be sure to get input from people in the other discipline to make sure that you aren’t missing anything, cover your bases, and get buy-in from academic researchers in other fields.

Are you still doing work/research in the same area where you won the award? If so, what are you currently working on in this space? If not, what are you working on now and how did you move into this different work/research area? 

Yes! I’m working on refining my dissertation results, creating a second study to couple with it, and submit/ready it for publication.

What’s a fun fact about yourself (something that people may not know)?

I have two small kiddos (1-yr-old and 4-yr-old), two big dogs, and I love to run! My family helps me keep my priorities organized, and that perspective helps tremendously in terms of prioritizing the most important parts of projects first (and not getting distracted with the ephemera—which I otherwise would)!

What piece of advice would you give to someone new to I-O psychology? (If you knew then what you know now…)

Hmm, there were a lot of things I did not know or had to learn when I started my PhD program, but one thing that I did well is that I always leveraged class papers into projects in which I was interested or based them on projects on which I was already working. If I had an ongoing project, great, I would use it to inform a class paper. If not, I would think deeply about what I was interested in and what I thought I could realistically do, and I would write/develop/launch/analyze that. As a result, I find myself constantly going back to those papers and using them in drafts of manuscripts. Almost all the papers I wrote in graduate school were starting points for real projects I developed, and getting started on that early (and incorporating all the helpful comments I received from professors) I think was invaluable. So, I would say be strategic in courses and try never to complete an assignment just for the sake of completing it.

 

About the author:

Liberty Munson is currently the principal psychometrician of Microsoft’s Technical Certification program in the Worldwide Learning organization. She is responsible for ensuring the validity and reliability of Microsoft’s certification and professional programs. Her passion is for finding innovative solutions to business challenges that balance the science of assessment design and development with the realities of budget, time, and schedule constraints. Most recently, she has been presenting on the future of testing and how technology can change the way we assess skills.

Liberty loves to bake, hike, backpack, and camp with her husband, Scott, and miniature schnauzer, Apex. If she’s not at work, you’ll find her enjoying the great outdoors, or she’s in her kitchen tweaking some recipe just to see what happens.

Her advice to someone new to I-O psychology? Statistics, statistics, statistics—knowing data analytic techniques will open A LOT of doors in this field and beyond!

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