Jenny Baker
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A Tale of Two Departments: Examining Differences Between I-O Psychology and Management Programs

Logan M. Steele, University of South Florida; Kaitlin Busse, Baruch College, City University of New York; Wiston A. Rodriguez, Baruch College, City University of New York; Manuel Gonzalez, Seton Hall University; & Yochi Cohen-Charash, Baruch College, City University of New York

I-O psychology graduates are in the fortunate position of having many good career options available to them. When navigating these options, often the first fork in the road is the choice to pursue an academic career or an applied one (e.g., industry, government). If one chooses the academic route, the next two choices are (a) “Should I work in an institution that emphasizes research, teaching, or a balance of the two?” and (b) “What type of department do I want to call home?” Unlike in many scholarly disciplines, I-O psychology graduates have more than one academic department in which they may find a job, the most common of which are psychology and management. However, reliable information about the differences between these options is scarce. The purpose of this article is to address that scarcity.

The differences between being a professor in psychology and management have been discussed for at least 50 years (Lawler, 1971; see also Aguinis et al., 2014). Indeed, this topic of discussion reflects a broader conversation within I-O psychology about the professional identity of I-O psychologists (Ryan & Ford, 2010). To date, perceptions about how psychology and management departments may differ have largely been informed by individual experiences and the informal sharing of those experiences with others. In fact, our roundtable submission to SIOP in 2021 on this very topic (which was rejected) received a reviewer comment reflecting exactly that:

I think the differences [between psychology and management departments] are largely overstated. I would see much more value in an objective or systematic exploration of any meaningful differences between the two types of schools rather than a reliance on personal anecdotes even from well-regarded faculty. Without some support for meaningful differences, this round table seems like it would be entirely dependent upon the specific experiences of a few faculty. That may result in spreading stereotypes about each type of school only substantiated by a few faculty’s personal experiences.

We largely agree with this reviewer. To our knowledge, the only difference between psychology and management that has been systematically explored is salary, which most recently showed that the median salary of SIOP members in management departments is 68% higher than members in psychology departments (SIOP, 2020). Although salary is, of course, an important consideration in the jobs one chooses, it is not the only consideration. Teaching and research expectations, mentorship opportunities, relationships with industry, among many other factors, may all be taken into account when selecting a job. Therefore, it is critical to identify the substantive differences between psychology and management programs so that I-O psychology graduate students and current faculty considering a career change can better determine what types of programs may provide a better fit for them.

To examine what is currently known about the differences between psychology and management departments, we conducted a survey of over 300 faculty in June of 2021. We report the results of that survey next.

Sample and Recruitment

Participants were recruited through listservs from the Academy of Management (i.e., human resources, RMNet) and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology where potential participants were presented with the study description and link to complete the survey. We also emailed our survey to I-O psychology program directors and requested that the survey be forwarded to other I-O faculty in their departments. 

Among those who participated in the survey, there were n = 307 responses, 82% of which were from the United States. Half of participants were affiliated with a psychology department, 41% were affiliated with a management department (or an equivalent within a business school), and the remaining participants were affiliated with a different department. Among the types of institutions in which participants were employed, 7% were in teaching-focused institutions, 36% were in balanced institutions, and 44% were in research-focused institutions.  The vast majority of participants (88%) were faculty members, and the remaining 12% were students. Within the ranks of the faculty members, 3% were instructors/lecturers/adjuncts, 24% assistant professors, 26% associate professors, and 35% full professors. Given the low representation of participants from teaching schools, our analyses focused on participants from balanced and research-intensive institutions only.

Measures

Our survey was divided into five sections: research, teaching, mentoring, hiring, and subjective comparisons. A full list of questions and the results are provided here: https://osf.io/ps5c4/?view_only=0a65ee6fdef3492bbc59c1ad51aee683 

For the first four sections, unless described otherwise, participants indicated their (dis)agreement to a number of statements using a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Research was assessed with five items (sample item: “Grant funding is a major priority in my department.”).  Teaching was assessed with four items (sample item: “My undergraduate students expect their professors to emphasize real-world, practical applications of the material they’re learning.”). Mentoring was assessed by five items asking respondents to state how many students (i.e., PhD and/or master’s) they mentored (sample item: “How many master’s students are you currently advising?”). Hiring was assessed by 11 items (sample item: “Job applicants with an I-O background are able to meet the needs of my department [e.g., teaching, research, etc.].”). 

In the final section of the survey, we used seven-point, semantic-differential scales to measure participants’ subjective comparisons between management and psychology departments. Participants were asked to respond to statements by comparing whether each question related more strongly to (1) management faculty or (7) psychology faculty (sample item: “At comparable institutions, who do you believe has a more difficult time earning tenure?”).

Results

For concision, we will highlight the key findings from each survey section. We refer interested readers to the study’s Open Science Framework webpage (provided earlier) for full details of our results. We will discuss our results regarding research, teaching, student mentorship, and hiring. Because our subjective comparison findings (i.e., the last section of our survey) touch on each of these four areas, we will discuss them throughout the results section where they inform our other findings.

Research     

Two themes emerged when examining perceptions of research foci and support within each department. First, corroborating past research (SIOP, 2020), financial support for research was deemed to be less of an issue in management departments than in psychology departments. Management scholars perceived more adequate financial support from their institutions (M = 3.35) and perceived grant funding as less of a priority within their departments (M = 2.00), relative to psychologists (M = 3.97, t(242) = 2.41, p < .05, and M = 2.94, t(242) = 5.34,  p < .001, respectively). These findings are further corroborated by the subjective comparisons data. Specifically, both management scholars (M = 3.11) and psychologists (M = 2.52) believed that management departments have more resources to support their research than psychology departments at comparable institutions, with psychologists more strongly holding this belief (t(242) = 2.62, p < .01).

Second, management scholars more strongly agreed that their departments maintained lists of “top-tier” research outlets (M = 3.74) and emphasized publishing in these outlets (M = 3.90), relative to psychologists (M = 2.85, t(242) = 4.90, p < .001 and M = 3.44, t(242) = 2.76, p < .01, respectively). Furthermore, management scholars from research-intensive schools reported that their departments would prefer that they publish just a few articles in “top-tier” journals than several articles in other outlets (M = 4.04), relative to psychologists from the same type of institutions (M = 3.53, t(132) = 2.32, p < .05. This second theme corroborates a fairly well-known trend in business schools, in which publication in specific journals is emphasized for the purpose of maintaining AACSB accreditation (see also Aguinis et al., 2020).

Teaching

We found only one difference between psychology and management departments in terms of teaching. Specifically, management participants more strongly agreed that their undergraduate students expected professors to emphasize practical applications of the course material (M = 4.43), relative to psychologists (M = 4.10, t(242) = 2.94, p < .01), although both groups of participants generally agreed to students having these expectations. We interpret this difference in beliefs as potentially reflecting the greater emphasis on theory within various psychology courses, as well as the emphasis in psychology curricula on research methods and statistics.

Beyond the above finding, however, no differences were found in terms of semesterly teaching load (psychology: M = 12.5 credits; management: M = 13.0 credits, t(242) = 0.80, p = .425) and the number of hours per week spent on course-related work (psychology: M = 16.6 hrs; management: M = 16.7 hrs, t(242) = 0.11, p = .912). Thus, although students’ classroom expectations might differ between the two types of programs, their respective workloads associated with teaching appear to be comparable.

Student Mentorship

Participants from both types of departments reported working with a similar number of PhD students and master’s students (psychology: Ms = 2.76 and 3.65, respectively; management: Ms = 2.08 and 1.87, respectively, ts ≤ 1.90, ps ≥ .058). However, of these students, psychologists tended to advise more PhD students as a dissertation chair (M = 1.62 students) and more master’s students for non-thesis capstone projects (e.g., cumulative exams, internships; M = 2.65 students), relative to management scholars (M = 0.90 students, t(242) = 3.22,  p< .01, and M = 0.60 students, t(242) = 2.22, p < .05, respectively). Thus, although the mentorship load does not appear to differ between types of departments, psychologists seem to serve in a greater variety of mentoring roles. In other words, as mentors, psychologists tend to “wear more hats” than their management counterparts.

Interestingly, whereas the above findings indicate that mentor loads do not differ between the types of programs, our participants held a different set of personal beliefs. Participants from both types of programs generally believed that psychologists tend to have greater mentor responsibilities than management scholars (management: M = 4.56; psychologists: M = 5.25), and psychologists more strongly held this belief (t(242) = 4.34, p < .001). Thus, the area of student mentorship seems to be one in which the beliefs of psychologists and management scholars do not necessarily align with reality. Perhaps due to their beliefs about mentorship differences, both psychologists (M = 5.69) and management scholars (M = 4.62) alike tended to perceive psychology students as receiving better training to conduct high-quality research, relative to management students at comparable institutions, although this belief was significantly more pronounced among psychologists (t(242) = 7.00, p < .001).

Hiring

As expected, relative to management scholars, psychologists felt that job applicants with an I-O background could better meet their departments’ needs (M = 3.84 vs. M = 4.32, respectively, t(242) = 3.52, p < .001), whereas the opposite pattern was found for job applicants with a management background (M = 4.74 vs. M = 3.67, t(242) = 8.55, p < .001). Interestingly, psychologists and management scholars alike tended to more strongly agree that organizational psychology and organizational behavior topics (e.g., motivation, leadership) were favored by their departments (M = 4.44 and M = 4.57, respectively), relative to industrial-psychology and human resource topics (M = 3.94 and M = 4.08, respectively, ts ≤ 5.46, ps < .001).

Last, management scholars tended to agree that applied/industry experience is seen favorably by their departments (M = 3.50), whereas psychologists tended to disagree that applied experience was seen favorably (M = 2.67). This latter finding is particularly striking, given the widespread emphasis on the scientist–practitioner model in I-O psychology. We were also personally surprised by this finding, given our beliefs (and personal experience) that students in I-O psychology programs tend to emphasize practice more than those in management programs. 

Conclusions

We started this contribution by noting that the most notable known difference between careers of I-Os in psychology and management departments is the salary difference. Our findings show that the salary gap is replicated in a research–support gap, favoring working in management rather than psychology departments. As for teaching, we found that the experience of teaching undergraduate students is relatively similar in both types of departments. However, there is more skill variety in mentoring graduate students in psychology departments, in comparison to business schools. At the same time, there is an emphasis among business schools on publishing research in specific, targeted journal outlets, whereas this emphasis appears to exist to a lesser extent in psychology departments. Thus, if an I-O psychologist is more inclined toward teaching and having a variety of student-mentoring experiences, they might be more satisfied in psychology departments. Additionally, the research philosophy of each I-O psychologist (particularly with regard to publication quality and the importance of research-impact metrics) will determine their fit within psychology or management schools. That both psychology and business schools emphasize organizational psychology and organizational behavior research topics means that researchers emphasizing organizational psychology topics might find it easier to be hired in business schools (and potentially even in I-O programs), in comparison to researchers focusing on industrial psychology. 

All in all, we hope that the information gained from our research will ignite additional investigations, aiming at identifying the reasons for our findings. Our findings should be of interest to psychology departments and to the field as a whole worried by the “brain drain” (Aguinis et al., 2014). It should also be of value to I-O psychologists considering their career paths.  

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Abby Corrington, Charles Gorman, Amy Kristof-Brown, Lorianne Mitchell, Frederick Morgeson, Mickey Quiñones, and Paul Spector for their insightful feedback on our survey instrument, and to Paul Spector for helping us disseminate our survey.

References

Aguinis, H., Bradley, J. C., & Broderson, A. (2014). Industrial-organizational psychologists in business schools: Brain drain or eye opener? Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7(3), 284–303. https://doi.org/10.1111/iops.12151

Aguinis, H., Cummings, C., Ramani, R. S., & Cummings, T. G. (2020). “An A is an A”: The new bottom line for valuing academic research. Academy of Management Perspectives, 34(1), 135–154. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2017.0193

Lawler, E. E. (1971). Thoughts about the future. Professional Psychology, 2, 21–22.

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. (2020). Income and employment report. https://www.siop.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=hgkYLlbAiP8%3d&portalid=84

Ryan, A. M., & Ford, J. K. (2010). Organizational psychology and the tipping point of professional identity. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 241–258. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1754942600002352

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