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President’s Column

Tara Behrend

This issue of TIP is dedicated to Education and Training—one of my favorite topics and one that I have been thinking a lot about lately. One question that has been on my mind is, “What do we mean when we say that someone has been trained as a PhD-level I-O psychologist?” Do we mean

  • The person has a PhD in Psychology from an I-O program in a psychology department?
  • The person was trained by an I-O psychologist who works in a management department, so they hold a PhD in Management?
  • The person has a PhD in Psychology from a psychology department with no formal I-O program, but does I-O-related work?
  • The person has a PhD in I-O Psychology from a standalone continuing studies program?

I don’t think most people would agree on the answer to this question. The implication of this issue is that we also don’t agree on what a PhD I-O should be qualified to do or what they should know. SIOP’s competency model for graduate training offers some guidance, but it is not sufficient to help us wrestle with these new realities.

SIOP has a responsibility to protect and support its members, and advocate on their behalf. Ensuring high-quality training is part of that responsibility, ensuring that the reputation of the field is one of methodological rigor, deep expertise in scientific principles of human behavior, and care for the well-being of workers. As our field grows in popularity, word of mouth is not a method we can rely on to establish norms and expectations for what an I-O psychologist is.

Ensuring high-quality training also means protecting prospective members who are the targets of predatory programs. These programs are growing dramatically in popularity and sell students false promises while leaving them with few skills and huge amounts of debt.1,2 Frequently these programs have no full-time faculty, and the faculty they do have are not trained in I-O themselves. Students do not take any doctoral-level coursework and instead take asynchronous online classes in huge cohorts with no research mentorship. A PhD is supposed to be a research degree, but these students graduate with no exposure to research at all. Many of them (over 30% by some estimates3) end up defaulting on the massive loans they had to take out because they can’t find employment in the field. This problem is growing so severe that the U.S. Department of Education is implementing “secret shoppers” to catch for-profit colleges that pressure veterans to take out loans and lie to them about the expected returns.4 In addition to ruining these student’s lives, this creates a taxpayer burden that we all pay for. It also damages the reputation of the field at a time when our expertise is widely sought after and increasingly externally recognized.

Is this what we want for students who are interested in I-O? Surely, it is not, but what can we do about it?  SIOP is at a disadvantage; we are outmatched in size and budget by these corporations, who can devote millions of dollars to marketing (and influencing the state accreditation boards, in at least one case5). What we can do, though, is be very clear about what I-O graduate training should look like and to get that information into the hands of as many prospective students as possible. We can also collect better data from graduate program directors about their PhD programs, which SIOP will begin to do very shortly. Clair Reynolds Kueny, in her capacity as a subcommittee lead in the Education and Training Committee, and ./Steven Toaddy, chair of E&T, have been doing amazing work in updating and expanding our capabilities in this area. By reporting acceptance rates, graduation rates, funding availability, and course rigor, programs can demonstrate their value to students more clearly and transparently.

We also need to recognize that these marketing efforts are appealing to people partly because their messaging connects to the needs of students in a way that traditional programs often fail to do. When comparing two programs, of course, the one that promises flexibility and acceptance will seem more appealing. Students are increasingly pursuing graduate studies while caring for children or parents and/or while working full time to support them. They may be transitioning from the military or coming back to school after many years away. Many of these programs explicitly target veterans and students of color.6 The late-night TV commercial that says “our program understands you and traditional programs don’t” resonates with students who feel left out and left behind. All I-O psychology programs should be attuned to the needs of students and provide authentic care, in the way those commercials pretend to do. Preparatory experiences like SIOP’s DIP program, or UNCC’s Organizational Sciences Summer Institute, are vitally important in providing that care and support, and much more is needed.

Training a new PhD properly is an enormously resource-intensive endeavor; it requires a significant investment of time and money from a university. It is not possible to train 10 (or 50) advisees simultaneously. This unfortunately means that the number of people who want to be admitted into doctoral programs will exceed the number of positions available; however, the solution is not to create huge, low-quality degree mills that guarantee 100% acceptance rates.7 Instead we should help people understand that a PhD is not needed or even desirable for many jobs a person may want to do. In a great many cases, MA/MS-level training is rigorous and top quality. Although it is true that some MA/MS programs are also predatory, enrolling in an excellent and reputable MA/MS program will almost always be better for a student than falling victim to a PhD scam. At the same time, we don’t have enough information about the current and future job market for I-Os. Has supply outpaced market demand? What will be the consequences, if so?

The bottom line is that we need to change the way we think about graduate education and recognize that a large and diverse group of students are drawn to a PhD in I-O psychology because it promises a good job and a better future. For the sake of those students, we have to do everything we can to ensure that those opportunities really are available to them, and that means making sure they receive the training they need and deserve. As SIOP continues to work on this issue, I would be happy to hear from people who have perspectives and experiences that they want to share.

Notes

[1]https://www.insidehighered.com/news/government/student-aid-policy/2023/05/18/new-stronger-gainful-employment-regs-released

2 https://apnews.com/article/grand-canyon-university-fine-college-6728cbbc74912d96f1cf1c192780ae96

3 https://www.ppsl.org/news/news/press-releases/new-data-96-of-students-defrauded-by-abusive-for-profit-colleges-waiting-for-betsy-devos-to-process-their-claims-report-their-lives-are-worse-off-now-than-before-they-went-to-school

4 https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.26.1.139

5 https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2023-03-14/education-department-to-deploy-secret-shoppers-to-detect-predatory-practices-at-colleges

6 https://www.republicreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Manning-Adams-Takano-letter-to-ED-re-Keiser.pdf

7 https://harvardlawreview.org/blog/2018/07/for-profit-schools-predatory-practices-and-students-of-color-a-mission-to-enroll-rather-than-educate/

8 https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.26.1.139

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