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Jenny Baker
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How Local I-O Groups Enrich Graduate Student Educational Objectives

Maryalice Citera, Robert Calderon, Bill Handschin, & Donna Sylvan

As members of SIOP's Local I-O Group Relations Committee, we wanted to explore how local I-O groups enrich graduate student educational experiences. We interviewed or asked individuals to respond by email to a set of five open-ended questions. We had a total of eight individuals respond who were either current graduate students or recent graduates from both master’s and PhD I-O programs. They represented three different local I-O groups: Georgia Association for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (GAIOP), The Personnel Testing Council Metropolitan Washington (PTCMW), and Minnesota Professionals for Psychology Applied to Work (MPPAW).

Connecting the Classroom With Practice

Across all interviews, respondents reported positive outcomes derived from belonging to a local I-O group. Engagement in events and activities were among the top benefits. They stated that hands-on experiences provided by local I-O groups helped to bridge the scientist–practitioner divide and exposed students to applications of I-O psychology in the real world, helping them learn "how things actually worked." The respondents also noted that speakers at the local I-O events "described real world experiences—more real than school." One local I-O group brought in practitioners to pitch ideas about things they had been thinking about working on and engaged students in discussions about solutions to the problems.

The Personnel Testing Council Metropolitan Washington (PTCMW) sponsors an annual Graduate Student Consulting Challenge. Students reported that this challenge allowed them to experience the "practical process of consulting." This provided graduate students with an opportunity to put into practice skills they learned in the classroom. One student expressed that it was "great to work with a real-life client, and it gives you a snapshot of real-life job experiences." Other students noted that the feedback they received was very valuable.

Students also appreciated the workshops and educational experiences provided by their local I-O groups. They stated that the information presented at the workshops was useful in attaining a diverse view of the field. The workshops and educational experiences were insightful and helped students stay current by focusing on cutting edge research and hot topics. They also provided students with practical information, for example, specific terms to add to one's resume. One student said that it helped to connect "with different professionals and learn how the research and theories I was learning connected back to real-life scenarios." The information they learned helped them prepare for comprehensive examinations and could be incorporated into their own research. GAIOP conducted a workshop where people reported on information they learned about at the annual SIOP conference. Students reported that they found this session very valuable, and one indicated that they "got information I could incorporate into the methods section of my dissertation." The workshops and presentations created opportunities for collaboration beyond the students' own graduate programs and allowed them to seek help from other members with unique or specialized expertise.

Connecting With Other Professionals

Another treasured benefit was networking and making connections. Students reported the value of getting to know professionals in the field. They were able to meet "like-minded individuals they could bounce ideas off." They were also able to connect with their peers from other graduate programs. One student appreciated that they "had folks to reach out to when looking for a job." They felt that attending meetings in person helped them grow their networking skills. These opportunities aided their learning of professional expectations for I-O psychologists. For one student, connecting with professionals revealed the light at the end of the tunnel—where graduate school ends and their career path begins.

Respondents also reported that local I-O groups provided formal and informal opportunities for mentoring. Local I-O groups with formal mentoring programs connected students with a specific mentor. When mentoring was informal, students easily found members that provided academic and research advice, as well as career information including offering guidance on resumes, interview tips and tricks, or pointing them in career directions. One interviewee served as a mentor and taught other new students the ropes.

Students reported feeling that attending local I-O group meetings gave them greater awareness and understanding about potential career opportunities. One student said that it was like "getting a realistic job preview." Another indicated that they "learned about jobs and what people were doing in my city." Hearing from different presenters gave the students an inside view of the consulting world and helped them define what they wanted in a career. One student met an alumnus who had graduated years earlier from her same I-O program who told her about career services offered by her university of which she was not aware.

Developing Professional Skills and Identity

The students indicated that local I-O groups also helped them build a sense of community by shaping their sense of professional identity and belonging to SIOP. One student indicated that it "bridged the gap between being a student and SIOP,” and that the local I-O group meetings felt like a scaled down version of the SIOP annual conference. They reported that when they then went to the SIOP annual conference, they felt more comfortable because it was familiar. They also felt like they belonged because they knew people to whom they could say hi. They reported that these experiences highlighted "the benefits of becoming a SIOP member."

Local I-O groups also afford graduate students an opportunity to serve as leaders. By serving on the board of a local I-O group, graduate students stated how they learned valuable leadership skills, role expectations, and knowledge about how these organizations operate.

Another benefit discussed was the chance to practice communication skills. Students felt this helped them learn how to effectively communicate with professionals in their field.  One student noted that they had the opportunity to present at a meeting and that "being a presenter was a good, useful experience." Through these interactions students reported receiving valuable feedback and encouragement.

How We Could Do Better

Our participants had some recommendations for what they would like their local I-O group to offer. Top on this list are opportunities for tangible hands-on practical experiences, workshops that focus on skill sets needed as a practitioner, and more consulting challenges/consulting scenarios to practice their applied skills. As one student said: "connect actual people with actual work." One suggestion was to create mini challenges that are less competitive and more focused on fun and creativity.

Students also wanted more formal mentoring programs and a chance for intentional directed networking. They noted that networking is different when attending in-person meetings than attending virtually. Because many students indicated that they had little prior experience with networking, some training or programming focused specifically on navigating networking would be helpful.

Graduate students would also like to see programming and workshops geared to graduate students and early career professionals (e.g., interview preparation, professional role expectations, building a sense of community and identity as an I-O professional). Mentoring would also be useful to help students make the transition from being a graduate student to their first job. Local I-O groups can foster career introductions by connecting students with local companies that are hiring. A final recommendation was to create a book club to generate discussions about newly published books.

Connection to Diversifying I-O Psychology

The recommendations and insights offered by students of local I-O groups align with recent research from other SIOP committees. For example, the Diversifying I-O Psychology (DIP) committee aims to bring awareness of the field of I-O to diverse undergraduate students, specifically Black and Hispanic students. Former DIP Conference Chair Stephanie Murphy noted,

Students at the DIP conference value hearing stories from academics and practitioners in different areas of I-O. They learn not just the many roles and jobs they can hold with a background in I-O, but they also learn about the different paths they can take to get there. Most importantly, these diverse students get to see and hear from people that look like them and learn about their experience getting into grad school and navigating their careers.

Across SIOP, there are opportunities to continue to foster community and engagement that benefits students and professionals alike. Many SIOP committees work to build student experiences; for a complete list of volunteer opportunities visit https://www.siop.org/Membership/Volunteering.

Local I-O Groups Can Learn From Each Other

Local I-O groups have a lot to offer graduate students from hands-on practical experiences, enriched learning opportunities through workshops, networking and mentoring opportunities, and building an I-O identity and sense of community. Newer I-O groups may want to reach out to more established groups to identify resources they can use to establish these types of programs and opportunities to ensure graduate students find value from participating in their local I-O group.

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