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Honoring a Luminary


by Stephany Below, SIOP Communications Manager

SIOP Awards Inaugural Dunnette Prize to Dr. Frank Schmidt

At the opening plenary session at the 30th Annual Conference in April, SIOP and the SIOP Foundation was proud to award the inaugural Dunnette Prize to SIOP Fellow Frank L. Schmidt.

The Dunnette Prize, named for the late Marvin D. Dunnette, is given to honor living individuals whose work has significantly expanded knowledge of the causal significance of individual differences through advanced research, development, and/or application. The $50,000 cash prize for this award is the largest given in SIOP history. According to Schmidt’s nominators and supporters, there was no one more deserving of the honor.

“There is no nominee more fitting than Frank Schmidt for the Dunnette Prize, noted Schmidt’s former advisees and the authors of a letter of nomination, Huy Le, In-Sue Oh, Kevin Carlson, Ryan Zimmerman, and Fellows C. Vish Viswesvaran, and Deniz S. Ones. “For over 40 years, he has made major contributions to fundamental methodological/epistemological issues central to the attainment of cumulative and generalized scientific knowledge and he continues to do so. His research and the research paradigms that he has established have given individual differences center stage as the primary, key determinants of occupational and vocational success, of job performance as well as many other workplace behaviors and outcomes. The methods he has developed to demonstrate the universal value of individual differences measures, methodological refinements and advancements have been applied by him and other researchers to advance substantive knowledge in a wide variety of research areas in psychology and other disciplines."

The letter of nomination was also supported “most enthusiastically” and “in the strongest terms possible” by letters from Jim Harter and Fellows John P. Campbell, Paul R. Sackett, Murray Barrick, Hannah Rothstein, Neil Anderson, Jesus Salgado, and Jim Sharf.

“Simply put, Frank Schmidt has had a massive effect on psychological research and application in general, and on the relationship between assessments of individual differences and critical individual, organizational, and labor force outcomes in particular,” noted John P. Campbell in his letter supporting Schmidt. “His influence has been paradigm shifting with regard to research methods, research findings on critical issues, and the application of research findings to organizational HR practices and public policy. No single individual in I-O psychology looms larger.”

After receiving his PhD in Industrial Psychology from Purdue University in 1970, Dr. Schmidt began a career that spanned more than 40 years and numerous employment sectors, from academia to government to business. Throughout his career, the substantive core of Schmidt’s research has focused on researching and demonstrating the generalizable role that individual differences, primarily general mental ability and job knowledge, but also other non-cognitive variables, play in the prediction of job performance as well as other workplace behaviors and outcomes, his nominators explained.

“None of us can think of a more deserving scientist/practitioner for the Dunnette Prize,” they added. “…Frank’s contributions to research and practice can simply be characterized as momentous, shedding unprecedented light on the role of individual differences variables and their impact for individuals and organizations.”

As winner of the Dunnette Award, Dr. Schmidt was invited to give a talk at the 2015 SIOP Annual Conference in April. He first thanked the namesake of the award, Marvin Dunnette.

“The thing I remember most about Marv is his support for the research findings and conclusions of my work with Jack Hunter during the 70s, 80s, and 90s,” Schmidt noted. “For almost 30 years he was the most important ally we had in I-0. I believe he did this because he was unusually open to new ideas and methods—so long as they were technically sound.”

Schmidt gave a few examples of Dr. Dunnette’s supportiveness over this period, including in the early 1970s when he had been at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for two or three years.

“I got a letter from Marv,” he said. “He complemented my research, asked for copies of several of my studies, and asked me to put him on the list of those who get preprints of everything I do. For a young I-O like me—I was only about 32—to get a letter like this from a towering figure in I-O psychology was really something. I was bowled over.”

In 1994 Schmidt and long-time collaborator, the late Jack Hunter, learned that they had been selected to receive the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award.

“We were astounded,” Schmidt noted. “Only two other I-Os had ever gotten this award. Later when we checked, we found that Marv and his colleagues at Minnesota were behind this. Along with (SIOP Fellow) Tom Bouchard, John Campbell, and others, Marv nominated us and spent all the time and effort required to document such a nomination. I always thought that each of these successive scenarios was the ultimate in support—but this one exceeded all the others!”

Schmidt went on to note that the encouragement from Lee J. Cronbach was important, along with support from other equally eminent psychologists, such as Anne Anastasi, Lloyd Humphries, and Paul Meehl. Schmidt also acknowledged Jack Hunter’s role in the research contributions that the Dunnette Award is intended to recognize.

“Jack died in 2002, but if he were still alive this would have been a joint award to us as a team,” he said. “…In addition to being the smartest person I ever knew, he was a good and close friend to boot.”

Schmidt also acknowledges several co-researchers over the years, such as his and Hunter’s colleagues at OPM, who promoted the methods and who conducted and published many studies using these methods: Fellows Deborah Whetzel, Michael McDaniel, Kenneth Pearlman, and Marvin Trattner; Lois Northrup, Jim Caplan, Ilene Gast, Raymond Colangelo, Murray Mack, Hannah Rothstein (then Hannah Hirsh), Guy Shane, Brian Stern, and others.

“I should note that George Washington University allowed me to direct PhD dissertations even though I was only an adjunct professor there—very unusual,” he added. “I directed dissertations for Michael McDaniel, Kenneth Pearlman, Guy Shane, Raymond Colangelo, and Brian Stern. I also taught PhD courses at night at GWU. Later at the University of Iowa, the list of contributors included: Deniz Ones, Vish Viswesvaran, Kenneth Law, Crissie Fry, Michael Judiesch, Kuh Yoon, Huy Le, Kevin Carlson, Marc Orlitzky, In-Sue Oh, Jon Shaffer, Ben Postlethwaite, and others.

Most of Schimdt’s research has examined the usefulness of individual differences for employment decisions (i.e., who to hire, place, and promote, and so forth). In validation studies, measurements of individual differences among those assessed (e.g., for selection) are statistically linked with important job behaviors and outcomes, most notably job performance. Perhapos Schmidt is best known for his research on general mental ability.

His research on intelligence has focused on employee selection, prediction of job performance, productivity, training performance, fairness/bias issues, economic impact and utility, construct validity from every angle, psychometrics, theoretical explanatory models, occupational attainment, and overall societal implications of incorporating individual differences into decision making, his nominators noted.

“Without a doubt,” they said, “Frank's work on the importance of intelligence to organizations is seminal, innovative, and authoritative.”

Prior to1976, results from validation studies showed little consistency across jobs, organizations, and settings, leading the field of I-O psychology to conclude there were no generalizable principles linking individual differences to behavior and situational variables determined the outcome of validation studies (i.e., validation results were situationally specific). Thus, employee selection research could not develop scientific principles because of conflicting findings. All that changed with the landmark publication of Schmidt and Hunter’s (1977) “Development of a general solution to the problem of validity generalization” which appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  

Schmidt and Hunter tested the hypothesis that contradictory findings for individual differences predictors were due to statistical artifacts including sampling error, unreliability in measures, and range restriction. For this, they developed the techniques referred to as Validity Generalization (VG) methods. Schmidt’s research provided evidence that contradictory findings in the literature were artifactual: cognitive ability tests displayed substantial validity for job performance, across jobs, organizations, industries and settings. Applying their meta-analysis method to combine results from individual studies and account for the effects due to statistical and measurement artifacts, Frank Schmidt and colleagues were able to resolve inconsistencies in the literature and showed that ability tests were consistently correlated with job performance across different jobs and settings, thereby conclusively establishing cognitive ability as one of the most important determinants of individual job performance.

“For jobs at the same complexity level, tasks that make up a job do not moderate the validity of aptitude tests,” Schmidt noted.

Schmidt and colleagues went on to publish several validity generalization studies establishing cognitive ability to be the undisputed single best, individual differences determinant of job performance. Following Schmidt and Hunter’s lead and using the quantitative approaches of VG, since then hundreds of VG studies have been conducted, cementing the substantial pervasive influence of general cognitive ability in virtually all jobs.

“This seminal finding has critically shaped subsequent research and practice in employee selection,” his nominators noted. “…Frank's programmatic work has made fundamental contributions to both academics' and practitioners' understanding of the undeniable importance of individual differences at work.”

Beyond establishing the central role of general cognitive ability in explaining and predicting vital performance variables, application of Dr. Schmidt’s VG methods was used to establish the generalizable validity of many other individual differences variables, such as conscientiousness, integrity). He has authored or co-authored many such publications, and his research on individual differences extends far beyond general mental ability. His work has spanned the gamut of individual differences, including interests, personality, integrity, job knowledge, work experience, biographical data, productivity, achievement, technical aptitude, and a variety of assessment methodologies.

“The influence of Schmidt’s work has extended far beyond the usefulness of individual differences for individual and organizational decision making,” his nominators continued. “The recognition that VG studies brought to bear on the sizable, distorting impact of statistical artifacts on individual studies led to the application of VG techniques to virtually all areas of inquiry in I-O psychology. Applications of meta-analysis led to an epistemological paradigm shift in our field. I-O psychology experienced a scientific revolution no less dramatic and fundamental than the shift from Newtonian mechanics to Einsteinian relativism. No other individual has transformed a field as utterly as Frank Schmidt.”

Furthermore, the impact of meta-analysis has extended well beyond psychology, they noted. Its use has spread from industrial-organizational psychology to the whole of social sciences and beyond.

“Thirty seven years after its formulation, meta-analysis has proven to be a crucial analytic approach in the natural and social sciences,” they noted. “From its origin as a tool for validity generalization, meta-analysis has spread to general use throughout the sciences and beyond: in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, ecology, oceanography, management, economics, sociology, anthropology, law, information science, ethics, computer science, linguistics, communication, political science, history, and music, among others. And it all started with Frank’s demonstrations that cognitive ability tests are generalizably predictive of work performance.”

During his SIOP address, Schmidt noted the weight of this impact.

“This shows that work done in I-O can have impact far beyond our field,” he said. “This is something the I-O field should aim for, especially in the area of methodology. I-O is widely credited by other areas of psychology for being particularly strong in the methods area, and we should build on that strength.”

In the broader context, meta-analysis is a path to improved scientific epistemology, he said. 

“Jack and I never saw meta-analysis as a mere statistical exercise,” Schmidt said. “We saw it as a path to an improved epistemology in research—a superior way to attain cumulative knowledge and establish general scientific principles The basic question for us was always: what do data really mean and how can we extract reliable knowledge from data?”

The impact of Frank’s many research contributions is also reflected in the fact that he has received the highest research distinguished lifetime achievement awards bestowed by the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association for Psychological Science (APS), , the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and both the Research Methods Division and the Human Resources Division of the Academy of Management, and SIOP. These awards have included the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the American Psychological Association(1994), Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (1995), Heneman Distinguished Career Award for Research Contributions to Human Resources from the Academy of Management (1995), Distinguished Career Achievement Award for Contributions to Research Methods from the Academy of Management’s Research Methods Division (2002), Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award, from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) (2005), Career Achievement Award for Scientific Contributions  from the Association of Test Publishers (2007), James McKeen Cattell Award for Scientific Contributions to Applied Psychology from the Association for Psychological Science (2008). In 2012, he was awarded the American Psychological Foundation’s Gold Medal Award for Life Achievements in the Application of Psychology.

To date, his work has been cited more than 33,000 times and his H-index is 75 (that is, 75 articles with at least 75 citations for each) (Google Scholar citation analysis, September 2014).
His list of publications is astounding and includes seven books, more than 200 studies, and more than 300 presentations. Dr. Schmidt has published hundreds of papers, more than 100 of them appearing in top the most respected, top-tier outlets such as the American Psychologist, Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Methods, Personnel Psychology and the Academy of Management Journal. He has also published seven books.

About Schimdt’s body of work, his nominators had this to say: “He is a luminary.”

Schmidt explained that during his talk at the SIOP annual conference he had been trying to describe an odyssey that has lasted 45 years.

“The key question,” he said, “has always been: What is the real meaning of data and how
can we draw valid conclusion about individual differences from data?” 

Since his retirement in 2012, Schmidt has published four research articles and the third edition of
his meta-analysis book, and he currently has four research papers under review. He also
continues to serve on a number of editorial boards.

About Marvin Dunnette

Marvin Dunnette played many key roles in transforming Industrial and Organizational Psychology from its dustbowl empiricist and technological origins into its present status as a model of science and practice. Professor Dunnette devoted virtually his entire academic and professional life to the assessment, prediction, and explanation of individual differences in human behavior and performance.  There are certainly many important interventions that influence behavior and performance, but their interactions with individual differences are equally important.  The Dunnette Prize was established to recognize individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to understanding (assessing, predicting, and explaining) human behavior and performance by explicating the role played by individual differences.  Such contributions can be in the form of basic research, applied research, or applications in practice.  Professor Dunnette did not see them as distinct entities – each informs the others.

Dunnette is known for his emphasis on individual differences, focus on practical significance, ability to synthesize empirical literature, development of I-O psychologists, and thought leadership.  Throughout his working life, he blended science and practice, mentorship and entrepreneurship, research and consulting, academia and industry, always publishing.  He helped his students and colleagues, indeed the entire field, to think about issues in different and testable ways. Milton Hakel, Lowell Hellervick, and Bob Muschewske are the leaders in establishing the Dunnette award.