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What Do I-O Psychologists Really Do?



Sometimes one of the most difficult things for industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists to explain to non-I-O psychologists is what exactly it is that they do.  

The field of I-O psychology is, in fact, a varied one, encompassing almost any aspect of the workplace and people within organizations. I-O psychologists’ job titles and employment environments can be even more varied—ranging from employment consultants in private firms to testing and assessment experts in government agencies to psychology and business professors in university or research settings. (For a PDF explaining potential job titles of I-O psychologists, read “What’s in a Name?”here. For informational brochures about I-O, click here.)
The following is part of the SIOP Psychology at Work series, a group of surveys of SIOP members meant to better explain the myriad career paths and research interests explored by SIOP members as well as the numerous contributions and innovations the field of I-O psychology has made to the workplace. For each profile, we will delve into the job of a SIOP member to gain a greater depth of insight into what they do, who they work with, how their work affects others, and why they believe I-O psychology matters.
Continue reading for information on what it’s like to be an I-O psychologist for SIOP Member Valerie Sessa!
Name: Valerie Sessa                 

Job Title/Company: Associate Professor, Psychology, Montclair State University

Job responsibilities:
1. Teaching—This includes teaching courses, developing courses and programs, managing programs, and keeping myself up to date on the latest in pedagogy. Specifically, I teach four courses a year (2 in fall, 2 in spring), I am the graduate program coordinator for all psychology as well as director of the I-O program. I have developed a master’s program in I-O, developed a leadership development minor, and developed courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I also regularly attend sessions and training programs to continuously improve my teaching. 2. Research—Research, grants, publications, and presentations. This is the most important responsibility. 3. Service—This includes service to the department, service to the college, service to the university, and service to the profession. I sit on various committees at all levels. I also review articles for journals and book proposals.
My specific I-O interests (research and/or practice): Leadership development, learning (individual, group, and organizational and how these intertwine).
My career path/ job history: As a graduate student, I dabbled in “consulting” and various internships in large corporate environments as well as adjunct teaching. My first full time job was as a researcher at the Center for Creative Leadership and I worked my way up to director. I left there and dabbled in assessment at Applied Research Corporation, then moved into academia (Montclair) and have been there ever since.

A typical day at my job includes:
Counseling graduate students: career counseling, what classes to take, how to handle professors, and so on. Reviewing student applications, attending committee meetings (and more committee meetings), teaching, talking with students, and writing letters of recommendation. Hopefully, I also squeeze in my research, which is why I am in academe—but unfortunately it is the easiest to push aside. So in the summer, I try to concentrate more on my research.
What I like best about my job is: Everything is under my control and structure. I choose what I teach and when I want to teach. I choose what committees (and what positions) I want to be on. I choose my research topics and how I want to study them. I choose my hours—I do work more than 40 hours, but it is up to me when and where. Plus, I love teaching, researching, and (okay, I admit it) the committee work.
Some of the challenges of my job are: I’m like a kid in the candy store. How to say “no” is a challenge. In addition, I have two young kids, so trying to balance my job with my family life.
Something others may find interesting about me: I just went geo-caching for the first time and loved it. I also love mountain biking and hiking.
My other I-O and SIOP-related activities: I am a member of APA, SIOP, and Academy of Management. I am on committees in both SIOP and Academy. I review for various I-O and management related journals.
My advice to future I-O psychologists: If this is a career that interests you, then there are so many opportunities and so many different paths you can take. But if you are only interested in the money, you will not enjoy this career.
Why I-O psychology matters: How many of you remember those mean girls and bullies in grade school and high school? Well, they grow up and get jobs. Companies who adhere to the principles that we have derived from research (whether they know that this came from I-O or not) are much more pleasant places to work than those that don’t. People versed in I-O knowledge, whether they hold some sort of official job title, or are in other positions, are desperately needed.

To read archives of SIOP’s Psychology at Work series, click here!