Defining the Field for 80 Years

Historical account depicts early days of the Purdue Industrial-Organizational Psychology program, which continues to shape the discipline

Story by Amy Raley

Above: Purdue Industrial-Organizational Psychology faculty conduct research with a graduate student in the early 1950s.

“Joe, from now on, you are an industrial psychologist. Purdue is the hub of industrial psychology, and your job is to prove that I’m not a liar.”

With those words in 1938, F.B. Knight, the head of Purdue’s new Division of Education and Applied Psychology, told his colleague Joseph Tiffin to put Purdue’s fledgling industrial psychology program on the map. Tiffin, an applied psychologist, accepted the challenge, and went about “figuring out what an industrial psychologist is supposed to do.”

The quotations come from the “History of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Purdue University,” co-written by Howard Weiss, former head of the Purdue Department of Psychological Sciences, and the late professor and administrator Charles Lawshe.

From 1939 to 1970, Purdue granted 229 doctorates in industrial psychology — 40 percent of all the doctoral degrees awarded in psychology at Purdue to that point. The writers end their account with this: “The Purdue program has been blessed with scholars and practitioners whose ideas and efforts helped shape not only Purdue I-O psychology, but I-O psychology generally.”

I-O anniversary logo

That trend continues. Purdue’s program has graduated more PhDs and produced more fellows of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology than any other. Faculty and alumni with I-O masters’ and doctoral degrees are shaping the field. Among many noteworthy alumni is Bill Byham (PhD ’62).

Byham is co-founder and executive chairman of the global leadership consultancy DDI (Development Dimensions International, Inc.). Early in his career, he garnered widespread attention when he wrote a Harvard Business Review article about the assessment-center method of identifying leadership talent and its use. Byham invented Behavioral Interviewing, which has become the gold standard of selection interviewing throughout the world. Byham has written two books on leadership psychology topics.

“I am very proud to have co-founded DDI because it has been repeatedly named one of the best middle-sized companies to work for in America and has pioneered more important industrial-organizational psychology methodologies than any other organization,” Byham says. “My biggest pride comes from the impact of our programs on people’s lives, which has led to our motto, ‘DDI changes lives.’ Currently my main activity is working with teams of DDI associates to come up with and try new ideas and methodologies.”

Byham has generously established the William C. Byham Chair in Industrial-Organizational Psychology to help ensure that Purdue’s work in the field remains preeminent.

Deborah Rupp is the first faculty member to hold the chair.

“I see the establishment of the Byham chair as the start of an exciting new era for the Industrial-Organizational Psychology program at Purdue,” Rupp says. “In addition to continuing to grow and expand our excellence in advanced psychological statistics and methodology, we have been developing and cultivating a unique collective program identity centered around employee and organizational well-being through good science.”

Rupp also says that Purdue’s I-O psychology program is unlike others not only because it pushes the boundaries of what is typically researched, but also in its approach to that research.

“Our program is unique in that we contribute to both science and practice through advanced research methods and integrative research that considers issues such as employee engagement, organizational justice and corporate social responsibility, as well as personnel practices that simultaneously advance organizational and employee goals and interests. It is an exciting time to be an I-O psychologist — especially at Purdue.”

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