Richard KlimoskiMeet Richard Klimoski

Professor Area Chair, and Director of Faculty Research
School of Business
George Mason University

What inspired you to pursue your PhD in I-O psychology?

Growing up, I initially thought that I wanted to become an engineer. My first year in college, it became clearer to me that I was really more interested in "people" than in “things” and I ended up pursuing a Psychology major. In the 1960s the Psych department at UMass emphasized exposure to the traditional areas of School, Clinical and Counseling Psychology. I enjoyed learning about these domains. However, I gravitated toward the few faculty members who taught Social Psychology and what was, at the time called Human Factors. The faculty in these areas taught me about the importance of better understanding of people and interpersonal relationships as well as the impact of employment systems or technology on these relationships. My course work in these two areas strongly influenced my desire to pursue a graduate degree in Industrial Psychology.

What drew you to Purdue specifically for your graduate studies?

I knew that the mid-west was the birthplace of Industrial Psychology (we would add "organizational" some years later). Moreover, Purdue, if not the epicenter, was a very well-regarded program for graduate education in this field.

What was Purdue like when you were a graduate student? 

When I began my studies at Purdue, Industrial Psychology was a major focus of the Psychology Department, which in part was because it was so large a program. It included the sub-areas of Human Factors, Consumer Behavior, and Differential Psychology along with the study of the "I” component of our "I-O" field. The term “organizational psychology” had just been coined but was not yet reflected in our curriculum at Purdue. The Department was very strong in quantitative methods as well. And, as was common at the time, I had exposure to the fundamental sub-disciplines of Comparative, Developmental, Counseling and Clinical Psychology. My colleagues and I were all told to do well in such courses so that we could become licensed Psychologists, something that many of my peers were doing in preparation for a career in practice. While this broad set of course work might seem onerous today, I do not regret the requirements. It promoted my professional identity as a Psychologist and prepared me to think like one.

There was a strong student culture associated with the Industrial Psychology graduate program at Purdue. As already noted the program was large, having over 10 faculty involved. This contributed to a large number of students in residence at any one time. But it was not just the size of the student body that was noteworthy; it was also the background (and values) of the students as well. McCormick had earlier established a well-regarded master’s degree curriculum in Human Factors Psychology. This brought in cohorts of military officers each year on one to two year rotations from their regular duties. In turn, this also contributed to some of the traditions that made the student culture so unique and impactful. Many of these individuals were older than the average grad student. They took their studies very seriously and worked hard. They believed in cooperation while in a graduate school where there are often tendencies to be competitive. But they also knew how to have some fun.

What are some of your fondest memories from your time at Purdue?

Some of my fondest memories include my experiences with The Purdue Association of Graduate Students in Industrial Psychology (PAGSIP). This organization contributed greatly to the quality of graduate student life. PAGSIP had elected officers. It had a formal mentor program for new students. It ran many social gatherings throughout the year. It supported students during particularly stressful times (comprehensive exams, running dissertation studies or applying for jobs).

I especially recall PAGSIP’s signature event, a party held at the Midwest Psychological Association Meetings held each May in Chicago and at the Palmer House. Students would rent the suite and arrange for food and drink (often bypassing the formal hotel rules). Students would then sell tickets to the party to the large number of Purdue Alums and friends attending the MPA meetings. (After all this is where the latest research in our field would be presented.) This annual activity generated revenue for PAGSIP. But it did much more. It promoted exposure to senior leaders in the field of Industrial Psychology. And for me it led to strong relationships across generations of Purdue alumni. I bring all this up not because of nostalgia but because I feel that PAGSIP turned out to be a training ground for many of us. In fact, I had the opportunity to lead this student organization while at Purdue. Doing so contributed to my deep interest and desire for academic leadership.

I also remember my fellow students during my graduate school years. Looking back, it was a remarkable group. Among my peers were people like Bill Byham, Bob Gatewood, Frank Schmidt, Dick Jeanneret, Tom Jeswald, Bob Dypboye, Mike Flanagan and Neal and Kara Schmitt. While all of us can lay some claim to being surrounded by good colleagues, I would say that being around these people brought out the best in me while I was studying for my PhD at Purdue. Today, I count on them as my friends as well.

How did your research interests grow, develop, and shift during your time in graduate school? 

I think they did change from my first year to my last year. My first years were focused on traditional psychology issues like individual differences and worker behavior. I got involved in research on biographical information which became my Master’s thesis and got published in Journal of Vocational Behavior. My later years were spent more on the study of groups and change and that was through the influence of Professor Howard Fromkin who came in to the Krannert School of Management at Purdue.

Was there someone who had a particularly large impact on you (e.g., a mentor) during your time at Purdue? If so, how did they influence you?

I had multiple great mentors, partly because I decided to have co-advisors for my doctoral work which had a powerful effect on my personal and professional development. One adviser, Don King, had a joint appointment in Psychology and in the Krannert School of Management. He could have taught any of the traditional topics, but he was forward thinking. He was deeply committed to the study of "socio-technical systems" and was an active practitioner in the new field of Organizational Development, a humanistic approach to planned organizational change. Don mentored me in both the theory and the practice of organizational change.

My second advisor was Howard Fromkin. Trained as an experimental Social Psychologist, Howard was recruited to teach research design and methods and to help manage the Krannert Lab, then one of the most modern social science labs in the country. While Don represented knowledge-building based on correlational data, Howard was an advocate of relying on the insights gleaned from well-crafted experiments. This turned out to have a great impact on my ability to appreciate and make use of a variety of methods in my own research. While Howard exposed me to the experimental methods and research traditions of many of the great Social Psychologists of the time, he did much more. He also taught me how to make effective presentations at conferences, to write well and how to get published. In fact, my first publication was co-authored with Howard and a fellow grad student colleague. It was based on data obtained from an experiment run in the Krannert Lab.

I also remember McCormick as a key player who was always there for students and promoted professional culture in the graduate program. And I have to mention Ben Winer, a very famous quantitative psychologist, who made us work very hard in statistics and have major contributions to our training. 

How would you say your personal background and life experiences impacted your research and career?

Being a married person while taking my graduate work at Purdue certainly made a difference and in a couple of ways. First, I received emotional support: it's always good to have a partner. Second, my wife was active and employed in the arts field. She got work in the Lafayette Arts Center. This enhanced my Purdue experience tremendously because while I was a graduate student, I got to enjoy being a member of the community. For a small town like Lafayette, there were very interesting people doing interesting things. So, I would say that too was a significant personal background factor.

What would you say has been your secret to a successful career? 

I don't know if I have a unique secret. I would say:

  1. Working hard (nothing special about that!). As a graduate student and certainly as a young faculty member, putting in a lot of hours is important. I still put in a lot of hours. 
  2. I think building relationships, the modern word being building 'social capital', is terribly important. I think, being engaged in professional societies has been a home run for me. I was, and am, actively involved in SIOP, APA, more recently in APS and AOM. 
  3. Having good graduate students and colleagues to work with. I do a lot of co-writing. Even as a senior faculty member I'm working with junior faculty and mentoring them. So, building collaborative relationships around scholarly work is very important as well.

Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently in your career?

No regrets.  

Not that there haven't been some rough spots, but nothing I would have done too differently. I rarely feel that I "could have, would have, should have" done something different in my career.

You have a very diverse career, with experience in both research and applied settings. Of all the work you did, what did you find to be the most fulfilling as an I-O Psychologist?

I have already mentioned the importance of mentoring. I still have great relationships with many of the students that I've taught and mentored, many of whom have become my colleagues and peers. So, this has been, and still is, one of the most fulfilling things that I would point to. One other is reflected in my efforts at institution building. I feel that I was able to promote PAGSIP when I was a graduate student. I was able to build and promote the I-O program at Ohio State during my extended stay there, and I have tried to do the same at George Mason. For example, I was asked and was able to build and advance the status of the business school here at George Mason. So, leaving a legacy by way of making those institutions that I have been involved with over the years stronger has also been incredibly fulfilling.

What were some of your favorite projects throughout your career?

I still like laboratory and experimental science. Conducting the program research on accountability that I did early on and building and using simulations were satisfying both personally and professionally. While doing this, I also had the opportunity to work with a lot of different colleagues. On the other hand, another line of work that I am partial to dealt with the assessment center method. My recommendation based on the research evidence at the time was that we should be cautious about the use of the method. This has been found to be the case based on more recent work. As a tool and a methodology, assessment centers are still used but now with greater respect for context and more realistic claims are being made regarding its potential applications.

Based on your experience, what advice do you have for managing one’s career?

This goes back to the secrets question. My secrets are not that proprietary. I would say the things that worked well for me would work for anybody. Being engaged and being seen as a player in international and professional scientific societies go a long way. You certainly need to have some record of scholarship to back that up. So, doing good work, doing enough good work, and building a personal brand in your professional organization would be things I would recommend. 

Throughout your career, I am sure you have witnessed many changes within the field of I-O Psychology. Are there any changes that you think have been particularly beneficial and/or detrimental?

I would say there have been a ton of changes: major changes that have affected our field and often don't get enough attention. One is that any “barriers of entry” to performing the traditional research or practice work of our field of I-O Psychology is all but gone. With licensing not an issue, the work that I-O Psychologists do can be done by a lot of other players. So, in that regard, concern for the field as I see it is to maintain or re-establish some distinctive competence or perceived value in the eyes of key stakeholders. To put it another way, what can we claim legitimately as the unique value proposition for I-O Psychology in society today?

The nature of professional organizations has also changed. APA used to be the mothership and its subsidiary, the Midwest Psychology Association and its meetings in Chicago were a place to hang out professionally. All that has changed: APA is still there but I-O types rarely notice its presence. I think APA can add value to the I-O professional but many young I-O psychologists don't see this. With online journals now provided as a benefit of SIOP or of a university, one of the traditional selling points for being an APA member has been removed. On the other hand, the SIOP organization has grown and still enjoys wide spread allegiance. But even there I occasionally worry about both senior and junior people in the field not staying with SIOP. So, I see a major issue for a person in our field today relates to the kind of professional-scientific organization he or she might join and to make part of their professional identity.

What do you see the role of I-O psychologists being moving forward in today’s society? 

I-O Psychologists should recognize that the research or practice “problem space” has to be framed differently. I think there is still room for I-O professionals to engage in developing traditional tools for traditional problems like selection or recruitment. But most organizations want help and research on problems that are not that easily classified. They are often complex and affected by multiple causes. So, if you read about what keeps executives or HR professionals awake at night, the issues they wrestle with tend to be framed differently from the way we frame them in research, in our models, and even in our graduate curriculum. I do worry that the next generation is not attending to the demand side for I-O related research, products, and services, and are unlikely to find a place at the table. 

 Along these lines we're talking about potentially addressing big complex (and enduring) organizational problems. In all likelihood, were we likely to take these on we should attempt to build out solutions with the help of research or consulting partners in a multidisciplinary way. As a field, I'm not certain that we often work this way. But it’s something that I've been encouraging here at my university and in the business school at George Mason. I really believe in multidisciplinary and collaborative research aimed at important problems facing organizations and society.

What types of experiences would you recommend that students pursue during graduate school?

Seek out and succeed in leadership roles. It's not for everybody but it is one way that you can grow intellectually, interpersonally, and professionally. Do it within your grad studies at Purdue, within the I-O Program there. Do it as a young faculty member or as a young practitioner and continue to do it throughout your career. Not only are you likely to make a difference, you will be building up your reputation and you will advance your career.

What advice would you give to graduate students struggling between staying in academia and going applied? What are some important things to consider?

One thing to remember is that we often look at these alternatives from our current practice or academic perspective. As they often say, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." So, we wonder if the alternative path is better for us than the one we have chosen. Of course, the real issue is one of goodness of fit (as we teach in I-O Psychology). But my recommendation to students would be that regardless of your initial preference you should be broadly trained and be open to possibilities. Don't typecast yourself. Prepare and sustain yourself so that you have multiple options if you desire, need, or have the opportunity to change.

There are certainly different success, and even credibility, building factors to consider when deciding which of the two paths to pursue. In academia, you need to contribute to conceptual and theoretical developments, publish regularly and teach well. You should be doing this even as you stay connected with the world of work and its work place problems in order to reduce the likelihood that our theories and models don't go “off into left field”. But the practice path is equally challenging. The structure of the marketplace for professional I-O products and services is dynamic, even volatile. If you look at recent TIP articles on the consolidation of practice firms, it is eye opening. For example, it seems very hard to maintain a business as a sole practitioner in today’s business environment. Many have pointed out there are now very few employment opportunities in I-O or HR research labs in corporations. Google might be an exception. Succeeding in the world of practice can be difficult for other reasons. For example, I don't know how many I-O Psychologists are now competing for business in providing their professional services with consultants with MBAs or with credentials from many other professions.

 On the other hand, being versatile, good, and maybe distinctive will help you in both academia and practice space. As to career mobility, it has been the case traditionally that a person would be able to move from academia into practice. But I am not certain that this is still true. On the other hand, once in a practice role, unless you have maintained your research productivity it is hard to get into academia as a full-time faculty member. But I should acknowledge that some business schools do hire successful business executives/practitioners as clinical/teaching faculty.

What advice do you have for graduate students just starting out in the field?

We often perform to the level required by the environment. Even if there's some risk of failure, go for the gold. This means get into the best practitioner/academic /agency space you can get into. Strive to work in places where there is the highest levels of performance and greatest professionalism.

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