Kara SchmittMeet Kara Schmitt

MS'70; PhD'72 I-O Psychology
Former Director of Testing, Michigan Dept. of Consumer & Industry Services

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

My father owned a business (interior decorating and design) and I was always fascinated with how employees interacted with each other as well as with my father as well as with the various lines of communication.  What made his business successful versus what were negative factors that could have created problems?  At the time, however, I didn’t really know about I/O psychology so in college I didn’t pursue that field of study.  That is, until I took an introduction to I/O psychology course my last semester. I loved the field and my professor encouraged me to continue studying in the area.  So, I applied to Purdue and OSU. Because I graduated in 3 ½ years, I applied for January admission and was accepted at Purdue, but for the fall semester.   

What drew you to Purdue specifically for your graduate studies?

It was a top-rated program and my professor encouraged me to apply there.  I guess I was naïve about getting into graduate school as I didn’t realize that it might have been wise to apply to more than the top 2 ranked programs.

What was Purdue like when you were a graduate student?

I believe we had 25 in the entering class – all males except for one other female who was a transfer from the Business School. According to my professors, I was the first female to be accepted into the Ph.D. program.  My classmates were all great and we studied together.  One of our classes involved reading a long list of articles that we would have to discuss in class.  But, the professor called on us in order of seating so we made sure we always took the same seats and prepared for only 2 or 3 articles knowing that we would be asked to report on one of them.  The method we came up with worked quite well!

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

The congeniality of classmates was great and some have become life-long friends.  Perhaps not a “fond” memory, but I had never had a statistics course in my undergraduate program (I was a dual-major in English Literature and Theater).  Our stat professor was a brilliant statistician, but when he would put examples on the board, he frequently made arithmetic mistakes, which then confused me even more.  But, I had an excellent tutor.  He was such a great tutor that I decided to marry him (Neal Schmitt).  That part continues to be a fond memory; the statistic courses, not so much.  He is still well versed in measurement and statistics!

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

I would have to say that my “research interests” didn’t grow, develop or shift during graduate school as there weren’t many opportunities to work with the various professors on their research projects, which was a shame.  Both my master’s thesis and dissertation involved the same topic and I regret not having a broader research background.

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

I have really enjoyed working in the various jobs that I have had.  They have afforded me the opportunity to expand my knowledge beyond what I learned in graduate school.  I enjoyed the challenges and always was determined to meet those challenges.  I believe if you enjoy what you are doing, you will work harder and be successful!

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

Although I certainly didn’t end up doing pure I/O psychology during my career, the direction my career took was quite rewarding. 

What were some of your favorite projects throughout your career?

Except for one I/O consulting project and teaching one MBA course, I really did not stay in the field of I/O.  Nevertheless, my I/O background played a significant role in my career as both a researcher in the MI Department of Education and for most of my career as the Director of Testing for licensing in Michigan.  It was exciting to take mediocre licensing exams and revise them so that they would meet measurement standards.  Of course, there were some exams in which there may have only been 1 or 2 candidates taking the exam in any given year so trying to develop procedures to achieve quality exams was quite difficult.  But, my staff and I implemented various techniques to try to improve validity and reliability without having a sufficient candidate population.

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

Basic principle is enjoy what you are doing; accept challenges and new opportunities that may come your way.  Expand your knowledge of whatever field you are in.

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

Whether going into academics or applied, I think that both research as well as an internship during the graduate program is important to help students know what direction they wish to pursue.  Ask to be involved in your professors’ research.

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

Get experience in both fields – teaching/research and application (internships).  There will be aspects of each experience that you enjoy and others that you find less pleasant.  Evaluate what you learn from the experiences in terms of “Do I want to spend all of my time doing...”  And, of course, just because you take one path following graduate school it doesn’t mean you are forever stuck on that path.

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