Transcript for Video Clip: Dr. Beverly Burke (Industrial & Organizational Psychology)


Interviewer:  OK. Welcome to our next guest speaker. I'm going to go ahead and ask her to introduce herself and briefly describe her area of specialization.


Dr. Burke:  My name is Beverly Burke and I'm a professor here at MTSU. My area of specialization is industrial and organizational psychology. People usually call it IO.


Int.:  OK. Could you tell us some of the career opportunities for students who specialize in this area? In other words, what are some of the things a person can do in IO?


Dr. B.:  People in this field usually work in the areas of human resources or organizational development, and those kinds of things. It's a field that has to do with psychology in the workplace. So, therefore, it has to do with things like performance on the job, hiring and training people, developing the organization, developing the people in the organization. That sort of thing. People can have careers working in organizations or as consultants to organizations, or of course at the doctoral level, sometimes in academia or research.


Int.:  What would be, if there is a typical workday, what might that be for someone working in IO psychology?


Dr. B.:  Using the example of working in an organization, there are a lot of people issues. And, so, sometimes the work day has unexpected things that happen in dealing with issues that pop up, occasionally crises. But, also, the field has a lot of very analytical kinds of things and planning and data analysis and things such as compliance with the law. A lot of it is also more scheduled and predictable as well. So it's a field where there are varied activities. Every day is not the same.


Int.:  I guess it depends on what your specialization is. If you're in human resources, you have a set kind of responsibilities and tasks that might be different if you're doing something else?


Dr. B.:  Oh, very different. Yes, people in recruiting may be traveling around to universities and job fairs and interviewing people. Someone in the field of compensation may be doing a lot of data analysis with wages and salaries and those kinds of things. A person in the area of training may be developing and evaluating training programs and sometimes actually providing the training themselves (delivering it). It can vary considerably according to the specialty the person is in.


Int.:  Speaking of training, what are the training requirements to be able to work in IO?


Dr. B.:  You can work in the field of IO at the bachelor's level, at the master's level, or at the doctoral level. What you would do at those levels would be different, but you can find employment at each of those levels. At the bachelor's level, it's primarily applied work in organizations. So if you get a bachelor's degree in IO, most people go out and work in a human resource department. If you get a master's level, you often do that as well. Master's allows you to work at a little higher level, or move up more quickly. Occasionally, consulting, and occasionally more research-oriented jobs. It's still very applied research, like analysis of surveys that have been conducted and that sort of thing. At the doctoral level, sometimes people work in organizations. There are a smaller number of jobs at the doctoral level in IO for working in one particular organization, but some of the large corporations do employ doctoral-level people. A lot of doctoral-level people work as consultants, either in large consulting firms or small consulting firms or independently. As I said earlier, people at the doctoral level often teach at the college level as well.


Int.: Is there a certain kind of person that you think is best suited for working in this area? Or, put another way, what personal characteristics do you think are most important or relevant for somebody working in IO?


Dr. B.:  It takes a variety of skills. The psychology approach to things is a scientific approach. In IO psychology, we carry that over into how we handle problems and issues in organizations. A lot of it is very analytical. We use statistics a lot, we analyze data, or use very systematic approaches and techniques that have been evaluated through research, that we know are effective techniques. So there's a sort of a scientific bent that we have since we come from the field of psychology. Certainly, you have to be interested in those kinds of things. But it can vary quite a bit according to specialty. As I said earlier, some of it is very people-oriented. There is more interaction with people and dealing with people issues. Some of it is more analytical, and you don't have a lot of one-on-one interaction. It depends on what you do.


Int.:  So in terms of, like, people skills or leadership skills or management skills, it really varies depending on the position?


Dr. B.:  It does. For people who are wanting to advance to a higher level in the organization, it would take a lot of the same skills in any field of management and leadership, if you want to advance to a high level. But then there are a lot of people who do technical work rather than managerial work.


Int.:  The next question is, what would you say are the major positives and the major negatives about working in this area?


Dr. B.:  One of the strongest positives is that the opportunities are so good. There are a lot of jobs and a variety of jobs, interesting jobs, and the need is continuing and increasing for them. So, what we find is that our graduates find good jobs and ones that they are pleased with, that they enjoy having. That is a strong advantage. Also, there is the satisfaction of knowing that you can make the organizations be more effective. Also, you can serve the people who work in organizations by creating positive workplaces. So there is a lot of satisfaction in what you do.


Some of the disadvantages are sometimes it can be very detail-oriented. In some areas, there is a lot of law, and you have to really know the legal ins and outs. Sometimes there is a lot of record-keeping and paperwork, forms that have to be filed for the government, all that sort of thing. Some people like that, but a lot of people find it to be too much. But it depends on what you do. You may not be in a field that does that sort of thing.


And then one thing I'd add (I'm sure it answers that question exactly) is that it's one of those areas that some people like and some people don't. A lot of times we'll have students get advised to look into IO psychology because there are good opportunities there. Yet they take a course and find out that they're just not that interested in the subject matter. So I would caution anybody to not just go into it because it's a good field, but to really enjoy it and be interested in it.


Int.:  And the subject matter, what you enjoy, is actually working in organizational settings and being a part of a company or organization, those kinds of experiences?


Dr. B.:  Right. So many psychology students are interested in helping professions and are more oriented toward helping people in need. In an organization, you're helping people, but it's not the same kind of thing. You're just helping an organization to be effective and people to be effective in what they do at work. What I often find is that students will take the IO course, and either they do like it, or they don't like it.


Int.:  One last (and you kind of got at this in what you've been talking about) one last question -- What advice would you give to interested students about preparing for a career in this area?


Dr. B.:  Let's see -- there are several different things. If you're planning to go to graduate school, I would give advice about certain kinds of experiences and courses, and background. The graduate schools really like people who are strong in statistics, strong in research skills, those kinds of things. In IO psychology, they expect that you've had maybe an IO course, but they don't necessarily expect that you've had a lot of courses related to the field, but more that you've had the foundation, a strong psychology foundation, especially in the research area, things like statistics and research methods.


Int.:  Is it important to get relevant workplace experience? Is that a plus?


Dr. B.:  That helps a lot as well. It looks good if you're trying to get into graduate school. If you're getting a bachelor's degree, and wanting to get a job right out of school, having an internship and that sort of thing is immensely helpful. What you find is that so many of the ads say, "two years of experience" or something like that. There are a lot of jobs out there, but sometimes it can be hard to break in without experience. I would highly recommend internships or any other method of getting some experience.


Int: We'll be providing some online links and resources and so on, so our students will be able to pursue further information and questions. I would like to thank you very much, Dr. Burke, for your willingness to be a guest speaker.


Dr. B.: Thank you for having me.