I/O Psychology Graduate Students: Get an Internship, Take Charge, and Keep Learning
June 2, 2009 5 Comments
An Early-Career Practitioner Conversation with Eva Rykr
Note: To provide graduate students with insights from practitioners, I’ve launched an “Early-Career Practitioner Conversations” series, which provides advice from successful practitioners who earned a graduate degree in industrial/organizational psychology, human resource management, or a related field within the past five years.
To kick off the inaugural article in its Early-Career Practitioner Spotlight series, Foster Excellence caught up with Eva Rykr. After earning her undergraduate degree in psychology and neuroscience from Penn State, Rykr earned a master’s degree in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2008.
“I initially intended to go to medical school,” said Rykr, “but then I realized I wanted to work at the intersection of business and psychology. That made earning my master’s in industrial/organizational psychology a logical choice.”
Following the completion of her graduate training, Rykr accepted a full-time position as the learning director at EQmentor Inc, a role in which she continues to serve.
“EQmentor is a professional development company that uses a unique approach to enhance the emotional intelligence of current and future leaders,” she said. “Our online mentoring journey features an extended learning model that allows mentees to learn what they need, when they need it. In addition to asynchronous access to an experienced mentor who has been there and done that, our program emphasizes multi-modal learning (which our CEO discusses more in his blog) through anonymous cross-industry/cross-vocation peer collaboration as well as 24/7 access to a research database of peer-reviewed business knowledge.
“To truly weave learning and business results, each mentee generates three to five immediately implementable action items during their journey which address a current company challenge,” Rykr added. “As the learning director, I work with assessments, surveys, and mentee learning and development.”
Although this role keeps Rykr busy, in her free time she consults and writes about industrial/organizational psychology and business on her blog. She’s also an active social-media participant, using sites like Twitter to collaborate and network.
The following is a summary of Rykr’s responses to a series of specific questions about graduate school and career-related issues.
What did you learn in graduate school that has been MOST helpful in your career?
“I think expanding my knowledge around the topic of I/O psychology and thoroughly learning about the discipline was very valuable. I realize that’s stating the obvious but that’s where the value of grad school truly lies. It’s in acquiring more knowledge—much more knowledge—about a specific topic.
“Then again, I also learned about myself, and that was important. For example, I learned about my preferences for working with others. I know my strengths and weaknesses better than I did prior to grad school.”
Looking back, what, if anything, would you have changed about your graduate-school experience?
“The most prominent aspect of my training that I would’ve changed is having more of a practical focus, rather than only concentrating on the concepts. It’s crucial to be able to answer the ‘So what’ question regarding our work. Specifically, I would have preferred classes to be project-based.
“For example, one of my favorite assignments was to design a selection system as the final exam. While that was very practical, it’s really only 50 percent of the real project because developing a report doesn’t equate to delivering results. The other half is implementation and follow-through. What happens, for instance, if after a year the system isn’t working?
“Another helpful skill I would have liked to learn is using Excel and other data-analysis tools in addition to SPSS. Most places you work will not have SPSS, but yet you’ll still need to run a correlation analysis. Knowing more than one way to do so is great.
“Finally, I/O psychology wouldn’t exist without business, so it would be very helpful to learn general business skills during graduate school. In the business world you have to weave a bit of marketing in all that you do, so it’s crucial to be able to know how to explain how solutions grounded in I/O psychology provide practical benefits over other options.”
Once you graduated, what was it like to adjust to working fulltime outside of the academic setting?
“It was quite an easy transition, but I noticed a few key differences between graduate school and workplace settings. I like that the pace is much faster but yet less competitive at the same time. Rather than getting a vague assignment that’s due in four months, you’ll work on projects with clear deliverables. Rather than worrying why you missed four points on an exam, at work there is more of a focus on the things that matter for the business. As a bonus, I love that at the end of the day, there is no more feeling guilty about not doing work.”
Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for current graduate students in your discipline?
“First, it’s crucial to get a wide range of practical experience through internships. Find internship opportunities early on, both in grad school and as an undergraduate. I thought I didn’t need to do internships as an undergraduate because I was planning on going to med school. Not only was I wrong, but I changed my career path and that extra general work experience would have helped no matter what I chose to do. So I highly recommend internships. I am so thankful for my internship experience in grad school because it provided a great deal of practical knowledge and experience.
“Second, take charge. My biggest advice would be to create your own work. That’s how I’m in my current position. In the workplace, too many people will complain of being bored, or they’ll complain that something is broken. You might be the only one that sees it or sees how easily it can be fixed. So step up and do it—that’s leadership.
“Third, save your knowledge. Save all your work somehow because you won’t remember it all. Create an electronic filing system and back it up. It also helps for preparing for comprehensive exams.
“Fourth, actually read your assignments. Don’t underestimate the importance of those ‘classic’ foundational articles. I’ve actually used them at work more than I thought I would.
“Finally, don’t stress about your grades. You’ll graduate whether you stress about it or not. It seems like while you’re in school, there’s this culture of ‘who can get the highest grade’ and even ‘who can get the highest grade while studying the least’ and that’s unfortunate. Apart from your own ego, who cares? I guarantee the people with the highest grades will not be the most successful after the degree.”
Do you have any other lessons learned or pieces of advice that you think would be helpful to current graduate students?
“Keep learning even after you graduate. Keep an open mind about your first full-time position and even your internship, especially in this economy. You can do something I/O-psychology related almost anywhere you work.”