IO Psych Angst
July 26, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm an English major who wants to go to grad school in Industrial/Organizational Psych. How can I improve my chances? Snowflake details inside.

I loved AP Psychology in high school, and got college credit for it. I went into college thinking about cognitive science, got scared at the prospect of doing experiments with brains/rats, and jumped ship for an English major (which I love).

In the process of trying to figure out what to do with my life, I recently discovered Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. For many, many, reasons, this is my dream job.

I’m the weird kid who was obsessed with the MBTI in seventh grade. I fantasize about making systems more efficient, particularly ‘human’ systems—like the workplace. As an added bonus, this appears to be a burgeoning field where I could actually get a job after graduating. As to whether that means academia or out in the world as an I/O psychologist-consultant—well, I don’t know.

The qualification necessary for this type of job appears to be a Ph.D. Yes, I get that you can stop at a Masters’, but that seems to limit job type/growth opportunities.

Problem: I have no research experience. Well, I’ve done a couple of summer grant-research type things, but for fiction writing. Not the same thing…

My plan to remedy this is to contact Psych professors at my college like, NOW, to persuade them that yes, they want me as a volunteer in their Social Psych lab in the fall (there is no I/O concentration here). And take more Psych courses (I have credit for two Intro Psych courses, a Psych Statistics course, and will be taking a Research Methods course in the fall, along with more Social/Personality type Psych classes).

Other details: My GPA is 3.85; it should be a smidge higher when I graduate. I anticipate doing well on the GRE and Psych GRE subject test, although I have not taken either yet. And I have a few professors who could speak to my being a great writer/analyst, but not speak to my potential for research.

Another snowflake detail: I am right now set to graduate in three years instead of four (as in, this coming spring). But if staying another year to take more Psych courses or do more research would be invaluable, then I would have to reconsider. It would cost about 20K more, though, which was why I would be graduating early in the first place. (I will have about 16K debt overall by graduating in three years, if that matters in terms of choosing to be a poor grad student).

So from my end it seems like there is no chance I will be admitted directly to a Ph.D. program in I/O if I applied this fall. Probably for my own good. But I am still convinced that this is what I want to do as a career.

My instinct is to try to get into an M.A. or M.S. program for I/O, and from there transfer into a Ph.D. program. And there is the danger that I will discover that it isn’t my thing after all, which would certainly put a damper on things, although I intend to do loads more research, talk to several psych professors, and contact I/O psychologists who went to my school for more insight.

Is it difficult/frowned upon to go for a Masters at one school and a Ph.D. somewhere else?
How can I improve my chances for getting into a Master’s Program in I/O to begin with?
Any other advice about this plan or career path would be welcome.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just a note that I think most of your plans sound good. One other option you should consider is going to a top business school and getting a PhD in organizational behavior. You could do the same research but make more money and have an easier time finding a job. You also could get in with just a bachelor's degree if you aced the GMAT.
posted by bove at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am old time guy so what I noe here may not apply but I was told that schools preferred you did MA and PhD at separate schools in order to have broader background--different teachers etc.

what you really want to aim for: Human Resources.
posted by Postroad at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2012

I was a musician (Bachelor's degree in music) and got into a cognitive/neuroscience PhD program. I had no research experience, and only took one psych class in undergrad. Here's what I did:

1. I got to know the people I wanted to work with, so they knew I was applying and they knew I knew their work. I worked in a lab before I officially started grad school.

2. I studied for the GRE and did very well - high test scores will be noticed. My GPA was not great, because I didn't particular like my major, but my test scores more than made up for that.

3. I studied for the psych GRE and did reasonably well.

Now, I'm not saying that this is the best path, but I know that it has worked for me. I will say that it is my experience these days that most PhD programs are MA+PhD, but that may be different for IO psych.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing you might want to do is rather than go straight into grad school from undergrad is get out into the world and start getting some work experience.

Start in at an HR, entry-level position. You may kill two birds with one stone, one, you get real-world experience and two, your company may pay for the advanced degree.

Here is a list of schools for I/O Psych, some of them don't seem all that prestigious (FIU for example.)

Who knows if the list is good, but it's something to consider.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I question your assumption that a PhD, as opposed to a masters degree, in I/O will open up greater career opportunities. That is undoubtedly true with respect to an academic career, but not the case in business or consulting depending on what specific career path you want to follow. If you're interested in ultimately attaining prominence or managerial status in HR, a masters is the way to go since you will need HR generalist experience and PhDs are rarely trusted to do work like that. The same is the case with most consulting firms. If, however, you want to be the resident expert in either a corporation or a consulting firm, without much potential for ascending to a leadership role, then a PhD would probably be necessary. There are also some things - most particularly purchasing and using the more valid personality instruments - for which a PhD is required unless I/O licensure is available in the state where you ultimately practice.

I have a PhD in Organizational Behavior ("OB" to the initiated) and have been in the business and consulting world for many years. Feel free to memail me to explore further.
posted by DrGail at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like the repeat the advice that you try working in a related field first. A year in H.R. or a management role would get you some related job experience, pad your resumé, and give you some perspective on the sort of work you might enjoy. Also (and I'm not sure if this is the case in your chosen field) some grad programs prefer to admit students with some experience outside the classroom. It may feel like a less direct route (and I suppose it is) but it may help you transition onto your path to the PhD.
posted by deathpanels at 11:57 AM on July 26, 2012

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