When Dr. Malissa Clark graduated from The University of Michigan with her B.A. in Organizational Studies, she wasn’t planning on attending graduate school, let alone knowing that she would eventually end up in the growing field of Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology. In this podcast interview, Dr. Clark shares her unique academic and career journey while offering tips and suggestions to students who want to increase their chances of getting accepted into a graduate school or program in the field of psychology. She also discusses the Work and Family Experience Research (WAFER) Lab and how she ended up at the University of Georgia as an Associate Professor of I/O Psychology.
Dr. Clark recalls working “a lot of different jobs growing up and some of them were kind of crazy sales jobs.” She sold knives in high school and sold books door to door in college. Upon graduating, she worked in sales for a couple of years before realizing that she wasn’t happy with her career choice. To help figure out what she should do, she thought back to the classes that she really liked and what kept coming to mind for her was an Organizational Psychology class taught by Dr. Fiona Lee. After looking her up and looking into the field further, she realized that there were graduate programs in I/O Psychology and decided to go back to school. She applied to many graduate schools and when she received some offers, she was surprised to find out that they were going to pay her to be a graduate student.
Even during her graduate career, Dr. Clark never thought that she would be a professor. She kept thinking that she would do something in business or some sort of consulting work. During our discussion, she reminisces about her graduate experiences and how she realized that she “really loved this research stuff” and began thinking that she would like a career in academics. Dr. Clark admits that she loves the flexibility of being a researcher and professor within the field of psychology. She states, “I love the fact that I get to engage in research, and I get paid for it.” She feels like she is always a student and always learning and absorbing new information from her research and her students.
Later in the podcast, Dr. Clark discusses her experiences serving as Chair of the APA Division 14 Program (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology [SIOP]) 2020-2021 and what areas of research she enjoys most. When asked if she had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would she do? She is into travel hacking and she would love to travel the world.
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Malissa Clark’s research focuses on employee well-being and the intersection of work and family domains. Her research streams loosely follow three main areas including (a) work-family conflict, (b) workaholism, and (c) emotions at work and home.
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Organizational Studies (2002); The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Master of Arts (M.A.), Industrial/Organizational Psychology (2007); Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Industrial/Organizational Psychology (2010); Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
University of Georgia Department of Psychology
University of Michigan Department of Psychology
Wayne State University Department of Psychology
Dr. Malissa Clark on Google Scholar
Owens Institute for Behavioral Research Dr. Malissa Clark Video
00:00:13 Bradley Schumacher
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host Brad Schumacher and today we welcome Dr. Malissa Clark to the show. Dr. Clark is well known in the field of Industrial Organizational Psychology and has served as chair of the APA Division 14 which is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology or SIOP. She is currently an Associate Professor of I/O Psychology in Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. Today we will learn more about her academic journey, advice for those interested in the field of psychology, the WAFER Lab, and learn a little bit more about her lines of research. Dr. Clark, welcome to our podcast.
00:01:03 Dr. Malissa Clark
Hi Brad, thank you so much for having me.
Well, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I’ve read a lot of your research and I find it very interesting how it’s evolved over the recent years as we were talking about before we started this podcast. But before we get started, I kind of wanted to ask you a general question, what made you gravitate toward psychology in general? And then what sparked your interest, in particular, about industrial organizational psychology.
Well, so we’ll probably get into some of the details throughout the podcast, but you know, I really didn’t have a lot of background in psychology. In high school there was never a class in psychology, so when I got to college, I just found myself really liking and enjoying those classes as opposed to other classes that, you know, you just have to take as part of your prereqs and curriculum, but these ones I actually looked forward to going to. And I had, you know, never heard of industrial organizational psychology. But I saw this class and it was called organizational psychology and I thought, well, that sounds pretty interesting and I like psychology classes, so I’m going to check this out and I loved it. I just found every day just fascinating and, uhm, so really, you know going, like going into college I thought I was going to do something business related. But then I liked these psychology classes almost better than the business classes. And then I realized I can combine the two, and so that’s where kind of my interests gravitated towards I/O Psychology is what we call it. But still didn’t quite form what I wanted to do with my career till actually much later. But yeah, I just found it really interesting and I like, you know, learning about different theories and how they apply to the real world. And I just love how applicable it is. We all have to work right? So, why not understand how we can enjoy our work and how we can be more productive and be more happy and, uhm, yeah, so I just, that’s kind of how I got into the area.
OK, well that’s a good explanation. It, it, it probably has evolved. I/O has probably evolved over the years, because of most people having to travel to work and now obviously that has changed and, and I almost feel like the swing of the pendulum has changed. OK, now more people are working from home. Oh, now we’re good to go back to work. Oh, I take that back now. The second wave has come and we’ve got to stay back at home, so it’ll be interesting to talk about some of your findings later. I did notice that you received a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan. So, two questions there. Why did you select the University of Michigan and is that, was that class kind of a precursor for I/O? Or was it a totally different realm?
Uhm, OK so. First, the question of Michigan. I come from, well, I grew up in Michigan and I come from actually Michigan household. We were fans of football team growing up my whole life. My stepdad went there. My older brother went there and after me my two younger sisters went there. So, five of us and my immediately immediate family went to Michigan so I was a lifelong fan. And it’s a great school obviously. So I always knew I was going to apply to Michigan, and so it really wasn’t on my radar to apply to a bunch of other schools. I actually only applied to one other school. I wanted to apply to Michigan State as a backup, as like my backup school. If I didn’t get into Michigan and my stepdad actually, I kid you not, he ripped up my application and said I won’t help with college at all if you, if you go to Michigan State, that’s how much we hate each other. This rivalry so my backup was Michigan U of M Flint the satellite school close to where I lived so that was it. It was Michigan or nothing. As far as college, and so the organizational studies major, it’s sort of, in hindsight, related to I/O psychology, but that wasn’t really how I thought of it. I was kind of all over the place in college, like probably a lot of your listeners not really knowing exactly what they want to do. Again, I always thought I would do something related to business, but thought it would be more consulting. So you know my sophomore year or junior year, the major started, it was brand new and it was really, I think, geared towards people like me that at that point didn’t know what they wanted to do. You take 3 concentrations and you form your own major, at that point. It’s evolved since then, it’s become much more formalized. So, I took psychology and communications and business and said, well, this is my major that’s Organizational Studies and so, you know, I just took classes in those three areas as my focus and what was really cool is you can kind of craft it to be however you want so. Uhm, that organizational studies major it sounds like, Oh well, that would be a precursor to I/O, but actually it was, I think, a function of me not knowing what I wanted to do at that point in my life and just taking the classes that I found most interesting. But in hindsight, that’s actually completely applicable to the field of I/O Psychology and kind of what we focus on.
It sounds, it sounds…right.
Well, part of what we focus on.
It sounds like it and, and it’s kind of funny that I, I’ve heard of other people, including myself when I went on, on my graduate work as well. You can do this, or you can kind of create your own as well and, and more so on the undergraduate work where you kind of create your own as well. Even more so now than in the past, I think, but can you remember the, when you first considered earning a graduate degree in psychology? I know that you kind of created your own under organizational studies. Was it during your undergrad work that you decided, hey, I want to continue this? And when did you first consider getting a graduate degree in psychology?
Actually, it wasn’t. So even upon graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was honestly, completely lost and the only, I worked a lot of different jobs growing up and some of them were kind of crazy sales jobs. I sold knives when I was in high school and I sold books door to door when I was in college, believe it or not, and so really sales was something I could, you know, think, Oh well, I, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I need a job after I graduate, so I, I said, well, I’ll just get a job in sales, but you know, that’s you can do that anywhere, so first, actually let me pick a place to live. So, what I did was I thought you know where in the United States would I want to live and I picked San Diego. So I moved to San Diego and I found a sales job after I moved there actually, and uh, it was not only it was, you know, I worked I think a couple years in the sales job and, and really for a variety of reasons. I found myself hating it, uhm, and it wasn’t until that point that I was like what am I going to do with the rest of my life, I cannot do sales my whole career, so I thought back to college. And I thought back to the classes that I really, really liked and what kept on coming to mind was this organizational psychology class taught by Dr. Fiona Lee. She’s still there, actually. She’s wonderful. Uhm, and I thought, well, what can I do with this sort of degree? And so in looking her up and kind of what she does, I realized that there was actually Ph.D. programs in I/O psychology. And you know, it wasn’t something that we talked about in my family. Like going to get a graduate degree, that kind of thing. And I was the first person in my family to, uh, apply to a Ph.D. program. I had no idea what it was like, what I was doing, I mean. In hindsight, it’s a, it’s a miracle I got into grad school. It really is because I just really didn’t understand what, uh, what a PhD program was all about. I didn’t know that they actually gave you stipends, you know, and actually paid you a little bit to go to graduate school. It wasn’t until after I got an offer that I was like what they’re going to pay me, you know, $15,000 a year to be a graduate student, that’s crazy. Uhm, and you know at that point I still never ever thought I would be a professor. I still thought, well, I’m going to do something in business. I kept on going back to that, right? Well, I’m going to do consulting and, uhm, so you know definitely. I was one of those college students that really was unsure what I wanted to do. Uhm, you know, didn’t really know what a graduate degree was all about, and I’m really happy that I sat and reflected on my favorite classes and kind of came to this place where I realized I/O Psychology is, is kind of where I, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be, but I didn’t really know what to call it. Like I didn’t have a name for it, you know, so, so yeah, I can talk to all the students about what not to do in undergrad, because I definitely was not prepared to go into Graduate School.
You’re probably not the only person on the planet who has been through that and realized. Oh my gosh, there’s all this stuff that I didn’t even realize can happen. You can become a TA, an RA. You can get a stipend. You can get a full ride. You can get any, any, you know, a wide range and so I, we always tell our listeners and viewers do your research because there are certain programs whether you want to just go a master’s terminal degree or a Ph.D. and then in passing you get that master’s as well and so that leads me up to my next question. You attended Wayne State University for your doctorate in I/O Psychology…
…were there other schools you were considering, and if so, why did you choose this one and the follow up is, did your dad say no, I’m going to tear this up if you don’t go here.
Luckily, by that point he was just proud of me that I was kind of pursuing grad school. There’s not this animosity towards Wayne State either, but uhm. So I had applied. So when I decided I wanted to go to Graduate School, uhm, I realized that I was behind the 8 ball because I did not have, and this is what, what students should not do if they want to get a graduate degree in psychology, I did not have any lab experience. I did not volunteer in a research lab. I had no close personal connection with any of my psychology professors. Uhm it, you know a lot of the classes at Michigan are really large seminar classes, so anywhere from 150 to 300 students. So you’re sitting in this big auditorium and you don’t get those connections with professors, so when it came time to get letters of recommendation and things to put on my CV or resume, uh, I was kind of freaking out. You know, how am I going to do this? I actually flew back to Michigan, set up personal meetings with a couple of the TAs I had, the graduate TAs because at least they knew my name and knew who I was. And then a couple professors, uhm, from Michigan, flew back to meet with them, and just, you know, have coffee so they can put a name to a face and basically begged them to write a letter of recommendation for me. Uhm, and so, and also you know, no lab experience. I realized I needed to apply to as many schools as I could afford because I knew my chances were really slim of getting in to anywhere really. And so I ended up I got into Wayne State. I also got into, I think, Central Michigan and a couple other schools that didn’t really offer stipends. Uhm, and so, so I had some choice, but I, I got rejected from all of the top programs and now it’s like well, no wonder, I didn’t have any lab experience and, and so, but you know, I visited Wayne State. I really did not want to go back to Michigan. As you can see, I moved as far away as I could. I really hate cold weather. I know you live in Minnesota and, you know, you, you probably really like it, but I hated it, you know? So I did not want to go back to Michigan, but my two top choices were both in Michigan and so, but I just really liked it there. I loved the people and, uhm, so, I chose Wayne State as my, the place I was going to get my PhD, but again, it’s not like I had my pick of all of the very top I/O programs. I’m so grateful for Wayne State taking a chance on me. At someone that that there’s not a lot on this resume to see if they are going to, you know, be able to make it, and actually I was talking with one of the professors, you know way back when, when I was in grad school and I said, why did you accept me? I had zero experience and he said, well, we really liked your work experience. It was really unique and so thank God I had some of these crazy kind of sales jobs that I think really made me interesting and stand out a little bit from the other applications.
Yeah, you had mentioned that you sold knives. I think it’s the same knife company that I actually sold knives. Cutco, maybe?
It is…I still have the block of knives in the kitchen. They’re actually amazing.
I still have mine too and I, I don’t know why we’re, I don’t know why we’re advertising Cutco knives…
I don’t know.
…but I still have mine from years ago as well, so it’s, it’s interesting, yeah?
That is hilarious, small world.
So, you, you mentioned that you know, here’s what not to do and, and you would recommend get lab experience. Uh, think about while you’re in undergrad, and even before then, trying to think about, well, who can help me get more experience, exposure and then eventually ask them for letters of recommendation because you really don’t think about that, in high school for sure, you don’t think about that and then undergrad…
…you really don’t think unless you know you’re going to, you know, continue your, your education, go to grad school. But in your case, you weren’t even planning on it, so you, it didn’t even cross your mind, and so any other any other bits of advice for those who want to continue uh seeking their master’s or doctorate degree.
What else can they do and specifically? Anything else that they could do to help them increase their chances in the I/O Psychology branch?
Yeah, so you know it’s just become more and more competitive over the years. You know, in our program we get over 100 applications and we might take 4. And all of the, all of the people are just really good, and so I would say you know one thing, as I already mentioned, to get lab experience, it’s ideal if it’s an I/O lab and you can work with an I/O Professor. But I have accepted students that came from colleges where there wasn’t an I/O program there. There weren’t I/O professors, and so they worked in other labs. Other psychology labs is preferable, I think over you know other disciplines, although still any lab experience is good experience. Uhm, so get involved in at least one lab. Hopefully something that really interests you. And really it’s just a matter of uhm seeing if this is something you can see yourself doing. You know, in a career and maybe this is something that once you get in there and you do it, you realize I don’t really love this so much. And so if you’re, you know, considering two very different areas, go see if you can volunteer in labs in those two different areas and just, you know, get experience, get exposure and see what stands out to you. Because you know one, you never know what you might actually find yourself liking, but two, so, if you’re like me and you have to kind of think back to all right, well now I know what I want to do. What did I do in undergrad to help maximize my chances? I think the bigger you can branch out the better but.
So, to stand out, you know in grad school and especially in I/O because it’s becoming more competitive. If it is, it’s really tough nowadays to get accepted into a program if you don’t have any lab experience and a lot of people think, well, I’m going to go into I/O psychology. I need work experience because it’s work related, right? And that’s, that’s actually, I think, kind of, at least in a Ph.D. program, kind of a myth. I think the main thing is to get that background in psychology and in the research methodology you know process and understanding. How to write a research paper that kind of thing. I think that’s more important actually, than saying well, I need to get an internship or I need to get you know this practical work experience. It worked out in my case, but I don’t really think that’s going to be the most effective route for most students now today. Uhm, and I think, UM, let’s see. Learning about I/O psychology so that when you write your personal statement, that kind of thing. Uhm, you understand what the field is all about. Uhm, definitely, programs, a lot of them have mentorship models where professors bring in students to work directly with them and so at least at, at UGA we have a mentorship model, and so we ask students who do you want to work with and in the personal statement we look for, well, do they know my research? Can they, you know, talk about how you know working in my lab would be something that would be interesting to them? Do they have some research ideas that they’re talking about that are related to the work that I do, so do not just write a generic letter like, oh, I would just want to do I/O psychology and then send it to all the programs, right? You have to customize it for each program. You know most programs, like I said, have this mentorship model, so you really do need to do your research and look up the professors and kind of narrow down your top 2, you know, kind of rank order them. I really would like to work with so and so, but put it back up because if that person is not accepting students, you don’t want to be just ruled out right off like based on unluck that you know that year, though they’re not accepting any student. So put like you know your first, your second, and sometimes even your third choice and why you want to work with all of them. So, so really make yourself stand out on that application. So do the work in terms of lab experience and understand I/O psychology. But really make yourself stand out and customize your, your personal statements.
Very good advice and if I can add a couple ideas along with that I remember going through undergrad and grad school and then just reading articles and then find out who the authors are and then the professors and the researchers are and then start looking at their other research. And if they’re all over the place, that’s fine. But if they, if they have a niche and if they have kind of lines of research, then don’t be afraid to reach out to them and just say, hey, I read your article on this and I found this fascinating. I do have a question for you and then you know inquire that I’ve heard of some of my guests reaching out and similar, in your case, they weren’t even planning on it. They didn’t have letters of recommendation ready and instead they actually started reaching out to the researchers and building that rapport and that relationship. And then that helped improve, in this case, her chance to get in and, and actually work under this, this other professor. The other thing that I’d probably suggest is I’m going to share my screen for the audience and for you as well. Is there are many different organizations out there that you could become a member of or attend and, and SIOP is one of them. Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology both here and then within the APA. And that kind of leads me to you served for this Division, I think it was just last year, so now, now you’re probably reminiscing. Oh, I remember the time. You had to, as I recall, anytime that you chair one of these organizations or divisions in APA, you have a training period where you train in the year before you take over. Tell us a little bit more about your experience with, with APA and SIOP.
Yeah, so for this it was actually a three-year term. So the first year was shadowing the current chair and so in that case I went to the I had never been actually to the APA convention. Our main conference is SIOP, the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, that first page you were on so I’ve gone to that a lot, but I had never been to APA. APA’s for all the different divisions of psychology, and that’s a really great conference for undergrads to go to uhm, and you know, you can hop around to different sessions. And again, it’s all the different divisions of psychology, so if you are torn between, well, I don’t know if I want to go into social psych or I/O psych or health psychology. You can attend sessions in all of these different areas, so APA is fantastic. I really encourage undergrads to go to it to submit posters to the poster sessions. So anyways, my first year was shadowing the current chair. My second year was actually running the whole Convention by myself. That was a crazy year. It was a lot of work because we put together the Convention and then COVID hit and then everything that was the time where everything had been intended to be in person and then flipped to go virtual. So, I had to redo the whole conference again for virtual convention. And then my third year it was me transitioning out and then someone shadowing me and kind of me showing her the ropes. So yeah, I finally have cycled off. It was a fantastic experience. I got to meet so many people it was a lot of work though, so I am, you know, also, happy to kind of pass the reins. Now that I’ve done my service, but I wouldn’t, you know, pass it up. I’m really glad I did that. Made a lot of really great connections so, so that yeah, that was really a really fun process.
Good yeah, it sounds like it. I’ve had many other guests serve as chair and a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication and commitment over a two- or three-year period, but they really look back fondly on the experience because it shows them what happens behind the scenes. You just take it for granted. I show up and I go to the virtual or in person. You don’t realize how much work is involved in planning all of that so. Eventually, I right now you’re at University of Georgia and you’ve been there since 2013, but your first job out of Graduate School after you received your doctorate. I believe you were at Auburn University as assistant professor. So how did you end up at Auburn University?
Well before I forget can I backtrack to what you had added to my recommendations ’cause I thought of something to add on to that too.
Of course, yeah.
So, I loved your suggestion of reading the professors articles and seeing what they’re doing. To add on to that, the publication process is really long and sometimes it takes a couple years for a paper to be published, and so if you’re looking at an article that is, you know even 3, 4, or 5 years ago, it actually might have been something that Professor was doing 7-8 years ago, and so it seems recent, but it actually might be something they’re not doing anymore. And so that email that you had mentioned. That’s a good place to ask, you know, I really liked this article. Uhm, and the research you’re doing this, in this area, I wanted to make sure or see if you’re still researching in this domain, that kind of thing. Because I think sometimes students will look back at stuff I did 10 years ago and I’m like, well, I mean. I don’t know if I do that so much anymore. I found it really interesting then, but so if they’re trying to make a really good match and they’re talking about that in their personal statement. You know, it just might not be. We might not see that connection as much as if they’re talking about more recent stuff.
Yeah, very good point and, and another way to, well, how do you know? Well, you just have to talk to them and reach out to them via email or call them. You can look at, you know, a lot of professors update their curriculum vita (CV) or vitae online, and so if you see stuff that is impressed, it’s probably more recent. But it isn’t a guarantee that it’s more recent. You could have worked on this 3-4-5 years ago and then revisited or done another, uh, follow-up study to confirm the findings, or see if it has changed.
So, I guess the bottom line is, yeah, just reach out and make sure that what their current line of research is because. It will be kind of embarrassing to say yes. I want to be with Dr. Clark. She is focused on this line of research for years and years and then find out during the interview process or, or they read it well. She’s been out of that line of research for 5-6 years now. She’s doing something. So no, no.
Yeah, and as a student applying I would have had no idea, you know so. Yeah, definitely. So back to your question about Auburn. UM, so up until my second year of grad school, I still thought I wanted to go consulting, but a couple of years into it I realized, Oh no, I just really loved this research stuff, so then I really transitioned to thinking about an academic career and, uhm, so that was my first job out of Graduate School in I/O. Unlike other psychology disciplines, we don’t tend to do postdocs. We tend to go right into our jobs and so I applied to, gosh, I mean, a lot of schools maybe like 20. When I was going through, I guess I like to make sure when I apply that I apply to as many as I possibly can to, to have backups and so that at least I’ll get in somewhere or get accepted somewhere. So I got a few different job talk interviews. So when you apply to academic jobs, you do a job talk which you visit there you do a presentation, but you do have a lot of different meetings with different faculty in the department so. I had never been to Auburn. I hadn’t really considered living in Alabama, but heck, I like the weather, so I definitely fell in love with the campus. It’s beautiful. Auburn, Alabama is a really great town actually and I really liked the people there. There were some other schools that were appealing to me, but that one really checked all the boxes and so I thought it was. Really a great first school to get my you know, first job and. I wasn’t really planning on leaving there until actually a mentor of mine mentioned the, the UGA job, but so Auburn was great. I really enjoyed my time there. I got there right in time for them to win the national championship with Cam, Cam Newton. So I’m a big football fan so of course. You know, it’s fun to be at a good football school, and here I am at Georgia. So yeah.
Well, good, good. I have two follow up questions. You mentioned something that I actually just learned. You mentioned that unlike other psychology branches where you usually do a postdoc. I/O, you usually don’t. Now, while you were talking, I was thinking about that and I was thinking, well, of course you don’t ’cause you’re not doing any clinical work, you’re not doing any work with clients, so tell me a little bit more about that. If you can kind of explain what? Just tell me a little bit more that, that aroused my curiosity.
About why we don’t do a post doc.
Yeah honestly, that I really don’t know why we don’t. It’s just not the norm and, and it might be like you said that we don’t do kind of clinical trials and that kind of stuff and, and up until like the last five or so years really. These federal grants and working on a grant funded project wasn’t something that I/O is known for, although now we are expecting more and more to, to apply for and get these federal grants. So there are more opportunities, I think, to do postdocs in I/O, psych related work, then, then there were even five years ago. Uhm, so one is probably a function of there’s not as many grant funded postdoc positions available. Yeah, it definitely was very unusual back when I was graduating, and still somewhat unusual now. Although I do know you know several students that have gone on to postdocs, there are more opportunities now that we’re getting more into the grant funding.
I’m sure that it’s evolved and on previous episodes we’ve talked about grant writing and grant funding and, you know, depending on which area or branch of psychology you’re in, and I’m kind of putting things and talking out loud with you while I’m talking here, but it kind of makes sense a little bit more about the I/O, but there still could be possible, you know, opportunities for grants to help fund some of your research. So, one other question before I move on that I, I follow up question to your response was you, you applied to many different colleges and universities after you graduated with your doctorate. Kind of give us a high-level view of how did you go about that? I mean, I know some of our listeners are going to be they’re already in their master’s, or they’re going to be, and then if they want to stay in the academic world and, and move on and become an assistant professor. You know they, they would have to go out and do some research, but tell us kind of your thought process. So how did you go about deciding what the next steps would be. Does that make sense?
Yeah, so you know. I really liked the research part and so that was kind of a big decision point there because going in academia you can go to a more teaching-oriented role or a research-oriented role and the teaching positions, uh, you know you have a much higher course load. You might be teaching four classes a semester and I knew that although I sort of enjoyed the process of being a TA, it was not my passion and the research is really where I found a lot of joy and, umm, so I knew I wanted a research-oriented position, so I was not applying to colleges that there was not at least a PhD program. But I also applied to places that they only had a master’s in I/O program, but as long as it was research-focused so it had to require a thesis, that kind of thing. So, it did narrow it down a bit. I also there are parallel programs in business schools, management programs, organizational behavior that they actually, you know, there are a lot of I/O psych PHD’s that actually end up going to work in a Business School in organizational behavior program or management program. So I did branch out into the business world and applied to some of those positions. Uhm, not all of them had PhD programs, but the business schools. Ironically, you would think they would be more applied, focused working with companies, but they are actually more research focused in terms of their PhD programs a lot. So I applied to business schools and psych programs, and I interviewed actually, a Business School, a psych program that was just a master’s and psych programs that had Ph.D. programs. So I applied and interviewed at kind of the whole range, but Auburn, like I said, just seemed like the best fit. So I think, and also location. I don’t know if I specifically, would choose a school in a really cold area. I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to being cold, so I was really, you know, not focusing a lot on. The north and the Midwest. I was focusing more on schools, you know at least with moderate temperatures and so location mattered. Uhm, my husband, you know needed to be close to some sort of metropolitan area, so I think for students deciding where to live, that might play a role you know, is it in the middle of nowhere or is it near, you know, a metropolitan area where your spouse can get different jobs. So it’s a lot of different factors. But really, when it comes down to it, you know once I kind of narrowed it down and then I was applying to these programs. It was a matter of kind of what checked the most boxes of all of these different things. I was looking for.
Sure, thank you for going through that. I know it’s helpful for our audience and, and listeners to kind of hear different ways that people approach that whole process, ’cause it could be overwhelming. All of a sudden, you have your degree or you’re about to have your degree. Where do I start? What do I do, you know? And so thank you for sharing that. And now you’re at the University of Georgia, and you mentioned earlier in your response that a colleague of yours, a mentor or somebody, mentioned that there was an opening there and so tell us about that process and, and obviously you’ve been there for a number of years now, almost nine years. I would, that’s I would think now. So, tell us a little bit more about your transition from Auburn to University of Georgia.
Yes, so I um, they’re both great programs. Georgia the I/O program is ranked a little bit higher than Auburn’s and is a much larger program. There are more faculty in the I/O program and in the department more broadly and so. You know, it definitely was appealing to me to go to such a prestigious program as Georgia um and you know, there were only three of us in the, the I/O program at Auburn, so, so it was a big change. I think when I started there were like 8 I/O faculty at Georgia, so. And then since I’ve been there, they started the master. The Terminal Master’s program, in addition to the PhD program so. And actually, at the same time I was working on a project where we were ranking all of the I/O psych doctoral programs in the country based on faculty productivity. So, it, it was not purposeful, but it actually just worked out perfectly when we were doing the rankings, I heard about Georgia and then I realized, Oh my gosh with our rankings that we’re doing Georgia is number 2 on a lot of these metrics. So it was really, uhm, kind of moving quite a bit up in terms of prestige of the program. And that ranking study is one of several, by the way, that are on SIOPs website. So this goes for undergrad students and people looking for graduate programs, and also people looking for jobs. If you go to SIOPs website, I think it’s in the Student Resources section, you can learn a lot about I/O psychology, but also there is a page where it lists all the different programs and it has a bunch of different studies so. Let’s see here.
Career Center maybe? Should I just search for?
Where would it be? What about research and publications is that?
Right here, OK? Maybe students go under membership students.
Oh yes, go to yeah.
OK. Student Resources.
Yeah, yes, this is where it is. So, all of this is great. You know it has a bunch of links about I/O psychology, but then you can learn about grad school being a grad student. The, one of these links here basically has a search function where you can search and get a list of all the different masters’ programs, all the different PhD programs around the country. Yep, there you go perfect yeah so this is such a great resource and they have really improved all of these different pages so much over the years. And, and so. So our ranking, study and other ranking studies are in here too, so you can. And then my apologies. I don’t know exactly. Oh maybe it’s in the how to choose a grad training program. So, so you can kind of see you know how are these different programs spring to, you know from a variety of different metrics, but then also get these great. It’s a great search function is they’ve really done a fantastic job.
No, it looks like it. And you know, during our discussion while you were talking I, I was sharing the screen. For those of you who are just listening on the podcast, I did share the screen to show everybody where to go and there’s a number of other resources under the student section on the SIOP website as well. So, you, you have a lab now earlier you mentioned hey, I wish I had lab experience, so now we’re going to switch and we’re going to talk about your lab and it’s, it’s the WAFER Lab and that stands for Work And Family Experience Research Lab and so I am. Am I sharing the screen? I don’t think I’m sharing the screen. Let me switch, there we go. Now I’m sharing the screen there we go. So, so now we are on your, your WAFER Lab and you know you have people, research measures, blogs and media and what’s nice about this is it gives you a little bit more information and you have a click here to apply. So, if, if those people who are interested in and as you mentioned, just get involved in the lab and that will let you know whether or not you truly like doing some of that work. And if you don’t, then great, then you’ve figured that out, but at least, you know, talk to, you know, whoever is in the lab, and whoever, alum, whoever been in the lab as well, I think I saw on here you have a photo gallery of some people you know presenting their posters, and then somewhere in here I think you talked about the people and then.
Yeah, I think it’s under the people link and like where they are now that.
There you go. Yep, Yep current yeah.
So, tell me a little bit more about you know when did this? Was this already in existence when you came or did you start this? Tell me a little bit more background on the WAFER Lab.
Yeah, so I started it, uhm, was trying to come up with a catchy name. Uh, so I don’t know why WAFER was what I chose my, my stepdad used to work for Keebler. Maybe that’s why I have no idea. But so I started the lab and based on my research interest and you know the work family domain and the intersection between work and home and occupational health that kind of thing and, uhm, just kind of built it from scratch, you know, started slowly with just, uhm, well, it actually kind of started at Auburn and then I just moved it over to Georgia. But you know when, when you first started as a faculty member, you don’t have grad students yet. So at Auburn, my first lab director was actually an undergrad student that later went on to get his PhD at Wayne State ironically, so it was just undergrads. You know handful of undergrads and then it just kind of built over time as I got graduate students and moved it over to Georgia and continued to grow and at its biggest, I think we had about 12 or 13 undergrads and four or five grad students. And you know, we just work on a variety of projects and grad students helped lead different projects and we try to give undergrads a variety of experience. Uhm, and, you know, that’s definitely, again, just wonderful experience for undergrads, but I would say another thing kind of getting sidetracked a little bit, but I just thought of it in terms of getting into grad school and maximizing your chances. You know, I think, you don’t have to rush to get into a PhD program. If you want, you can explore opportunities to volunteer in research labs even after you graduate. So take a gap year or take a gap couple years. I have had students I’m thinking specifically of a recent, you know, a lab manager here at Georgia. She, she was a student of mine in undergrad. Didn’t really know what she wanted to do either, but then graduated, stayed around town and then ended up sticking around in the lab. She was my lab manager as like a graduate. She wasn’t a current student at all. Did that for two years and now she’s in a master’s program in leadership and management. Uhm and so if you still don’t know what you want to do and you haven’t got enough lab experience, you can reach out to professors at different schools. I mean, you could even see if you can do something remote nowadays and do a virtual that’s you know, maybe not super common, but you can get involved in research labs. Uh, you know, even after you graduate, to get even more experience.
No, that’s a good point. I haven’t really thought about that. I’m, I’m sharing the screen again and you can of course find out, I’ll have these links on, on your podcast when you go live, but you, you basically talk about your main streams following loosely these three different areas and, and I’ll read them out loud for those who are just listening three main areas; work-family conflict, workaholism, and emotions at work and home. And then on the website it also talks about the research that you guys are doing within the lab within the WAFER Lab as well, and you’re still looking. You’re always looking as it says here.
It’s sort of recent research participants, so you have different lab projects here, and I looked at all of your, uh, uh, you know studies and stuff that have been impressed. I looked at your curriculum vitae and my other screen here, but you know one thing that I found interesting that I hadn’t really thought of before was at one point I started reading a little bit more about how veterans, I mean veterinarians, not veterans. Veterinarians have four times the suicide rate of the general population and I wouldn’t have even thought about that. And then I read a little bit more about.
No blew my mind too.
Your research I. I think there was a couple years ago. I think it was 2019-2020 that you did that so that that was interesting, but it’s, talk about how the pandemic might have impacted your lines of research and how you go about researching. Before we started recording the podcast here, I mentioned I found a lot of the information on how you measure well-being of people. It’s usually a self, you know, assessment, but now you’re using more of those objective indicators like BP or HR variability, heart rate variability or other biomarkers. So, tell me a little bit more of how the pandemic has impacted your lines of research.
Yeah, I mean it’s definitely really highlighted the importance of focusing on employee well-being and employee health, and I think you know before the pandemic that was already an area that I was interested in, but I. I think all of us cumulatively we have gone through so much in the last couple years and you’re seeing the effects you know now in terms of. How keep?
Right? Let me stop that. Go ahead, sorry.
Oh, so you’re seeing the effects of just the toll of the pandemic on workers. You hear about. The great resignation and people really wanting remote work instead of in person work. And why is this? It’s because, well, for a lot of different factors. But you know one, it’s kind of. Really forced people to think about what’s important, and it really highlights what’s important in life. You know, in terms of the different roles that they hold, the different identities that they hold. How are companies supporting workers or how? How are they not supporting workers? That’s really become quite evident during the pandemic. And employees have realized, wow, you know I didn’t realize that my company was so supportive or I didn’t realize that they were not very supportive and maybe thinking through where they want to spend the rest of their careers, but everyone most importantly is so burnt out we are so so so burnt out. And what do we you know? How are we going to move forward from that? And so. It has really kind of just highlighted the importance of that area of research, and so I’m really. You know, looking at how initially it was, how people are coping with COVID, and the pandemic and juggling work and family, and conducted some, some studies looking at that. And now I’m really still just continuing to focus on how can we help employees to kind of come out of this pandemic and you know, cope with their burnout. And what is the meaning of, of work in the big scheme of things? So kind of like just highlighting that, that this is all, yes, work is something we do, but, but what does that mean for people? And how do they identify with work? And what do they want to do in terms of their different life roles?
Yeah, and you know what’s interesting about that is I, I found some research and you were on a couple of podcasts as well and one, one of the podcasts was dealing with that very topic. Uhm and how parents and employees can navigate the post pandemic workplace. And I’ll share my screen once again here and. This was a more recent one, and so a lot of the burnout and suicide rate information is interesting because it’s 3-4-5 years old and you really don’t have more up-to-date information, and that makes sense ’cause it takes time to conduct the research, put it all together. Have that peer review and then have it published, but the most recent article that I saw on some of the numbers and I’m jumping around here. But you know, here’s one that talks about the top ten jobs with the highest suicide rates. If you can see my screen and of course there’s veterinarians and #4, and yeah, so you know a lot of these.
There they are, number 4, yeah.
But when I was growing up in high school and college, I always thought that, and heard, that air traffic controllers were the high ones and they don’t even appear on any of the lists that I’ve seen when I was doing the research, so it’s interesting how it’s evolved throughout the years.
One article that you were quoted in and, and when you were talking this is a uh, a yahoo!life article that was talking about “Working on Christmas? Employees who worked through holidays often suffer burnout,” and this was actually December 23rd, 2021. And then they talked to you or, or looked at some of your research and you started talking about workaholism. And so, I’m, I’m sharing this with you because I have a question that…how do you tell the difference between workaholism and somebody who really enjoys working? Does that make sense?
Oh yeah, for sure. And that is a common question that I get, and it’s tricky honestly, because, uhm, you know there’s another concept called work engagement that is basically, you know people might be working long hours and so that resembles someone who’s a workaholic but, but really it’s a difference in what is driving that work and so. Do you know do the employees feel like they are, that they have to work, that they ought to work that’s almost like inner compulsion. Oh, I should be doing this. I can’t be enjoying this time with my family. I should be doing work and feeling anxious if they’re not or guilty if they’re not always thinking about work, that kind of thing. But someone that’s a really engaged worker is drawn to work because of intrinsic motivation. They just really love it, right? But it’s not that simple. It’s not just you are one or the other. You can be both at the same time and it can ebb and flow and kind of change depending on your life circumstances. So, someone that you know really is drawn to a, a career because they love it, so maybe they go into the medical profession because they just absolutely love helping people, but it’s possible that they then find themselves in an environment that tends to, uhm, I do think there’s a, an internal component, but it can be exacerbated by the environment by the culture of the workplace. And so if you’re in an overworked culture where all of your coworkers are working 24/7. In this like competition of trying to outdo and outwork everyone else, then what starts out as something you really enjoyed can actually start to transition into something that now you just feel like this kind of pressure, but it’s not just coming from externally anymore. It’s also something that you have partially internalized. And now you are feeling this, uh, really I just have to be working all the time and. I just should. So, it can become complicated in terms of teasing that apart. But I think what’s most important in looking at outcomes is that the negative outcomes seem to be driven primarily from uhm, this compulsion, this feeling of the compulsion to work and come thinking about work all the time and not being able to disengage.
And while you were talking about that, I was reflecting on my own work habits and my view of hey, I should be working and I honestly when I’m on vacation, I take a vacation, but I still feel obligated to check emails and stay on top of things. And there were times when I would do that, probably 60-70% of the time I’d do that, and I’d come back to work and I’d feel like I really didn’t have any time off, and then I then I purposely…
… just shut off everything and walked away from everything and then you feel, at least for me, and maybe you find this in your studies as well, but at least for me, I felt refreshed after I truly disengaged and didn’t have to focus on that. So, it’s, it’s interesting. It’s, it’s applicable to everybody, as you said at the beginning of the podcast that everybody kind of has to think about I/O, even though they’re not really knowing it as I/O, because you’re working whether it’s from at home or having to drive in as well.
So, what do you? What do you love most about your current job?
I, I love the, the fact that I get to engage in research and I get paid for it, uhm, again, it’s just I’m a I’m. I feel like I’m always a student I’m always learning and always kind of absorbing new information. Uhm, I just really love the flexibility to, you know I get to, I have two kids and kids are really, my kids are really important to me, it’s a big part of my identity being a mother and so I get to structure my days sometimes so that I’m you know. Or I could structure it as much as I want where maybe I, I don’t work between 2:30 and 8:00, but I start to work earlier in the morning and maybe pick work up later so I have that flexibility in my job where I don’t have to be somewhere sitting in his seat from 9 to 5 and I get to choose what I want to research. I created this lab and it can go in whatever direction I want so I love that autonomy and just being able to kind of craft my job in, you know these ways that I want. Uhm, that’s my favorite part of the job. Just the flexibility and constant learning and. And yeah, it’s just really fun to me.
When I was teaching when I went through my grad school, I was at TA and, and I received a stipend as well, and so I loved teaching while I was working on my master’s and doctorate as well, and so I learned a lot from the students in the classes as well, so that’s another thing that I really enjoyed is, oh, I hadn’t thought about it that way. And then you grow and learn together as a team. And I like that approach versus in elementary school and stuff, you’re, you’re mostly managing behavior, and they’re not really at that level yet, so, intellectually being able to do that, so what are…
Yeah, I love that too. Don’t get me wrong. I, I love teaching and you brought up a good point of it is just a different environment. You know they’re the students in the PhD programs and, and they’re like your colleagues almost like you’re just batting ideas off of one another. You’re learning from each other. The students come in, they have all you know, so much knowledge and expertise. And so, and you know, in terms of stats, they’re on top of like the most, you know, sophisticated stats programs and so I learn from them too, and we haven’t even talked about it, but I absolutely love teaching in our terminal master’s program as well. That’s a professional master’s program, so all of these individuals are working full time and then they take classes on the weekend and so they are working professionals. And those classes are so much fun. I’m teaching statistics, which is not really a fun class you would think, but we always take real world experiences and kind of apply it. Apply statistics to that and understanding human behavior and just getting all of their you know, real world experiences. It’s just really fun and every class is just, you know unique and different.
I should take the opportunity to go ahead and share my screen one last time here and I, I had it up earlier in the podcast, but I did want to highlight just so people didn’t miss that University of Georgia, UGA, has both a terminal master’s program and then a PhD program, and if you can see my screen on the right side here while on the left side just a general overview of the programs and then on the right side you have a master’s program and a link and it tells you a little bit more about this. In a recent on February 3rd, you’re going to have an information session on I/O Psychology master’s program and then obviously you can see the links here about the curriculum, admissions, applications process, and I’ll go back and you can actually look at the industrial organizational doctoral program as well. And similarly it has links on there about a little bit more information, application process, and then a student handbook and stuff. So, I wanted to highlight that that so our listeners and. And viewers, if you are interested in I/O, obviously give UGA a shot and a look at as well. And if you need to, obviously you can reach out to Melissa Clark directly and find out some more information. So I wanted to share that with our listeners as well, so.
Thank you for highlighting that. And yeah, I’m happy to answer questions about you. Know what’s the difference between these two programs? I mean, they are very different from each other, you know? In choosing to go to a master, a terminal master’s program over a PhD program, that’s you know has a lot of pros and cons to consider? And uhm, you know our Terminal Master’s program, ah, you know the students there. They’re working full time and they’re looking to stay in the applied world, so they’re going to stay in industry and so it would not be a path that I would recommend someone that wants to be a professor one day. A terminal master’s program, usually you would have to redo your masters in a PhD program, so and you, you, don’t get stipends in these terminal master’s programs typically whereas you might in a PhD program so you know definite pros and cons and it depends on what you want to do career wise.
Yeah, very good advice. We have some other fun questions that I usually end up, uh, asking some of my guests and one of them is what is your favorite term, principle, or theory and why?
I knew you were going to ask this, and I kept. I was thinking this morning I, I can’t think of a great answer but the only thing that’s coming to mind is what is something that I think about now a lot post pandemic or in the middle of the pandemic where we are now is, uh, the theories about rest and recovery. Because you know, I/O psychology was started to maximize employee productivity, but now it’s completely different and really it’s about sustainability over your career and not burning out after you know working 24/7 for just a couple of years. So, I just find the research on rest and recovery so fascinating, it’s applicable to my research on workaholism and employee well-being and, and I try to apply this in my own life because I do identify as someone who has workaholic tendencies, and so I try to practice what I preach, and I’ve learned so many different things about you, know how counterintuitively exercise during the day can invigorate you instead of tire you out. And you know, different kinds of activities after work might be a better recovery strategy for some people than others. Some, some people really like to be active in doing something, whether it’s you know wood crafting or a Coed soccer team, but other people really get their rest in recovery from pure relaxation with mindfulness or reading. And so just that research I find really fascinating and very applicable.
It’s interesting that you brought that up. I have found talking to my colleagues and friends when they when they switched from working at work, a different location, now they’re working at home, they’re actually sitting longer. They find themselves sitting longer where, whereas, whereas you’d think you’re at home, you should be able to, you know, get up anytime. I purposely have to remind myself, get up every so often because I 6-7 hours go by and I’ve been sitting in this chair and then you get up, oh, you know. And so, it’s interesting…
Yes, I know.
…how everything changes? What is something that you have learned recently that’s new to you? It could be inside or outside of your work, anything. I’ve, I’ve had some guests just bring up anything out of the blue, but something new that you have learned recently.
Uhm, I don’t know everything so different now because of COVID the last couple of years just I feel like, uhm, no, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to do as many things, so the only thing I can think of is work related. I have recently accepted a position as graduate coordinator in our department, and that’s a a new role where I’m learning a whole bunch of, of new platforms and procedures and, and really just a newfound love for mentorship. Because now it’s not just mentoring the I/O students, it’s mentoring all of the graduate students in our department. There’s about 100 grad students and so just really being excited. For their accomplishments and helping them to apply for different awards. And so, I’ve just in this new role, my last semester has been learning the in’s and outs of this so. It is work related, but it is what it is.
It is what it is. I was just going to say that’s fine. You don’t have to feel guilty that it’s not work related. I, I did see some of your awards and, and on your curriculum Vita and then your undergraduate courses and graduate courses. And then yeah, you did list, you know, some of your new roles as mentor and, and, and serving on those committees as well, and so. Uhm, it’s something new as well, so I think it’s important to add new things to do. I remember reading an Alzheimer’s article. Anything that you can do differently and play new games and builds different neural pathways and everything so something new is good for your brain as well. So, I’m, I’m going off on a tangent let me get back here. Do you have? Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology or those wanting to become an assistant professor? They want to stay in the academic world, so any other advice?
Uhm, you know. I think I’ve covered a lot of the things I wanted to touch on. Uhm, you know? I’d say definitely absorb as much as you can while you’re in undergrad. Get that experience. Make those personal connections. Uhm, don’t feel rushed to get right into graduate school. Uhm, don’t feel rushed to finish your PhD program as fast as possible either. I took six years to get through my PhD program. I also had a couple kids while I was a PhD student, so that might have been part of the delay, but you know, I just feel like we’re always at least I was feeling this urgency of I got to, you know, do this. I got to do this to meet whatever expectations I think people are having for me, but really taking the time to decide, you know, is this the right path and explore different potential pathways and be open to, uhm, you know having a career that you hadn’t initially considered, or going into a field that you hadn’t initially considered? Come seize those opportunities that you know. It might seem like a pain in the moment, but you never know what doors it might open.
Sure, great advice if you had any time. If you have the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Ohhh, one project or one trip. I would definitely go the trip. So, one of my hobbies is, ahh, I guess you could call it travel hacking so I just love like you could look it up but it’s you know trying to maximize value and get these pretty awesome trips for not spending a ton of money. So I really love just looking up new places to go. I would absolutely love to plan a trip around the world. My son is obsessed with going to Australia. I’d love to take him to Australia, but there’s so many different places that I would like to visit. So, if I just had unlimited funds, I would just take a year off and just travel. Just go all around the world and take my family.
I’m with you and we can bring our Cutco knives with.
Is there? Is there anything else that you would like to discuss or bring up in this podcast?
Uhm, I just want to thank you for, you know, actually doing this podcast. It is so valuable. What, uh, what a great tool for people to have? And so, I just I really appreciate the work you’re doing and I’m, you know thankful that you’re highlighting industrial organizational psychology. By the way, it is one of the fastest growing careers on all these lists every year, year in and year out. It’s you know you can make a good amount of money going into the applied world. It’s a really fantastic field to go into and it’s not slowing down. It’s just going to continue to grow as more organizations are realizing that they really need to focus on the care and well-being of the workforce if they want them to stick around so.
I’m glad, I’m glad that you brought that up and, and thank you for that compliment. We are very enthusiastic about bringing all sorts of psychology branches to the forefront and, and increasing the awareness of psychology and in the field itself, but you’re exactly right, when we’ve done all this research, time and time again, we see I/O in the top one or two over the past three or four years, and it’s always there.
It always yeah.
So, Melissa, I really appreciate your time and willingness to take the time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts and experiences and, and offer your advice. Thanks again for sharing your story and advice with us.
Thank you so much for having me.