Pursuing an I/O Psychology Masters Degree (Part 1)

In 2016 I started my journey towards finding an I/O Psychology masters program. As of this past summer 2019, I’m officially a student in CSU’s Masters of Applied I/O Psychology. I’ve had a few people ask about I/O Psychology and how I came to this decision so here’s a bit of background. 

A halfhearted MBA. 
About four years ago I (halfheartedly) applied to LSU to get my MBA and was denied. Twice. Mostly I was rejected due to 1) my own inflated sense of self that they only really wanted my exorbitant executive level fees and 2) that LSU has a bazillion applicants and really doesn’t care about having one with an online degree. Snobs.  Regardless, I’ve always yearned for the higher education. Some of it stems from proving that my undergrad (from University of Phoenix ten years ago – when it was new) really has worth, despite being an online college that suffered from accreditation issues. Also, specialization is where I imagined my career would go. But what to specialize in?

“Is this just a job for you?”
In 2015, I was asked to be on a leadership project with 20 other hand-picked, high-potential employees. It involved a 2 day informative get-to know-you, a team building exercise, and then given a strategic planning assignment, taking a specific facet of the company’s business and either increase sales, decrease expenses – one way or another making it better. It was a 4 months long process ending with a report and presentation that was very rewarding and I was overjoyed to do it. While it was hard work, I had amazing teams members and we had great feedback from leadership on what we delivered. This is the kind of stuff I get excited to do. Neuron explosions.

One specific member of the leadership team contacted me to discuss my participation and told me how impressed they were with my presentation skills. This is not something new to me. They stated that I was a natural talent in training and presenting and could have a great career in that and hoped to find a place within the company doing more of it. But then they said something that I didn’t expect, “You really seem much more qualified then what you’re doing… it just makes me wonder… is this just a job to you?” Gulp. How can that be possible? It made me realize that in some ways showing your talents and full potential can sometimes leave those wondering – why is she in that job?

Unfortunately people can’t see our intentions. And many didn’t know our ambition and plans for the future, especially our bosses for fear of looking like we’re moving upward and outward. I politely explained that my kid was still in high school at the time and that I do have plans for furthering my career just when the timing is right. The question haunted me. Like an arrow to the heart, it really pierced my conviction. Am I just working a job? Am I progressing?

My cynical nature scoffs when I hear someone say “Follow your passion” or “Do what you love.” But I know what excites me and I know what I dread doing on a day to day basis. After 15 years as a professional I needed to do some soul-searching to really find out – What do I want to be when I grow up?

Why are you in HR?
I went on a search to find people who are doing things that I find interesting and I could see myself doing them. I set up appointments with various owners of consulting businesses, executive leadership coaches, and fellow colleagues and friends. All of them were wonderful to take the time to meet with me and each of them had a unique perspective on how they got to where they are. Some stories involved taking “leaps of faith” with little money and dove into the career they wanted. Others would tell me it fell in their lap and they were “just lucky” to have been in the right place at the right time.

The Work Human conference in early May 2016 became my ah-ha moment. As an HR Generalist and with no authority over my company’s employee recognition program, my only real interest in attending the conference was to learn and network. During my networking I tried to engage in as many conversations on “what do you do” and “how did you get into that” with as many people as possible. When people asked about me I replied with “I’m a woman looking for the next big thing.” I went there with the intention of asking questions and gathering info.  One thing rang true in many of my conversations  “Why are you in HR?” Oh the irony of going to an HR conference and being questioned in such a manner. 

Do the thing. 

While at the conference, I followed one session on twitter that I didn’t get a chance to attend called Cultivating Grit: Leveraging Resiliency and Optimism for Career Success by Caroline Adams Miller and it peaked my interest. The real reason was due to some “millennial-hate” that made me eye-roll I saw tweeted about the session but I was also intrigued by the speaker’s topic of “those who succeed work through adversity.” A stick-to-it type of mentality. I admire that. 
Along the same train of thought, my husband brought home a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. A book by a psychologist who did research finding that natural talent doesn’t always determine success, but instead, those who have “grit.” In reading the foreword I felt compelled to really reflect upon the message of the speaker’s message and the overall message of this book. Do I have grit? What does grit mean? And I came to one conclusion about my career and grit – Those who “do the thing” are doing the things.
To call yourself an artist, you have to make art. 
To call yourself a writer, you have to write. 
To call yourself xyz, you have to do xyz. 
How I fell into HR. 
For a while I thought that due to my Business Management background and my curiosity of operations and how things function in a business meant that the MBA was the natural route to go. I have a head for business. I enjoy watching a company responsibly grow and profit. Going into operations and potentially executive leadership, would be a good direction. However, I spent over 10 years in management but ended up in HR. Why? While I learned multitudes in accounting, loads of info on finance, and gained experience in day to day operations, I found myself more concerned with the human aspect of the business, the interactions between departments, and the overall emotions that ran through the office hallways. Also I disliked the day to day drudgery of HR and accounting. I oftentimes joked that I needed a chaise and a pipe for the free therapy that I gave out to employees and managers in their career-crises. So I sought out some continuing education in HR Management and have been in HR ever since. 

Ignite the neurons. 
But as with all living things, time eventually fosters evolution. If a job seeker told me they want to make a career change I’d sit with them and discuss options of how to get there. One of those options would be – go back to school. Going back to get a HR Management masters would solidify my role in HR. HR people like other people with HR degrees, but (imho) rarely is it useful outside of HR. It’d also mean that I’d end up progressing to a HR Manager or HR Director position. I’d be managing HR people. While I’m sure I’d put forth effort to make it succeed, that doesn’t really ignite the neurons in my brain. Being a Generalist for over 15 years I’ve come to the understanding that I need to combine my natural talents of empathy, presentation skills, inquisitive mind, and leadership  with the experience I’ve gained. I need to go towards a direction that makes the most sense. During my “phone a friend” research many recommended business consulting, training & development, executive coaching, organizational development and the like. It’s not a far step for someone like me and many who practice these professions were/are in HR.

The conclusion. 
A reverse search into these types of careers (job postings, Linkedin profiles, etc.) targeted me towards an applied masters (MA) in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. What does that mean? To put it in layman’s terms: the study of humans in the workplace. While I won’t be doing research (like a PhD), instead I’ll be using the knowledge to solve business problems, particularly the as it relates to the workforce. Also, I won’t be a licensed psychologist, simply a practitioner of this knowledge. I’ll be able to combine “the human aspect” with research-based problem-solving. Seems like the next good step towards future career goals. Neuron kersplosions. 
Stay tuned for more posts where I talk about how I choose schools, admission requirements, and going back to school after 10 years. 

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