Why become a psychologist?

Recently I was asked to give career advice. This reply can be used by anyone in any career, or any manager tasked with measuring the value of their investment.

The career question was: What area of study is better for a career in industrial/organizational psychology? (e.g., clinical psychology, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, perception, personality psychology, or social psychology.)

My reply: Get nerdy. I strongly recommend that you conduct one of the following two research studies.

  1. Take a quantitative approach.

(a) Start with the leading professional associations such as division 14 in the American Psychological Association described at Or Division 13 at Then study the data at SIOP. Request their whitepapers and industry trend data on recommended career paths. Synthesize key points from each document so that you can reference them later if required.

(b) After collecting data on the professional associations that interest you, define 4-5 research questions (RQs) that interest you. I think that the problem you want to solve is something like, “What specialty is better for me and why?” Examples of RQs include: 1. What specialty makes more money? 2. What specialty enables me to work with the kinds of clients I desire to serve? 3. What specialty is affordable and attainable within 5 years? 4. What specialty will enable me to shift career interests every 10 years if desired?

( c ) Analyze your results. Your RQs will drive the data. Create a 2-4 page summary analysis based on each RQ and your findings to date.

(d) Share the data and your summary analysis with 3-4 older people who are honest and capable of providing direct feedback. Avoid your loved ones. Have a conversation with them about how you have analyzed the data and discuss how they interpret the data.

2. Take a qualitative approach.

(a) Select a large sample (n = 100+) of representative practitioners with self-declared expertise in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Start with sample searches in open digital communities such as LinkedIn or Quora. Then collect practitioners from professional associations such as SIOP or Create a spreadsheet with names, email, digital link, contact requests, contact notes. Add me to your list if useful. Then add any of my first level connections or followers.

(b) Define 4-5 research questions that you would like to ask. Sample RQs may include: 1. What were significant milestones in your graduate education? 2. How are you implementing your graduate education into your daily work today? 3. What advice do you have for me if I were to adopt a career path like yours? 4. What skills do you use daily in your consulting practice that can be learned in graduate school?

( c ) With permission from the participants, record the conversations. Take notes on themes and categories that emerge. For research protocols study textbooks such as Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research, 2nd ed. (Creswell & Plano, 2011). To be clear, your study can be simple. If you can have 10 conversations with 10 representatives of where you would like to be in 10 years, then your qualitative study should have tremendous value.

(d) Analyze your results. I suspect that you will be able to define what your sample population recommends after 5-6 conversations. I hope that data will inform you to conduct additional research in your career.

A closing thought: If you are not inclined to conduct a simple research study like the ones described above, then you are not likely to be successful in I/O psychology…

Researchers collect data and analyze results.

Consultants assess and recommend.

I certainly hope that you conduct the research you need, sooner rather than later, so that you can serve thousands of clients.

Here is an invitation: If I can be a resource at any time, then I invite you to contact me at Executive Coaching | Action Learning Associates LLC | (615) 236 – 9845

All the best! Doug