Highest Research Productivity

USF’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology program ranked highest in the nation for publication in peer-reviewed journals.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 24, 2013) – University of South Florida’s delegation to the annual Society for Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology (SIOP) conference earlier this month had something to be especially proud of – particularly among peers at the leading I/O national association’s gathering.  


USF ranks first in research productivity, according to an Auburn University research group that studied publication in peer reviewed journals of all the I/O doctoral programs in the United States. 


This outstanding achievement may have contributed to moving USF’s I/O program from eighth place to fourth in the U.S. News & World Report rankings for I/O doctoral programs.


“They now only rank four programs, so we are part of a pretty select group, “said Paul Spector, director of USF’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology Program. 


What people go through at work certainly merits research.


“When you consider that as full-time working adults – which is the majority up to retirement age – we spend nearly half our weekly waking hours at work,” Spector said.  “What I/O psychologists do is often behind the scenes, but most people who work for large organizations are affected by the field. How people are hired, placed into positions, trained, and treated at work are all influenced by the field of I/O.


“Complex organizations of all sizes and shapes present all kinds of issues for the people who work in them,” he said. “Our objective is to train and develop behavioral scientists to help find solutions to problems that crop up by applying the psychological skills and knowledge they’ve gained here.”


Students in the I/O program take specialized courses, do research and take part in required internships to prepare for careers in a variety of settings.


“Over the past five years, 49 percent of our graduates have taken a variety of applied and practice positions in consulting firms and corporations and 44 percent have taken positions as college professors. Although we place our graduates throughout the country, many remain in Florida to pursue their careers.”


Graduate students know that the doctoral program is all about obtaining a research degree first and foremost.  


“Research is a central focus of the program,” Spector said.  “We encourage our students to be committed to research because what distinguishes our field is that it is evidence-based, that is, we apply scientifically sound solutions to organizational problems.” 


Although most I/O students seek broad training within the field, there are two specialization areas that some students pursue.


“Interested students can focus on ‘Human Factors,’ that is, the human side of technology, or on ‘Occupational Health Psychology,’ the psychological factors in employee health safety and well-being. But interdisciplinary research and training opportunities come with both even as they concentrate on courses that are relevant to their area of specialization. That can mean taking courses in engineering or public health along with courses in psychology.”


The I/O program’s Occupational Health Psychology (OHP) specialization is part of the USF Sunshine Education and Research Center (ERC) that is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The center, directed by Professor Thomas Bernard in the College of Public Health, gets more than $1 million a year to support training in occupational health and safety fields including OHP. 


“We also recommend highly that all of our students gain teaching experience, something we make available to them,” said Spector. “We also do everything we can to make sure placements meet career objectives to make for a smooth transition into their professional lives.”


The required internships can be local or in other parts of the country.


“The faculty members of the USF program are well-known internationally for their research,” Spector pointed out.


As examples he cited Professor Tammy Allen, who is president of SIOP and studies ways organizations can help employees deal with conflicting demands between home and work. Psychology Department Chair Michael Brannick studies the best ways to train surgical residents that can reduce medical errors. Professor Michael Coovert has been helping the U.S. Air Force design aircraft cockpits that can help pilots deal with information overload. Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director Stephen Stark has been helping the U.S. Army design better soldier recruitment tests.


Spector himself studies the ways “organizational factors and personal characteristics interact to affect employee health, safety, and well-being.” 


He said this area of psychology has a bright future.


“I/O psychology is a rapidly expanding field that the U.S. Department of Labor noted as one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. The USF doctoral program is one of the leading places in the country where highly talented students come to launch their I/O careers.”


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.