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We want to start our response to Byrne et al.'s (2014) focal article by commending the authors for challenging the status quo that exists today for the training and development of graduate students in industrial–organizational (I–O) psychology. As applied psychologists working internal to large corporations and former interns in various internal and external organizations, we agree with the need for I–O psychology to (a) evaluate its value proposition relative to other fields with which I–O psychologists compete for jobs, (b) think more holistically about how we are training and developing students, and (c) enable students to be more relevant upon starting applied or academic positions.

In reviewing the next steps proposed by Byrne et al. to address current gaps, however, we question whether or not the steps would result in the above desired outcomes. Although we agree with the need for common criteria or standards against which to evaluate internships and postdocs, we disagree and have serious concerns with the recommendations for:

  • SIOP to create a committee whose focus is to develop a process for certification of internships for practice and postdoctoral positions for research/science, and
  • SIOP to certify internships and post-doc opportunities that organizations put forth.

Support Development of Criteria Defining Successful Internships and Postdocs

  1. Top of page
  2. Support Development of Criteria Defining Successful Internships and Postdocs
  3. Oppose Certification of Internships and Postdocs
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference

We fully support the recommendation for SIOP to form a committee comprised of academicians, applied psychologists, researchers and others to investigate and create a set of standards for internships and postdoc positions. Although we have collectively managed more than 20 applied interns, we have always struggled to understand what students are hoping to take away from the experience and how we calibrate with other opportunities available in industry. Therefore, we believe that a carefully evaluated set of standards would go a long way toward helping students understand what to expect from an internship or postdoc experience and providing guidance to hiring organizations on how to best structure their positions.

In addition, we agree that standards should address several of the topics outlined in the focal article on page 4, including providing proper supervision, appropriate developmental experiences, and allowing for mastery of competency areas not covered or possible through graduate work. The topics of providing adequate wages and health insurance, however, gave us great pause. Although we agree with students receiving adequate wages, we feel it is an overreach for a SIOP committee to place dollar values on internships and postdocs as they are likely not in a better position than hiring organizations to estimate their value. In addition, a requirement such as providing health insurance during a 3- or 6-month or even year-long internship shows a lack of awareness with common practices in industry and could drive prospective employers to stop providing internships for I–O students as they could end up being more costly than hiring consultants to cover capability needs. Therefore, we strongly urge any future members of a standards committee to be very mindful of the topics they consider and their potential implications.

Oppose Certification of Internships and Postdocs

  1. Top of page
  2. Support Development of Criteria Defining Successful Internships and Postdocs
  3. Oppose Certification of Internships and Postdocs
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference

In the above section on criteria or standards for internships and postdocs, we purposely stayed away from the topic of certification as we want to separate the two concepts. Simply put, we believe that there is a need for standards, but that there is NO need for certification of internships. We will remain silent on postdocs as they are outside of our experience.

The most fundamental reason we have for taking a stance against the creation of a formal certification process for internships by SIOP is that we do not have confidence that a SIOP committee would be able to effectively evaluate our internships for their ability to provide students with developmental experiences that will help them to be more successful and marketable in industry. The reason for this is simple: Applied psychologists working in the field and making hiring decisions are always going to be in a better position to make this determination versus a SIOP committee. Therefore, the fundamental problem with requiring certified internships is the underlying assumption from the focal article that SIOP standards and organizational business objectives are indistinguishable, whereas practitioners in industry would likely argue this result to not be the case.

This notion taken to the extreme could result in the creation of internships that meet standards yet do not serve to truly benefit the organization. There is an underlying and pervasive message in the focal article, which is that internships exist for the sole benefit of the student. This is a damaging perspective, as it (a) sets false expectations for students who will enter new jobs with the perspective of “What can you do for me?” and (b) overlooks the fact that organizations are in existence to win in the marketplace, not to educate I–O psychologists. The truth remains that internships exist, and interns are hired to achieve this purpose. The relationship between organization and intern must be symbiotic, where the company invests resources in training the intern, who, in return, gains valuable experience while helping the company achieve business objectives.

In other words, our organizations, and many others like us, are driven by the need to be profitable and win versus competition. As applied psychologists, we are always striving to create new systems, tools, and capability at the cutting edge, thus creating unique experiences for I–O students that may or may not align to the full set of proposed standards but would build many competencies making our interns more competitive and marketable within industry. Therefore, we strongly believe that creation of a certification process would result in a cookie cutter approach to internships and would limit innovation and the evolution of our field.

Another critical reason we are not supportive of a certification process is the administrative burden spent on paperwork and negotiation with the certifying committee to gain the seal of approval for applied internships. Although the paperwork is a nuisance and would take us away from work focused on delivering the business, our main concern is how long this process would take. On many occasions, the need for and ability to fund an internship is created based on business need and with very little time to prepare job descriptions, post the job, review candidates, conduct interviews, and make a hiring decision before needing the intern on site working with the team. Given that our internships can range across research domains, are tied directly to business needs, and are catered to the student's strengths and personal interests, it would be extremely challenging for us to certify each specific internship or the overall body of internships that we could potentially offer.

Furthermore, the competitive landscape changes quickly, and adding a certification process could limit our ability to provide internships, at all, to I–O students. In addition, organizations who are operating under increasingly lean conditions will not likely be persuaded into offering applied education in the name of philanthropy alone. It is our fear that the certification process will ultimately make the hiring of I–O psychology interns too laborious and their work plans too rigid such that it will not be worth the effort associated with hiring them. When time is critical, applied I–O psychologists may be forced to look elsewhere for talent. Thus, the certification requirement could ultimately thwart rather than achieve the authors' goal to “protect [I–O's] vulnerable population” (p. 4).

We also disagree with the need for a certification process to create a level playing field for internships within industry. In the for profit world of work, size and reputation do matter. Elements such as global reach, opportunity for full time work, availability of resources, and ability to impact an organization also matter to students and prospective employers reviewing a candidate's resumé. Given such elements at play for consideration of an internship, we believe that development of standards would help students to evaluate the quality of the experience they would receive during the internship, but cannot understand why implementation of a certification process should attempt to “level the playing field.” In addition, Byrne et al. state that certification would ensure “the student of a developmental experience and the organization of a high quality outcome” (p. 13), but frankly, we do not see how this process would guarantee the latter. We would rather rely on a sound selection process to ensure we hire interns who possess the prerequisite skills and are a good fit for the particular internship at hand as well as for our respective companies.

On a final note, the first author of this response wants to voice a word of caution toward certification of internships by SIOP. In reading through the proposed recommendation of the focal article, I could not help but walk away with a sense that such an action would lead us to the same place as clinical psychology and its match-based internship process. Having worked through this process with my wife and many colleagues, I can think of nothing worse for our field than to create a path where students and organizations cannot compete in a free market for positions and talent. The discussion on licensure in the focal article left me with the same concern, as I have never had a conversation with other I–O psychologists in industry, legal experts, or business partners where the topic of licensure has surfaced as a need for I–O psychologists. In fact, I chose I–O psychology over clinical psychology largely because of the competitive advantages it provided in graduating sooner and with more freedom to choose my own path. Insofar as the bureaucracy created through certification would take our field in this direction, I personally could not sit idly by and not voice my concern.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Support Development of Criteria Defining Successful Internships and Postdocs
  3. Oppose Certification of Internships and Postdocs
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference

In closing, we realize that much of our commentary is contradictory toward the focal article's recommendations. Our purpose in providing a contrarian view is to provide a strong word of caution and slow down steps taken toward certification and other practices for internships and postdocs within SIOP. In addition to the commentary above, there are many related questions we have for this conversation that were not covered in the focal article. For example, we are curious to understand if a student on an academic path would be recommended to complete an internship if a certified postdoc structure was put in place. We have had several interns go on to academia and continue to work with them through mutually beneficial relationships. We believe that they gained great insights working in an applied setting that made them more relevant in academia and created networks for them to which they would otherwise not have had access.

At the end of the day, we put in a lot of work to run graduate seminars and internships because we personally benefited from them and believe that they are a huge enabler for students looking to go into applied and academic settings while also providing a pipeline of talent for us to hire or continue to work with in the future. Although admittedly not completely altruistic, we really do care about providing best in class experiences for our interns and want to be sure that we, as I–O psychologist professionals, are considering the students' needs in whatever processes or standards we put in place in the future as much as we consider our own needs.

Reference

  1. Top of page
  2. Support Development of Criteria Defining Successful Internships and Postdocs
  3. Oppose Certification of Internships and Postdocs
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference