Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology

When NASA entered the early stages of planning for a manned mission to Mars that may launch as soon as 2030, they began assembling teams of engineers, astrophysicists, and technology specialists. The folks at NASA turned to a group of psychologists at the University of Central Florida to conduct research into how best to select and train a team for the actual mission, and what an optimal workspace for that team might look like. As the American Psychological Association (ASA) detailed in March of 2013, Dr. Eduardo Salas and “several other industrial-organizational psychologists are using NASA funding to conduct research that helps inform the team selection and training for the agency’s mission to Mars.”

NASA isn’t alone in relying on the expertise of IO psychologists. In today’s rapidly evolving and intensely competitive world economy, it’s incumbent upon CEOs, personnel managers, business analysts, and human resource departments to confront challenges rooted in organizational psychology. Why, for example, do some companies outperform other similar companies that offer equivalent products and/or services? What are the best strategies for managing these companies, hiring and training new workers, and promoting from within? And how can businesses, corporations, and other complex organizations increase job satisfaction and worker productivity, while fostering stability and encouraging innovation in the workplace?

Devising practical solutions to these pressing challenges is the domain of a very special kind of behavior scientist, the IO psychologist. Using the theories and methods of psychological research, IO psychologists consult with corporate leaders, business owners, and workforce managers in efforts to create better, more efficient, and more humane work environments. And, in Florida, they’re also helping NASA figure out how to get to Mars.

Masters in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Concepts

  • Lifespan development
  • Learning theories
  • Increase employee engagement, worker productivity, and team building
  • Apply behavioral principles to organizational settings
  • Organizational assessment
  • Leadership and group development theories
  • Conflict management strategies
  • Techniques for increasing motivation
  • Inferential statistics
  • Research methods
  • Examine psychological constructs affecting individuals and groups in the workplace
  • Evaluate and conduct psychological consultations through applied case work, practice, self-appraisal, feedback, and discussions
  • Consultation theories and dynamics within a consultant and client relationship
  • Personnel psychology and human resource management
  • Dynamics of contemporary, international, and virtual organizations

Benefits of Earning a Master’s in IO Psychology

A master’s degree in IO psychology is the first step toward pursing a career in which the science of human behavior is used to solve a wide range of issues in the workplace. If psychology is often thought of as a way for individuals to address problems in their personal lives, then IO psychology turns the tools of behavioral science toward another big chunk of human existence — our jobs. Unlike most clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, who may engage in one-on-one patient counseling and must therefore obtain a doctoral degree in order to qualify for state licensure, IO psychologists can work as consultants and policy planners in the private sector, the healthcare industry, governmental agencies, or the military after completing a master’s degree.

But, while group dynamics and organizational culture are primary concerns of IO psychologists, the welfare and wellbeing of the individuals within a particular group or company are also central to the practice of IO psychology. As the APA explains, IO psychologists, “use quantitative research and evaluation methods to apply best practices within a company and teach people how to work better. Their research may take the form of an observation, where they document how an employee or team performs in their work environment, or a survey designed to identify issues affecting workplace behavior. This research might be aimed at increasing employee productivity, developing screening procedures for new applicants, increasing overall workplace quality, or getting to the root of a work-related issue that is interfering with performance.”

What to Expect in a IO Psychology Master’s Program

Properly accredited master’s degree programs in industrial-organizational psychology are generally designed to be completed in two years of study. Requirements vary from program to program, and may also include a period of directed research/independent study, a supervised internship, and/or a master’s thesis project. Guidelines for a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology are maintained by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), a division of the APA and an affiliate of the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

Core Areas of Competency for IO Psychologist

  1. Psychological theories and their history, including abnormal psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, neuropsychology, and social psychology
  2. Behavioral science research methods, including empirical studies, data analysis, and statistical modeling
  3. Industrial and organizational psychology principles, including theories of workplace training, evaluation, motivation, and attitude; and principles of group dynamics and organizational structure
  4. Specializations in industrial-organizational psychology, including theories of career development, consumer behavior, labor relations, and employee compensation and benefits

Typical Coursework for a Master’s Degree Program in IO Psychology:

  • Theories of Personality: Historical and contemporary models of human personality and behavior.
  • Human Development Across the Lifespan: Theories and research into how cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions evolve over the course of the human lifespan.
  • Social Psychology: The principles of human social interaction as they relate to psychological development and influence thought, including the roles played by social bias, group pressures, and other psychological factors.
  • Psychometrics: The applied science of constructing, implementing, and evaluating psychological tests and interpreting the resulting data.
  • Theories of Management: The study of how factors like communication, motivation, innovation, and efficiency are impacted by organizational structures and strategies.
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Business: The formal and informal rules by which business operates, including contracts, negotiations, partnerships, corporations, bankruptcy, consumer protection, and liability.
  • Human Resource Management: Theories and perspectives on hiring, training, and promoting in an organizational framework, and how management policies impact individual and overall performance.
  • Organizational Leadership Studies: The analysis and measurement of organizational leadership, based on various schools of thought, including trait theory, behavioral theory, contingency theory and transformational theory.

Choosing the Right Degree: MA vs. MS in IO Psychology

Master’s in IO psychology come in two basic forms: the master of arts, or MA in industrial-organizational psychology; and the master of science, or MS in industrial-organizational psychology. Traditionally, an MA in psychology was thought to be more research based, while an MS might put a greater emphasis on the practice or application of psychological research in a particular field. That distinction has blurred quite a bit, and there tend to be more similarities than difference between MA and MS programs in psychology. The key is to find a program that fits your needs, and one that is fully accredited by the regional governing agency affiliated with the US Department of Education.

This is particular true with IO psychology. Because it is an area of specialization within the larger practice of general psychology, any respectable master’s degree in industrial-organizational should emphasize by research and applications in the field, whether it’s an MA or an MS. Indeed, almost by definition, a master’s in IO psychology should be based on a the scientist-practitioner model endorsed by the SIOP guidelines. And it’s well worth looking into which programs follow those guidelines.

Careers in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Industrial organizational psychology remains a relatively small, but intensely growing field. Jobs in this area of specialization range from academic teaching and research positions, which generally require a doctoral degree, to jobs in human resource-related consulting, training, data analysis, and management, which may be open to those with a master’s degree.

The BLS’s most recent Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) report, in May of 2014, found only 1,110 IO psychologists in the total US workforce, with 340 of those professionals working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, 180 holding jobs in state government, and 90 in scientific research and development. The states with the highest employment levels for IO psychologists were Massachusetts (220 jobs), New York (150 jobs), and Virginia and Minnesota (90 jobs each).

By the following year, with the publication of the latest edition of the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), there were an estimated 2,000 IO psychologists in the workforce, an increase of over 80 percent. Demand for IO psychologists is expected to remain strong, with a projected growth rate of at least 19 percent through 2024. The following chart offers a sense of how these numbers compare with BLS data for other types of work in psychology and several related fields:

Occupation2014 EmploymentProjected Growth through 2024
General and Operations Managers2,124,1007%
Management Analysts758,00014%
Chief Executives343,400-1%
Psychologists (all)173,90019%
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists155,30020%
Operations Research Analysts91,30030%
Psychologists (all other)16,60010%
IO Psychologists2,00019%

Although IO psychology is a relatively small field, the demand for the specialized skills and knowledge base that IO psychologists bring to the job has pushed average salaries in the profession somewhat higher than what you typically find among other psychologists. The OES data from May of 2014 bears this out, as the chart below illustrates:

OccupationAverage Annual SalaryAverage Hourly Wage
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists$90,070$43.40
Psychologists (all other)$89,810$43.18
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists$74,030$35.59

Licensure and Certification in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Licensure for all psychologists is handled at the state level and requires a doctoral degree plus up to two years of supervised professional experience. Candidates must then take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is overseen by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. A master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology does not meet the prerequisites for licensure, but it is often the first step toward earning a doctoral degree on the way toward full licensure. However, there is a fairly robust discussion among IO psychologists about whether or not state licensure should be mandatory, as SIOP documents extensively on its website. So, while state licensure is still required for IO psychologists who want to use the official designation of “psychologist,” and having full licensure with a doctoral degree certainly opens up more career options, a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology does meet the requirements for employment in many areas of the field.

Article Sources