Advice for the Evidence-Based Student

For students currently or thinking of studying IO Psychology who want to incorporate evidence-based practice into their course and future practice I’d recommend a few things:

  1. Science is a key foundation if IO Psychology but we should never take scientific findings at face value and always ask critical questions about their quality and trustworthiness.  Become familiar with the challenges for our field and science more generally (e.g., Kepes & McDaniel, 2013).
  2. Bear in mind that from an evidence-based practice perspective single studies never matter.  It’s useful to read single studies to get a better understanding of research methods but it’s always the body of evidence we need to look at through meta-analyses and systematic reviews (though these too have their limitations – particularly the garbage in, garbage out problem.)
  3. Compared to psychologists in other fields IO Psychologists aren’t trained in systematic review methods.  It’s worth becoming familiar with how to do systematic reviews and as it’s useful for understanding the field, making practice decisions and an essential part of evidence-based practice.  For example see Briner & Denyer 2012.
  4. If your IO Psychology program doesn’t do this already (and as far as I’m aware few do) why not become familiar with the basic principles of evidence-based practice doing this in your own, with your student colleagues or ask your professors to offer a course on evidence-based practice.  There are lots of teaching materials including a book and online courses on the Center for Evidence-Based Management website.
  5. Reflect on how IO Psychology is typically practiced and consider the extent to which our practice could accurately be described as evidence-based practice.  Evidence-based practice is not about making perfectly-informed decisions using all the available evidence but I think it’s fairly clear that IO Psychology is still some way off being an evidence-based practice profession.  See, for example, Briner & Rousseau, 2011.
  6. Evidence-based practice always starts with gathering the best available evidence about a potential problem or opportunity.  After all, it’s pointless to implement a ‘solution’ without having a really good understanding of the problem.  There is a tendency in IO Psychology to focus on techniques (e.g., assessment centres, training, performance management) or phenomena (e.g., engagement, emotional intelligence) rather than specific well-evidenced contextualized problems.  When learning about such techniques or phenomena on our programs we also need to ask:  How can we spend more time understanding the problems employees and organizations face before we move to implement possible solutions?

Further Reading & Other Resources

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About the Author

Rob Briner, Ph.D.
Rob Briner is Professor of Organizational Psychology in the School of Business and Management. He conducts research into several areas of organizational psychology and HR such as work and well-being, the psychological contract, work-nonwork relationships and ethnicity. In addition, he is very active in developing evidence-based practice in management, HR and organizational psychology.

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