Courtney Keim on Being an I-O Psychologist All Along (Part 2)

Before she became an I-O psychologist, Courtney Keim worked as a server and bartender. In this second part of a two-part episode, Dr. Keim reflects on why bartenders make good I-O psychologists, how she chose I-O psych by a process of elimination, and how to read the early warning signs that you, too, may be a little I-O psychologist all along.

Guest Bio

Dr. Courtney Keim, Associate Professor of Psychology at Bellarmine University, received her B.A. in Psychology from Christian Brothers University and her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, with a concentration in Industrial & Organizational Psychology, from the University of Memphis. Her research focus is on organizational wellness and psychologically healthy workplace practices. Dr. Keim teaches a range of Psychology courses and enjoys advising and mentoring students. Dr. Keim is also Vice President of the Kentucky Psychological Foundation, where she leads initiatives such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, psychologically healthy workplaces in KY, student mentorship programs, and highlighting student research. In addition, Dr. Keim has worked with and at many organizations, including departments within Louisville Metro Government, Norton Behavioral Medicine, Maryhurst, the U.S. Navy, and FedEx.



This transcript is AI-generated and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:00] Hello. And welcome back to the department 12 podcast, where we talk about everything. IO, psych, I’m your host, Dr. Ben  when we left Courtney Kime in our last episode, she had just quit her first post-college job, working in a residential treatment center for boys. So what’s next for.

Courtney Keim, Ph.D.: [00:00:21] After working in the residential treatment facility fell through.

I said, now what do I do? I’m $30,000 in debt from my undergrad. I have a bachelor’s degree. And I, I thought I was going to be a child psychologist. And clearly that’s not the right path. Now what, and in the meantime, I didn’t have a whole lot of luxury to sit around and think about this for very long, because I had bills to pay.

So I went back to waiting tables and bartending, and you may know if you’ve ever bartended before that that’s a very coveted position. You generally don’t just walk into a restaurant and get to be a bartender. I had to start back at the bottom at a new restaurant and work my way up from server to eventually becoming a board.

A typical day for me was very different from some of my coworkers because. Pretty high on that conscientiousness scale. When I came in, I wanted to set the bar up perfectly. I’m getting everything, prepped, wiping things down, getting backups of everything. I’m setting myself up for success so that I have everything that I need.

And I don’t have to stop in the middle of the shift and go get another bottle of bourbon. That’s locked up in the liquor cabinet, or I don’t run out of ice. It was a lot of organizations. A lot of planning, a lot of thinking ahead and anticipating future problems that might come up. It’s such an important part of being a bartender is establishing relationships with your regulars because those regular customers are the ones that you depend on to pay your bills.

You want that to be a relationship? That’s not exploitative. You want it to be. A relationship where they actually feel like they’re your friend, like they’re taking care of that. That you’re not just there to take all of their money out of their wallet, but that you’re really taking care of them. I’ve seen parallels with that in the world of being an IO psychologist and specifically in the consulting.

I think over time we develop these regulars. We develop partnerships with organizations where we do need data from them. We do need. To get into their organization and get access to their employees, but you want that to be reciprocal, mutually beneficial, and that you can keep coming back to them time and time.

Again, the restaurant business is a great industry for IO psychologists to examine because things rarely do run smoothly when they do, when we’re in that flow, it feels so great. Of course, anything that has to do with the kitchen can be. A big wrench in your system? The restaurant I was working at right after I was working at that residential facility was a block away from the Orpheum theater.

We’re all of the plays were happening, the operas. So you have people that need to get to the show on time. And that really means that that getting the food out and the kitchen being on time is crucially important that the food is cooked correctly. So if you have people who are sitting at your bar who are eating, who needed to get out quickly, if the food is not coming out quickly, they might just cancel their order.

Their bill isn’t going to be as big as it was because they didn’t order food. You’re not going to get as big of a tip. They’re going to be mad. Maybe they don’t come back. So you don’t want that to happen. So that would happen all the time. Unfortunately, here I am. As a little IO psychologist, I can vividly remember yelling at my managers and saying, look, here’s the problem.

You’re hiring people to come back there and cook who have little to no training. They don’t know what they’re doing. You just, you hire somebody off the street who has no training, and then you throw them in the kitchen. During a really busy shift and expect them to be able to get their meats and plus ready to be able to multitask, to be able to get 25 of the same dishes out the door.

At various times, it’s a really difficult job to work in the kitchen. And I immediately saw it as a hiring issue. I saw it as like you’re not hiring the right people to begin with. I can remember being so frustrated with, with my managers that they couldn’t see that that was the problem. And this particular restaurant that I worked at, we were having so much difficulty getting this food out and sales were down.

So we actually had been bought by a brewery and they told they changed the menu and they put a bunch of hamburgers on there and they took off a lot of really great dishes that our regular customers really liked. They closed the restaurant for two days and brought in these chefs from California to come and teach everybody.

The whole new menu. I sat down with one of the guys who came in from California and I said, this is not an issue with the food. It’s not that the food is too hard to make it’s goat cheese ravioli. Like it’s ravioli is really not that difficult to make. You’re just not hiring and training people in the right manner.

And of course, nobody listened to me. They, they just thought that I was just a silly little girl, I suppose, who didn’t know what she was talking about. That restaurant ended up closing. They didn’t last because. A lot of those regular customers went away and they couldn’t keep their sales up. I can vividly remember this as well.

I was waiting tables and it was towards the end of the evening and a party of eight comes in and I said, sure, I’ll, I’ll wait on that table. The gentleman who was at the head of the table was just one of those people who was, he was just an absolute jerk. He was just very belittling. He ordered a. Vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives.

And I said, I’m sorry, we don’t have blue cheese stuffed olives. And he looked at me and he said, do you have all of us? And I said, yes, sir, we do have all us. And he said, and do you have blue cheese crumbles somewhere in the kitchen? And I said, I think so. Yes. And he said, then I’ll have a martini with blue cheese stuffed olives.

And it was just so dismissive and he was treating me like I was an idiot and I was so upset at the way that he was talking to me. And so I went back into the kitchen and I had the, the person who worked in the salad line, give me blue cheese. And I went to the end of the bar. And I sat at the end of the bar, like stuffing blue cheese, crumbles into these olives, very aggressively.

The tears just started to pour down my face and somebody came up and said, are you okay? And I just was like, I can’t believe that I’m still being this blue cheese into all of this. I have a college degree. I mean, I just was sobbing. I could barely get the words out. It was so. Embarrassing and demoralizing and humiliating.

I couldn’t even wait on the table anymore. I had to let somebody else take care of them because it was, I guess, as they say, the straw that broke the camel’s back, I went outside, there was an alley that was next to the restaurant and I went outside with another coworker and I don’t smoke cigarettes. I never did, but I pretended to, I was like, give me a smoke and I I’d put a cigarette and I just kind of held it there.

Cause I just didn’t know what else to do. The turning point for me where I said, I just don’t think I can do this anymore. It’s a lot of fun and it’s really good money working in the restaurant business, but there’s just so much about it that it doesn’t make you feel great. And especially when you’re working in places where we know now, of course, that there’s just an incredible amount of sexual harassment that happens in restaurants, uh, especially towards women.

Uh, the hours are terrible. There’s generally no time off, no health benefits at that point said, I’ve got to start doing something. I’ve got to get back into grad school. I’ve got to get out of here. I don’t really know still what I want to do, but, but I’ve got to get out of the restaurant. My mom went to nursing school later in her life.

And while she was in nursing school, she was waiting tables as a way to support our family. She had been doing it off and on her whole life too. And I can remember when I was 19, I decided that I was going to work in a full service restaurant. She said, I’m going to give you some tips, you know? And she warned me.

She was like, you need to be careful. There’s a lot of addiction. There’s a lot of drugs. There’s a lot of alcohol abuse. You gotta be careful. You gotta stay away from that. And she also said, you need to tip your bartender and you need to tip your bus boy really well at the end of your shift, because they’re the ones that are going to make you your money.

I followed my mom’s advice and I actually met my husband working at a restaurant. He was a bartender and I tipped him out very well and took care of him. And we ended up dating while we were working together at the restaurant 20 years later, still happily.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:08:56] years of working in the restaurant business, Courtney was ready to move on, but she didn’t know where to move on to.

Courtney Keim, Ph.D.: [00:09:04] I was very lost and I reached out to my mentor from undergrad, one of my professors, and I said, can you please meet with me? And she graciously agreed. And I went to her office, which was very odd when you’re a few years removed from undergrad to go back to your psychology professor’s office. It, I highly recommend it because it actually really changed my life.

I went to her and she said, tell me what’s going on? And I, I said, well, here’s what’s going on. And I spit out at her, all of the things that were wrong with the restaurant that I was working at. I said, you know, and there’s two sous chefs. And how do you have two sous chefs? And I just, you know, so I was diagnosing all of the problems with the organization and, and, and again, maybe there were some tears that were falling there as well.

And she looked at me and she said, You need to go to grad school. And I said, what are you talking about? And she said, you need to go to grad school. Really? Have you looked at IO psychology, but I’ll be honest. Every time that I saw the description of IO, it just, it didn’t hit home for me in the way that you might expect.

Uh, I mean, even today, if you go to O net and you look at the description of an IO psychologist, Oh, gosh, it has to go to court and testify. Oh, that’s not real. I just don’t. None of that really sounds very interesting to me. So I was resistant to it at first, but what I did was I was tired of being in the restaurant business and I just started to eliminate all the other branches of psychology.

So clinical was out that wasn’t going to happen. I was not interested in cognitive psych. I wasn’t interested in social psychology. Like I just could say, I don’t want to be nervous. Um, and I had a few experiences when I was in undergrad that just helped solidify that those weren’t the right fit for me.

So I was really just like all that was left over and. Again, so I’m in Memphis and, uh, the university of Memphis has a masters in general psychology program. Well, maybe I’ll just go there. Maybe I’ll just go and get a master’s in general psychology. And I didn’t get in it’s because I sent all of the application materials to the department of psychology, but I forgot to send the separate application that actually goes to the graduate school admissions.

Oh, God was absolutely devastated. I just couldn’t believe it. And as you know, these graduate programs, it’s a fall admissions process. So now I have an entire nother year of waiting tables ahead of me. It was so demoralizing and so terrible. I actually went to work at a fine dining restaurant to try to make a little bit more money.

Um, and in the meantime I said, I’m going to spend the next year trying to figure out what the right kind of program is for me. I applied to about 12 different IO grad programs. I think I had just decided that that was going to be of all of the options, the best fit for me in psychology as a first generation college student.

I didn’t have the luxury of really understanding the, the graduate application process. My husband and I were on our honeymoon. We’d just gotten married and I got a phone call and I didn’t realize it was from the director of the IO program at one of the universities that I applied to. And he said, can you come in for an interview?

And I said, I’m on my honeymoon. And I didn’t even understand what an interview. I knew that there was an opportunity there, but no one really prepared me for what I was going into. I kind of thought that maybe I was already in, I didn’t know that this was yet another part of the process of, of deciding who to admit into that program.

And I went in once I got back from my honeymoon and I went into meet with the director of the program. I wanted to highlight my academic chops. I wanted to do. You know, show him like, oh, I was valedictorian of my high school. I got really great grades when I was an undergrad. Once I decided on my psychology major.

And that was what I wanted to focus on. And as he’s looking at my resume, he says, oh, so I see here, you were a bartender. And I could probably just feel the color drop out of my face. Like the thing I was running from, the thing I was so embarrassed about. What’s the thing that he brought up in this. And I just couldn’t imagine that that would be relevant or why he would breathe bringing it up.

And I said, yes, I’ve, I’ve bartended and waited tables for many years. And he said, I’ve really liked that that’s really good. And what, I’m sorry. It’s good. And he said, you know, being an IO psychologist is kind of like being a bartender. You have to be able to talk to anyone at any time. And I said what? Uh, okay.

And at the time I really didn’t understand what he was talking about, but now looking back, I can say, oh, I get it now. I see. Yes. When you are a bartender, whoever sits in at your bar is who you’re taking care of. Sometimes that can be a celebrity. Sometimes that can be an executive of an organization. And sometimes it’s just, you know, average Joe who’s coming in for a drink after.

And as an IO psychologist, I now recognize that you gotta be able to walk into an organization and run a focus group with I’d literally I’ve run focus groups with the guys who, uh, worked for waste management, um, who pick up the trash and you have to be able to connect with them and talk with them in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

And then you gotta be able to walk into a CEO’s office with. Fancy suit and is, you know, big Oak table and be able to shake his hand and talk to him in a way that makes him feel comfortable. Um, and again, those regulars finding those contexts and organizations in establishing those relationships and making sure that that’s done in a mutually beneficial way.

Luckily for me, the director of that IO program had had people. Who were bartenders, who he brought in to the program who were successful. So he saw it as a sign that I might also be successful. So the thing that I had been running away from was actually the thing that ultimately got me into that program.

There were two of us that got accepted into the PhD program that year out of like 65 applicants. And I was one.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:15:46] I know I have some listeners who are just considering a career in IO psychology. You’re wondering if it’s really for you. So I asked Courtney for some tips to know if you’ve really been an IO psychologist all along

Courtney Keim, Ph.D.: [00:15:59] for me, looking back, it was having that critical eye and trying to understand how businesses decisions were or were not addressing the real problem.

So as a matter of fact, I kind of, sometimes I think about IO psychology as being rather similar to clinical psychology in that there’s kind of presenting problems that a client may give you, but then there’s the underlying problems that you really have to get at. And I think if you are someone who has worked in a lot of jobs and you are just.

Taking at face value what the company is saying. And you’re like, yep, this is the problem. And if we do this, it’ll fix whatever those presenting problems are, you accept. And, um, then that may not be the IO psychologist in you. The IO psychologist is going to be the one because we are inherently scientists.

We’re skeptical, we’re critical. We want to see the evidence. We want to see the data and we’re really trying to get at what the underlying issue really. Um, it’s, it’s not the issue is not the high turnover. The issue is the culture of the organization. The fact that that maybe people are not getting paid as much as they could, that there’s understaffing at the organization that the it employees do not trust one another.

That there’s not comradery that’s happening with the employees that they’re, they’re throwing each other under the bus. So you’re having all those counterproductive work behaviors and not all those organizational citizenship behaviors. I think if you’re somebody who works in a company and you’re constantly looking for the underlying real issue, if you’re questioning the decisions that are being made by management and recognize.

Those decisions are not addressing what the underlying problem is. I, I think that that’s what makes you a little IO psychologist all along

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:18:05] a big, thanks to my guest, Dr. Courtney Kime, and to Lisa cath for recommending her. And thanks to all of you for listening to the department, 12 podcast until next time.