Robert Romano on Applying to Grad School

Robert has questions and I don’t have the answers. But maybe you do. Robert is a junior at Marist College, majoring in psychology, and he plans to apply to grad schools in I-O psych after graduation. He has a lot of questions about the search and admission process that I am not equipped to answer. But you, my dear audience, have a wealth of experience to share with him. Listen to this episode and then check out the #IOPsychGradSchoolQuestions hashtag on Twitter and help us out!

Bonus: We also talk about the Robert’s work with the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Guest Bio

Robert Romano is currently a junior studying psychology at Marist College. He conducts research in psychology with professors at Marist as well as various jobs for the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.


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 Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.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 to the department 12 podcast, where we talk about everything industrial and organizational psychology. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Bettina joining me today is Robert Romano. How are you today? Robert?

Robert Romano: [00:00:12] I’m good. How are you?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:13] I’m doing great. So Robert, you’re a junior at Maris college in Poughkeepsie, New York, and you’re a psych major and you’re planning to pursue a PhD in IO, psych after graduation.

And you and I, dear listeners are going to help Robert with this by answering some questions for them a little later in the show. But for now I want to talk about Marist.  Some of my listeners are asking themselves, why do I recognize that name? Why does Marist sounds so familiar to me? So clueless in here. Why, why do you think we’ve heard of Mary.

Robert Romano: [00:00:43] Our biggest name recognition is from our poll. So I work at the mayor’s Institute for public opinion, which is shortened as the Marist poll. And what we do is we conduct large-scale public opinion surveys using a method called random digit dialing.

We randomly call. All members of the United States. So it’s very long, but it’s pretty scientific because it is a probability way of sharing. Everyone in the population is being called bus. We do these big public opinion surveys, and we usually pull on politics.  During election season, if you look on CNN or Fox or MSNBC, you might see your name.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:01:17] That’s something I’m very familiar with you mentioned every number in the United States does that include mobile numbers as well?

Robert Romano: [00:01:24] I think the statistic is about 97% of Americans have access to either a mobile phone number or a home phone. So yeah, that could almost every single American.

 Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:01:33] Can you tell us about the work that you’re doing with your professor right now?

Robert Romano: [00:01:36] What we’re doing is we’re conducting a needs analysis with the Hudson valley, LGBTQ plus community center.

And what they do is they’re a resource for the LGBTQ community in the Hudson valley of New York. So just north of New York city, and what they need us to do is it needs analysis because they were having some issues with community relations and retention of. So, what we did is we conducted a survey of about 207 people who identify as LGBTQ in the Hudson valley.

  It definitely took a while to collect data. But we’re finally at the analyzing stage and it’s definitely a lot more effort into it than I realize. Obviously there’s a lot of cleaning up the data and coding variables and all that fun stuff.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:02:19] What have you found. So far that you think may be of interest to IO psychologist?

Robert Romano: [00:02:24] One thing is we asked is asking what people’s appearances of their professional life. So we asked a Lickert scale from one to five, so never rarely, sometimes often, always about asking. I experienced discrimination at my workplace or school dude, my sexual orientation. So Dr. Bettina, I want to see what, what do you think the mean score?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:02:44] I’m going to say for,

Robert Romano: [00:02:46] for, you might be a bit of a pessimist because thankfully the overall mean was 2.03, which I was very surprised to find two, which is a very good thing to see that obviously society has come a long way. I’m sure. 10 years ago it might be a little bit close. So that four that you were thinking.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:03:03] Let’s back up to your internship with the Marist poll. Can you just tell us a little bit more about what you did there?

Robert Romano: [00:03:08] That was a great opportunity. So obviously I know it’s not exactly related to IO psych, but I took it because I got to work as a data and project management intern, which was really good experience. And what I did is I worked with a lot of data.

So while it wasn’t data on. Exactly job satisfaction or things like that. It was large datasets nonetheless. One project we worked on was for, a community health organization that had different centers over the state of New York. So from long island, New York city, upstate New York, and they want to see like, what were the needs of these centers and.

You know, they asked things like my people, my organization, or the people we serve have trouble. Getting to our center or we don’t have enough money. These are the type of people who are they homeless? Are they predominantly people of color? Are they men or women? Things like that. And I got to do is I got these datasets of about 500 respondents and I had to code all these open-ended questions a lot, or just look at the data and see where I saw these big.

Discrepancies and just write down notes for my boss of what I think you should look at. So that was a really awesome experience.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:04:17] It sounds like. So the that was the appetizer.  Now onto the main course, which is that you’re a junior psych major and you’re thinking about, Hey, I want to go and pursue a PhD in IO, psych after I graduate. I personally am not a great person to give anybody advice on this because I’m not really part of the academic world. I do teach a little but I’m not part of, you know, admissions committees or anything like that. But I know that I have audience members who are, so what I’d like to do is just talk to you about some of the questions that you have.

I won’t be able to answer them, although I will probably share my uninformed opinions anyway. Then I will share those with the audience on. And I’ll include a hashtag, which you can find in the show notes, if you’re listening and you can give some advice to Robert as well. And I’m sure that the advice is going to apply to people other than, than you.

Let’s start with this. Do you know what you want? Do you know what you’re looking for yet? Do you think looking at options will help you figure that out?

Robert Romano: [00:05:17] Yes. That was a big question because, you know, I know I love psychology and I love research because I like how you can fringe answer almost any question we have about the world and investigate it scientifically. But I don’t know exactly what I want to study and I love psychology because it’s applied in the consult real world, real world issues.

But. I look at all these faculty pages of PhD programs and these professors have a wide range of things they study and I can go, oh, this seems interesting. I like this, but do I want to dedicate five years of life to study? That’s a long time. So I want to ask listeners is how do you know exactly what your specific research interest is?

And like, what’s. Passion.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:06:00] Wow. And that’s such a great question. I’m a little like you in that. I’m a very curious type. And when I look at something and it’s right in front of me, I think, wow, that’s really interesting.  Without necessarily realizing that, Hey, I’m not going to be as interested in this in a couple of years.

So I think you’re asking the right question and I would love to hear from the audience, how do you narrow down or specify. Our research interests.

Now the good news is that. You don’t necessarily have to have that nailed down right now because you’ve got coursework and comprehensive exams. And then by the time you get to writing a dissertation, the topic will probably be different than anything you’re thinking about right now. Even if it’s in the same sort of broad area that you’re interested in.

Just through the process of figuring out where you can make the best contribution to theory and practice you’ll end up probably somewhere, a little different than where you started.

 I think you are right to start by figuring out what you want, because it’s a little like going into a car dealership.

If you know what you want going in, you have the best possible chance of getting it. If you don’t know, then the car salesperson will tell you what you want. You know, they’ll, they’ll ask you questions to guide you toward. What they’re trying to sell that day and you will be convinced that it was your idea to do so.

I don’t think that university admissions are exactly like that, but I think a similar process can happen because I’ve heard from other people that it does.

It may be even worth asking before you even get to, what do I want to study is what do you have? That’s a non-negotiable. So for some people there’s a region of the country.

They have to stay in, or there’s a certain  budgetary thing. Like I’ve got to have a paid assistant ship or something like that, and that can help you knock out a whole bunch of. Unproductive lines of research because no matter how good this university is, it doesn’t meet this requirement.

So I’m not going to put a lot of time into that or get my hopes up about it.

Robert Romano: [00:07:54] That’s a good question. I mean, I’m definitely thinking about like, what are my non-negotiables too, especially, you know, obviously I pick my college, I want to be somewhat close to the home, but I know most people, their academic journeys, they generally travel a lot.

So it’s one thing I guess I will have to give up. One thing is that I’m actually part of the LGBTQ community myself, so would want to live in or near a big city because, you know, I, for rural areas are not generally, I don’t want to generalize, but they’re not as, I guess, accepting as urban areas.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:08:25] So one of your non-negotiables is,  you want to be someplace close to home, you want to be near a place where you can get the kind of support you need. What else comes to your mind when you think about.

 Robert Romano: [00:08:34] That’s a question too. I had a lot of silly ones when I first started looking into school. So one thing is I wanted to do one that had a good, undergraduate reputation, just so I  looked good. But I, one thing I’ve found is that a lot of times these programs that the PhD program for IO psychology is a lot more prestigious than the actual undergraduate reputation of the university.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:08:54] I don’t think it’s a silly question. I think you thought through and you realize that, Hey, this is the reality is a little different than I thought to begin with, people who know IO psychology know.

Roughly what the top programs are and they aren’t necessarily big names that are known for, for other things. But it brings me to another question. What is it you want to do with this degree?

Robert Romano: [00:09:15] That’s another thing I’ve  been thinking about. ’cause,  I’ve listened to your podcast. I know you’ve talked about before about the academic versus applied and I’m thinking , do I want to be professor, do I want to be in a corporate environment? And I guess let me really like the IO psych is that you can kind of do both and, have that flexibility.

Whereas at first I want to do social psychology. I  realized you can’t really do much besides academia. And so that’s why for IO, I really love how you can kind of do both. But if I, if I pictured myself 10 years from now, I hope, you know, I’ve been doing something similar to what you do is we don’t have a podcast, but you know, work as a consultant, but then also be an adjunct at a university.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:09:58] A strategy that you could look into is go to the websites of colleges, where you could see yourself teaching someday maybe near a major city where you might want to live and do some consulting and say, okay, Where did the faculty members, they would get their degrees from you might be surprised it’s

it’s a very different answer than if you had said,  I definitely want to be a tenure track professor at a major university.

You know, that suggests, there’s a handful of programs you want to look at. Those are the names that are probably going to get you to the top of that pile. And here’s a whole bunch that you should totally disregard because they’re going to get you thrown out.

Robert Romano: [00:10:32] One big question I have is what can I do to prepare myself? Because when you’re applying to colleges as a high school, or you may not get in the top college you want, but you know, at the end of the day, you’re going to get into a college, whether it’s a safety school or not, but for PhD programs, obviously a lot more serious and rigorous.

And I want to make sure that no matter what I do get into a program, so. Wondering especially if research experience, because I know it’s very important. How many research, publications or presentations are you expected to have and does this change with coronavirus?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:11:04] So I’m definitely turning this one over to the audience. I feel. I can give you my impression. And that is as somebody who’s talked to a lot of people you come across very well, articulate, polished. If we hadn’t talked before the episode, I wouldn’t have guessed that I was speaking to a junior in an undergraduate program.

I would have guessed this is a graduate student or somebody further along in their career. So I think. That part of it, it’s going to go well for you. The interview part seems like you’d be well equipped for that. I think the fact that you have that experience in your internship at at Marist and some of the work that you’re doing now, it’s already, to me, at least it already seems pretty good.

There’s a lot of psych majors out there. Probably aren’t doing a fraction of what you’re doing now, but I’m going to turn this one over to the audience because they’re going to be far more familiar with what the competition is like to get into these programs than I would.

So I think there’s kind of two parts to it as well. One is what do you do? And then the second is how do you present it? How do you document it?  Is it a portfolio? Is it just getting a really polished CV? What does that actually look like? To be able to demonstrate what you’ve done

Robert Romano: [00:12:12] is it better to have internships in, in industrial organizational fields or would it be better just to have,  ordinary psychology research with a professor?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:12:22] Yeah, good question. Another one. I’ll turn over to the audience.

I think, you know, if you can swing something more specific, it might be more impressive, but at the same time, there are some basics about research  that are going to be the same across psychology sub-disciplines

Robert Romano: [00:12:41] another question I have is does your minor matter, or just your classes? Because the people I have spoken to in IO say definitely take a lot of statistics classes, but fortunately my college doesn’t offer a statistics minor.

But there are classes in that. So I am taking some stats classes, but I don’t quite know what my minor should be. And I’ve heard, oh, just get a high GPA or maybe  it should just be business. So I just wanted to hear what you, you and the audience thought about what would be

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:13:08] yeah, I think the classes in stats help.

Obviously you’re in a position where you can’t minor in it. And I think that’s fine, it’s a highly quantitative field. Not always to our benefit. I don’t think, I think we could do with a little more emphasis on qualitative and mixed methods, but for the most part, the field is heavily quantitative.

So the more of those you take probably the better  as far as anything else related to a minor, I will leave to the audience to do that. I would suspect that business or something related to the world of work would be better than, than underwater basket weaving. But I also feel like this is for many people this is the last chance that you have to dedicate.

Substantial portion of your life and your time and your effort to something that is not necessarily career oriented. And so if you love literature or you love chemistry, whatever it is that you love that you think, well, I really like this, but I’m probably not going to make a career out of it.

I would hate to just say, oh, you know, Three more stats classes because it might improve your admissions by, you know, and agree. But again, we’ll see what the audience has to say.

 Robert Romano: [00:14:18] So another question I have is for letters of recommendation do they have to be from academics or can they be from an internship? So I told you, I internship at the Marist poll and I really liked it. And it worked a lot of data and my boss, he taught me a lot about data stuff.

So SPSS, Excel, things like that, but he is, he doesn’t have a PhD in psychology. So I was wondering. I should ask him for a literal recommendation because he knows me in my work ethic will or should I just stick with professors? I have taking classes,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:14:50] I have only a hypothesis and it is this, it is that  due to the volume of applications that an admissions committee or person reviews that they are so.

Geared towards academic style letters of recommendation that anything else would probably come off weird. Not through any fault of the supervisor, who’s writing it for you, but just because they don’t understand that world inside and out the way that other academics do. So my hypothesis is that the audience is going to say, get your professors to write letters of recommendation.

Yes. I will be happy to be corrected by that. If I were on an admissions committee, I personally would be more impressed with a letter of recommendation from an internship supervisor than I would from from a professor. But let’s find out what the audience has to say.

Robert Romano: [00:15:39] Last question. So. I planned on studying abroad next semester. Obviously, I don’t know if that’s going to happen because of Amazon, but in general, I do want to do that sometime my undergraduate career. But one struggle I had is, is that a bad idea? Because that’d be one semester where I’m probably not gonna have.

Yeah, doing research I’m not gonna be taking serious, the fixes statistics classes and things like that. So when you say that it would be worth it because I don’t know what else I’d have the experience to be in a different country for about four months, but I obviously don’t want that to hurt my career.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:16:12] I think we all have kind of values-based answers to that question. My own values-based answer would be yeah, go for it because very soon the option to do that will be gone.

And you have this opportunity now, just like I mentioned about, literature or anything else that you’re interested in. That you have this opportunity now that you probably won’t get back. But on the other hand, I’m not the person who’s trying to increase my chances of getting into that program.

So different perspectives may help. So I’m happy to share this with the audience. I’d ask you if you’re listening and it’s anytime near the holiday season of 2021 do check out Twitter, check out the hashtag that’s mentioned in the show notes and share your opinion with Robert and with other students who are interested in getting into PhD programs in IO psychology and help them out.

We will very much appreciate your perspective, Robert, thanks so much for joining me today.

Robert Romano: [00:17:02] Thank you so much for having me.