Sherif al-Qallawi on the Journey to I-O Psych

In our final episode with Sherif al-Qallawi (TwitterLinkedIn), Sherif reflects on his long and winding journey to I-O psych. We’ll travel from pharmaceuticals to the United Nations, by way of a coin flip. Be sure to check out If Only I Had Known Back Then on the GIT SIOP blog and tell your psych instructor friends about www.teachiopsych.com. And if you’d like a full transcript, check out the episode page.


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 Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:01

Hello and welcome to the Department 12 Podcast. I’m your host as always Dr. Ben Butina. You know, I’ve always been interested in how people end up in the IO psych tribe. For a lucky few, they learned about the field in their intro psych course in college and fall in love at first sight. For many others, though, the path is less direct. In today’s episode, we’ll hear from our friend Sharif about his long and winding road to IO psych.

Sherif al-Qallawi  00:32

My name is Sherif al-Qallawi, I am a fourth year Ph.D. student at Florida Tech in the I-O program and I have recently passed my comps so now I’m officially a Ph.D. candidate and I live in Melbourne, Florida.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:46

If you’ve listened to the past few episodes, you know Sharif is a Fulbright scholarship recipient who is now working on his PhD in IO psych in the US. But his story starts almost 15 years ago in Egypt.

Sherif al-Qallawi  01:01

So my journey started back in 2006. I was one of the top students and my cohort in high school and I was choosing which university I should apply to. And my father is a wonderful pharmacist, and he is an owner of his own pharmacy. So I was encouraged to follow his lead and to go to the Pharmaceutical Sciences University series, a pharmaceutical sciences college at Alexandria University in Egypt. And that was the beginning where I started to study pharmacy and started to see what are the alternatives the pharmaceutical field has for me, but I found that maybe a lot of the companies in Egypt doesn’t have the research and development opportunities that I was thinking of, and I might not be the next cancer drug inventor in that case.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  01:54

Toward the end of Sharif’s undergraduate days, he begins to question his chosen career path and pharmaceuticals. So he consider some alternatives. And

Sherif al-Qallawi  02:03

I started to think, okay, if this is the case, what other career would I like to be working at? I would like to have another interest of mine and to pursue it, but which way should I go to? So I get that question in the back of my mind, and I kept thinking about answers. And some of my other students, our colleagues, were actually thinking like meat, like what are some other interests that they might pursue after they graduate if they don’t really like the most common options of working as a community pharmacist or as a as a sales representative. And what happened for me is, last in the last semester, before graduation, I got a chance to sit with career counseling Association and I had an interview with them. And the advice that I received was that I can either work in human resources or in the marketing department, and I said, Okay, let’s give this a soak.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  03:00

So Sharif has the potential for either marketing or human resources. How should he decide between the two?

Sherif al-Qallawi  03:11

So rationally, I flipped that coin with my close friend, and we said, if it is heads, then I will go for HR. And if it steals, I will go to marketing. And interestingly, three out of four times it was HR. So I thought myself, okay, this is a good sign. And I’m really interested in the idea of working in human resources. So let’s give this a try. And from the time I started to realize that the hardest thing about human resources is to get an entry job because once you can enter the field, it can be much more easier for you to find other positions, but the first opportunity in the Human Resources field can be a hard one and before good for me that I found a hospital that wanted to recruit someone from American background to recruit stuff in the medical field like physicians, nurses, etc. So they were looking for an entry level employee who can learn the HR field while having the necessary knowledge about the medical terminology to use while choosing the physicians or interviewing them or shortlisting them. And that was my first overlap between what I learned before in pharmacy and knowing about the medical terms and starting to work in the HR field with this recruitment agency. So I joined them and I started to learn about how can we recruit people? How do we interview people have to do cold calling, and shortlist candidates and work with resumes? And how to deal with job fairs all of these recruitment related activities, but I think the most important thing is that I learned from that first experience in HR was that this is a lifelong learning job it’s not really one job experience that is considered me everything that I need to know about this field. And I started to understand more about what the occasional degrees that I can pursue if I want to be more educated and you can you for me and I learned about the postgraduate diploma that was given at the American University in Cairo.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  05:23

At this point, Sharif begins to realize that human resources is a little like the TARDIS from Doctor Who or prints Ahmed’s tent from 1001 nights, it’s a lot bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. He’s got a lot more to learn. So it’s time to go back to school.

Sherif al-Qallawi  05:41

So I started learning about HR through this one year long diploma at the American University, Cairo and this was actually the first professional educational degree that I get in that new carrier, because it meant to me that if I’m going to From another career or for a new one, then I should really establish myself not only from an experience point of view, but also from an academic point of view. So I really enjoy learning about the new career and starting to work in it at the same time while I was implementing what I was learning about it. So that was the first experience that I had that under say, a guru for medical surfaces inside the recruitment agency. Then I got another chance actually, to join some of my friends and to work on a startup company. So I had a friend of mine who were telling me what about making this idea and the idea was establishing the first multidisciplinary Health journal in the area of the Middle East or specifically in Egypt. So we said, why not? Let’s try this approach. And we started to form a team and we had two other co founders. And that was a really interesting stage in my life because at this point, I started to think that it’s not only about the human resources experience that, that I need to learn in order to be a good co founder, I also need to learn about other business activities and other fields. In order to be a good co founder, I needed to start to learn about how to do marketing things, how to do sales things, how to safely like designers for designing our website, or for designing our journal itself, and how to do some accounting activities. So this kind of business acumen started to accumulate through this process. And I think this was this was one of the most condensed experience that I had, where I had to learn a lot of things in a very short time. And it was a remarkable experience for me because it made me think that I can do a lot of things that I didn’t think about before. If I am an owner of a business, then I can do it my way I can try to, like expand the business in new areas that no one has thought of before and you start to expand the way you are thinking of business and of all the things you need to learn about. So I think the most important thing that I got from that experience was HR is a very good field. But in addition to it, if you can learn about all of the other supporting functions in that way, you can have a real competitive advantage.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  08:26

Sharif becomes a co founder at a startup and learns to wear many hats. Now, it’s not just HR anymore, its sales, its marketing, to finance and even design. Like most startups, this one ultimately doesn’t go the distance but it opens Sharif up to new possibilities and gives him a lot of business acumen.

Sherif al-Qallawi  08:46

Because the startup company has not been very successful as on stage with it. So in the next step, when I joined the pharmaceutical company, I got a chance to develop a human resource department and to implement everything that I learned about HR in that company. So I worked in many HR functions in some of them it was from scratch. It was in recruitment selection, performance management, training and development and organizational development. There were many HR functions that I found to be very useful for any employee in the company. And at that stage, I thought that if this pharmaceutical company needs to be competitive in its area, then what can be better than providing it with the latest updates in the HR field to make it really competitive. And I started to implement everything with the support of general vision or manager of course, it was companies or MPI API, and that company, I got a real chance of like planning and designing and implementing all of the kinds of things Crazy initiatives that I had in my mind after I learned about the HR field. And it was a really good opportunity to think about not only implementing but also planning for and building initiatives in every possible HR area. So that really helped me a lot, especially that I was acting as an HR manager and I tried to extend my skills and my abilities to the maximum to be able to be more useful for my company.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  10:29

If you’re keeping score at home, Sharif has gone from a planned career following his father into the pharmaceuticals field to a coin flip that leads him into human resources. From there he works as a medical recruiter, earns a diploma in HR co founds a startup and then builds a traditional HR function for a pharmaceutical company. So what’s next? Well, why not the United Nations

Sherif al-Qallawi  10:55

in my last journey step before starting to learn about The i o psychology field on working United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Cairo, Egypt. And I was actually the youngest member to join the team at the time. And that experience was really inspiring because it gave me the feeling that there is another world that don’t really know about in that world. There are many other nationalities and many other agencies who are doing a fantastic job around the world in many areas. And I can be one of these guys who are helping others I can join them and I can be effective not only internally, but also to recruit others who can help me other people and organizations. So the HR function was very essential for the organization and especially through the time of the Syrian crisis. It meant much more for me to provide a humanitarian cause through my preceptor that human getting calls through my HR function and not Only being a normal HR MP. So I think that this experience provided me with the kind of global mindset if I can say that helped me a lot since that time to think about how those other areas of the world work and what do other areas need terms of HR capabilities, or functions are learned that there is different needs for different cultures. And you need to be flexible enough to customize your policies or your applications to suit most of the cultures and to work with each of them individually to know what they need, and how can you really help them in the best possible way. So that was the beginning of how can I think globally, not only locally, and from that time, I thought that in the future, I should try to expand my knowledge and my skills to be able to help as many people as possible and maybe that can happen if I Join the headquarters office in the future and work more into the planning functions and the designing functions. In this way I can be helping much more employees around the globe.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  13:14

Have you ever wondered if all your connections on LinkedIn will have any real impact on your career or your life? For Sharif, his position at the United Nations grew out of a chance connection he made with someone from the UN on LinkedIn years before. And at this point, he can feel his horizons expanding. He’s thinking more globally now. And wondering how he can best help people.

Sherif al-Qallawi  13:39

That was a time where I started to expand my mindset about the HR functions and how can we help lots of people in many other areas, but I still had that question. If I want to help people around me is the HR knowledge that I have learned so far or work it in so far enough? Should I learn other things? Or at that point that maybe the human resource knowledge that I have, and the experience that I had was not really sufficient to fulfill my desire for learning more about how to motivate people, usually the HR practices are kind of management oriented, or what at what kind of practices do you need to do, but it has less of how can you understand or agree in front of you what other thoughts or attitudes that you need to learn about in order to help employees be a better version of themselves? How can you motivate them at the workplace? So all of these ideas, were not completely answered through studying HR or working it. So I continued to read more about HR stuff, and other kind of curiosity. And one day a friend of mine recommended to me checking the Australian immigration website and they have interesting opportunities. And I found one of the jobs that were posted. They’re called organizational psychologists.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  15:09

Like most of us, when Sheree first hears about psychology, he’s thinking of psychotherapy.

Sherif al-Qallawi  15:16

And that made me think I know that psychologists usually are working in the clinical area. So how can they be working in organizations? are going, are they going to treat employees? What are they going to do? So I started to dig more into that topic and to learn more about organizational psychology. And I was really fascinated by the concepts that we have in IO psychology and how can you learn more about the motives and the attitudes and the thoughts of employees and how can you think of the origins of intentions and behaviors and not only the final step of dealing with the behavior that was very interesting for me and I thought that now I have found my real passion that is a specific area or the refining of my initial thought of how can I better develop people around me and help organizations. So from that time I started to see where can I study or psychology and I found that a lot of the opportunities are through the US universities. And I was lucky to know about the American Fulbright scholarship. And I went through the process and I was selected as one of around 50 persons from Asia, to be Fulbright Scholars and to study a master’s degree in IO Psychology at the US. And when that happened, it started to be the beginning of my more refined the dream of really studying a career that I like to join in the future. It’s all psychology, and I know that I have lots of interests in subcategories of IO psychology, but I can learn more about them while I’m studying. Also college. So I joined the amazing art program at Florida. And I found them providing lots of opportunities through the center for organization effectiveness and the international cooperation and cultural Management Institute. So they had different consulting opportunities for students. And that enabled me to study and implement what I’m doing. So I think that for me, if I can think of the whole experience, it took me maybe around 10 years to realize what I specifically want to do in life. And what I’m really interested in started while I was an undergrad student, knowing that I want to help people around me a better version of themselves, and help them fit the future and dream jobs more and to kind of make sure that that person has is at the right place. And from that time, I knew that if I’m going to do that, I want to learn about other branches. So are you about the HR field, but it didn’t make me feel fully That’s fine in terms of curiosity. So one year after the other, I kept my passion and my questions till I finally found the i o psychology field, by chance totally by chance.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  18:17

And now 15 years later, our journey with Sharif into IO psychology hands. But of course, his real journey inside IO, psychology is just getting started. From recruiter to startup co founder to HR manager, and then to the United Nations. I can’t wait to see how he brings this experience and perspective to bear in our field. I’m grateful for that lucky coin flip all those years ago. Still, I can’t help wondering how Sharif’s life might have been different. If IO psychology was mentioned in his intro to psych textbook all those years ago, I asked Sharif to reflect on that question. And if you want to hear his answer, you’ll have to check out the Git site blog and you can find a link to that blog. entry in the show notes. I’m a member of the GIT SIOP Task Force and our goal is to get IO psych in front of students in their intro psych classes. And Sharif has a unique perspective on this issue. I hope you’ll check it out. By the way, if you know any intro psych instructors, please tell them about www.teachiopsych.com. It’s a one stop shop for materials and ideas to help them incorporate IO psych into their intro classes. Talk to you next time.