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Career Profiles

This page provides several career profiles for professionals working in both research and practice.  The narratives presented below contain information about individual professionals’ career paths, experiences, employment titles, duties, and advice in their own words.  These narratives are meant to expose you to different potential career paths with which you may not already be familiar.  Of course no one individual’s narrative can represent an entire field or profession, but each contributor’s story can give you some exposure to their career and potentially spur your interest in researching some potential careers further on your own. 

A special thank you goes to each of the professionals below who shared about their careers in

The Insider's Guide to the Psychology Major: Everything You Need to Know About the Degree and Profession by Wegenek and Buskist (APA Books 2010).

“A Career at a Teaching-oriented College”

“A Career as aUniversity Professor and Forensic Psychologist”

“A Hybrid Career in Psychology"

“A Career in Forensic Psychology”

“An Applied Career in Forensic Psychology”

“An Academic Career in Health Psychology”

“A Career in Human Factors Psychology”

“Motivating Corporate America”

“A Consulting Career in Corporate America”

“A Career as a Psychometrician in Corporate America”

“A Career as a Psychometrician in Public and Private Agencies”

“A Fulfilling Career in Industrial/Organizational Psychology”
“A Diverse Counseling Career in the Non-Profit Sector”

“A Career in Private Practice as a Psychologist”

“A Career in Sport Psychology”

“A Career as a Statistical Consultant”

“A Career as a School Psychologist”

“A Career Helping Children”- Social Work

“A Career Helping Others” – Addiction Recovery



*Kathryn Damm, PhD, Assistant Professor at Nevada State College

“A Career at a Teaching-oriented College”


In my second year of college, I was on the path to become an elementary school teacher.  I enrolled in a Social Psychology course that then changed my future forever.  I fell in love with the course and knew at that moment that I wanted to be a psychology researcher.  When I speak to my students now, I remind them of the benefit of taking a variety of classes.  Most students groan at the General Education requirements but I encourage students to embrace these experiences.  You may discover a love for a new topic. I am certainly glad I opted to take Social Psychology that semester.


It was perfect timing because a graduate student posted an announcement for an “honors” student to be her research assistant and I was running studies under her mentorship that very next semester.  I think back and laugh now about the things I did to prepare myself for conducting research.  The study design was complex and I tape recorded my graduate student mentor speaking to her participants.  There was a hole in the floor of the lab leading to an office next door.  I recall stooping on the floor watching, listening, and memorizing her every move.  We both got a laugh out of that.  Later, her faculty advisor tested me to see if I could run the experiment myself and was shocked at how similar I was to the graduate experimenter, having adopted even her most subtle mannerisms.


I worked closely with this graduate student and learned so much about the field’s opportunities.  This was an invaluable experience and I encourage those “go-getter” students to pursue working closely with a graduate student or faculty member.  You learn far more about what the field has to offer than any class or book could share.  One of the biggest selling points for me was the fact that her tuition was being paid and she was given a monthly income by the University to be a graduate student.  (These stipends are often paid for being a teaching assistant or working as a research assistant).  The idea of going to graduate school so I could do more research of my own while getting paid and having my tuition covered was very appealing, I thought: “Sign me up!”


I worked hard in the lab and ended up doing research with other people as well so that I could confirm my interests.  I studied hard for the GRE (a test that is much like the SAT for graduate schools) and applied to 15-18 graduate schools.  I got in to 4.  It only took 1.  I ended up staying at the same school I attended as an undergraduate, the University of California, San Diego, because it was a highly ranked program and I had well established research relationships.


While in graduate school, I discovered that my first career goal of teaching was not as far off as I had thought.  I loved teaching.  I’m a talker and love to tell stories.  Teaching psychology was the perfect combination of telling stories, wowing people with research findings, and required undivided attention.  I loved every second of it.  I began teaching at local community colleges and was thrilled with how much I loved the experience.  I enjoy working with students and finding new ways to help them master the material.  I often find myself standing in front of my class acting like a monkey or shouting like a victim to help get my points across.   In fact, at the start of every semester I lose about 10 pounds because of my increased activity level while teaching.  Perhaps I have discovered a new dieting fad…


I discovered that the best way in to a get started in a teaching career in Psychology is to pick up as many "part time" teaching positions as possible at area community colleges.  I was lucky that there were many of these colleges in my area.  The system only allows you to teach 3-4 classes at each college.  There were many us "freeway fliers" who would teach 3-4 classes at 3-4 colleges.  The positions paid well compared to our graduate school stipends but part-time teaching was not an ideal setup long term.  For example, most part-timers don't get health benefits and there is no guarantee from semester to semester that you will have a course to teach.


Eventually I applied to full time positions at community colleges and teaching institutions.  I still really enjoyed doing my research but I wanted to be at an institution that valued teaching.  My goal was to end up at a 4 year college that focused on teaching but supported research as well.  If I could not find that position, I sought community college positions and planned to supplement this experience with my own research.


I landed the job of my dreams at Nevada State College.  This was a relatively new four year college that was focused on teaching but embraced research as well.  In fact, when on the job market I, and many of my friends, often felt discouraged because of the heavy competition, low number of jobs, and specificity of offered positions.  But I have found that all of my friends, and I, landed jobs that fit us perfectly.  We found institutions with the teaching/research focus each of us sought.  While it can be a scary time, it certainly has ended well for everyone I know and I remind my other friends of this when they go on the job market for the first time.

Teaching at Nevada State College is exactly what I wanted and more.  I have small class sizes so I get to know my students.  And let me say, I really know my students.  I know their personalities, their family dynamics, their barriers to education, and their personal commitments to learn.  Teaching is rewarding for many reasons… It is rewarding because of the attention you receive at the front of a room.  In turn, the rewards from paying attention to your students can be far greater.  When I taught a 300+ person class at UCSD, my jokes made the room roar and the hair on my arm stand up.  I felt very powerful, not to mention funny.  In a 40 person class, my jokes are still funny, yet the roar is not as loud.  But I feel more empowered by the student who comes to my office and leaves understanding a difficult topic. 


I still get to still conduct research while teaching 4 classes each semester.  I have students helping me with studies about teaching techniques, social psychological theories, etc.  We have a blast working together doing research and I still have as much fun doing research as that first day as an undergraduate so many years ago.  I have not had a student get on the ground to memorize my mannerisms yet, but I’m sure it is a matter of time before I find another eager student who will fall equally in love with research, teaching, or both.


Lastly, I enjoy my position because every day is fun and exciting for me.  I enjoy teaching college students who are eager to learn and who contribute to my own understanding of the material on a regular basis.  But I have to add that an important feature to enjoying my position is that the flexible schedule gives me the time I need to be an involved mother.  I am encouraged to bring my 4 year old to work when possible and my hours are flexible.  I pick her up from school every day and have plenty of time to visit parks, make dinner, play games, read books, etc.  This semester, for example, my classes don’t begin until after noon, so I volunteer in her classroom a few mornings a week.  I believe that long term happiness in a position is made from two essential components; loving what you do and flexibility for the “other” things in your life.  If I no longer needed to work in order to earn money, I would still continue teaching at Nevada State College out of pure enjoyment.


For all of you who are also looking for the career that will be most personally rewarding to you, please feel free to look me up at Nevada State College and contact me anytime to ask questions about my career experiences.




Bette L. Bottoms, Ph.D., Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

“A Career as aUniversity Professor and  Psychologist”


I grew up on a farm in beautiful Southside Virginia, a couple hours from anything resembling an urban environment. I am now a Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. How did I get here? I often wonder that myself, so let’s see if I can tell you.


I first became interested in the field of Psychology and Law when I was in college in the mid-1980s at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia (alma mater of Pearl Buck and home of the first psychology laboratory in the South). A professor named Frank Murray pointed me to a few exciting new books: John Monohan’s Predicting Violent Behavior and Beth Loftus and Gary Well’s Eyewitness Testimony. I was drawn to the topics and Mr. Murray encouraged me to write to Professors Loftus and Wells for their advice about how to enter this field of research. I still have the encouraging letters they took the time to write to me. I conducted my honor’s thesis research on the accuracy of eyewitness memory. Then I was told that I had to go to something called “graduate school” to continue my studies. So I mailed out applications fairly randomly, including one to the University of Denver, where there was a cognitive developmental psychologist named Gail Goodman, who was at that moment starting the field of children’s eyewitness testimony. I took my first ever airplane flight and visited her laboratory, and I knew it was the place for me. I got my Master’s Degree in cognitive psychology at the University of Denver, then followed Gail to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where, with her and others’ wonderful guidance, I got my Ph.D. in Social Psychology.


I knew I wanted to teach and conduct research, so I went on the academic job market and ended up at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a research-intensive university with a long history of excellent psychology and law scholarship, led by a former faculty member, Shari S. Diamond. Shari and I established a Psychology and Law Minor at UIC, a program that has now produced a number of excellent Ph.D.s who conduct research and teach at places ranging from the University of Evansville to the Centers for Disease Control.


In terms of my own research, because my graduate training was very broad, I’m a mix of cognitive, developmental, social, and even a little community and clinical psychology. My work then and now is unified by the theme of children, psychology, and law. I study the accuracy of children’s eyewitness testimony, techniques to improve children’s reports of past events, jurors’ perceptions of children’s testimony when children are victims and when they are juvenile offenders, and various issues related to child abuse.


As I write this, I’m finishing my 16th year at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I have published a number of journal articles and chapters describing my research, and co-edited 5 books on children and the law. But my career has also included a great deal of teaching, graduate student training, and service to the university, the community, and the discipline. I have won a number of teaching awards, including the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS) Teaching and Mentoring award for my work advancing our field through student training. Some of the best moments of my professional life have been sharing in the accomplishments of my students. In terms of service, throughout most of my career of research and teaching, I have also held part-time administrative posts at my university, which allowed me to learn about the business of higher education and the context in which academics do their research and teaching. In fact, I am currently serving as Dean of our university’s Honors College and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs.


I have also enjoyed years of service to APLS in the form of work on various committees, and I served as President of the APA Division 37: Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice, and as President of the APA Division 37 Section on Child Maltreatment. Those presidential experiences were particularly rewarding, because of the opportunities to accomplish much of practical value by translating research into public policy aimed at improving the lives of children and their families.


Thus, I have had many rewarding experiences within the field of Psychology and Law, a field that supports scholars who are interested in both advancing the basic science of psychology as well as applying psychology to public policy and law. 


James Wright, PhD Consumer Psychology Expert and Jury Consultant

“A Hybrid Career in Psychology”


"The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."  Warren Bennis (Harvard, MIT, Leadership Professor)


…But until then, human cognition is integral to most forms of work and business. Consequently, psychological principles are applicable to many professions.  Ask yourself, do humans process information and make judgments or decisions in this occupational field?  If the answer is “Yes,” then psychology is applicable.  Until we are all replaced by electronic equipment, psychology represents the study of the most prevalent and most powerful computer operating system – “factory-installed” into the human mind. 


I chose to major in psychology for my pure interest in the subject matter, without any clear career aspirations.  Fortunately, it turns out that psychology had the requisite versatility for someone like me…who (at that time) was indifferent to practicality and largely devoid of “a career plan.”  I have since used my educational training in psychology and dove-tailed it with practical job experience to generate hybrid business applications of psychology. 


My undergraduate studies in psychology introduced me to the applied side of psychology.  I used APA internet resources (including to scout grad programs and post-grad job opportunities.  I chose to apply to industrial organizational psychology (I/O psychology) graduate study programs because it is the sub-discipline of psychology that relates psychology to business (APA Division XIV).  I/O psychology addresses issues of human performance and “normal” psychology in business applications.  It should be emphasized that the field of psychology extends beyond the abnormal to include study of “normal” and even exceptional cognitive abilities, such as studies on leadership and decision-making in I/O psychology have investigated. As a major field of study, I/O psychology is multi-faceted, its pursuits are broad, and the practical applications can be profitable… the last of which the business world seems to fixate on.


I enrolled in a graduate program in I/O psychology at Texas A&M University and chose to pursue a dissertation in consumer psychology.  Consumer psychology principles are what most marketing and advertising professionals attempt to capitalize on.  My Ph.D. coursework included graduate classes in marketing and consumer behavior, and a dissertation committee comprised of both psychology department and marketing department faculty members.  This educational training, which bridged psychology principles to business applications, was invaluable to me. 


When I entered the job world, I applied to a broad range of positions, but my first job offers were in the field of jury consulting, sometimes referred to as trial consulting.  Jury consultants conduct jury research (e.g., mock trials) to test how a representative sample of mock jurors will evaluate the case facts, evidence, and attorney arguments.  This feedback allows attorneys to make adjustments to refine and enhance the way their case is perceived by jurors.  Some people wonder how a jury consultant can advise a lawyer when this so-called jury expert never went to law school.  The reality is that law school teaches everything about law and the legal system, but little about the psychology that underlies all human decisions and drives jury verdicts.  It is this training in psychology that qualifies jury consultants in an area of expertise (psychology) that is inextricably a part of our legal system, but not taught in law school. 


The practice of jury consulting draws from several areas of psychology.   Principles for mock trial research design are derived from experimental psychology.  The psychometrics, measurement, design, and data analyses of mock juror data are founded on techniques from psychology and social science.  Jury experts also calculate how multiple competing cognitive and social psychology concepts can be synthesized into effective strategies for influencing juror decisions.  This practice of jury consulting often evokes questions of whether it is ethical to influence a jury’s decisions in this manner.  The reality is that those in the occupation of lawyer and advertiser are trained to influence peoples’ decisions; the utilization of someone formally-educated in psychology only makes it more effective, not any less ethical.


Jury consultants also advise attorneys on jury selection, which is the process of striking (eliminating) individual jurors from the larger pool of prospective jurors until the final panel of jurors are determined through this process of elimination.  This process involves each side asking the jurors a series of relevant questions (voir dire) to determine which jurors appear most favorable or unfavorable to evaluate their case.  The press tends to spotlight high-profile criminal matters, so the public generally hears about jury experts associated with criminal trials.  Contrary to popular belief, the high-profile criminal cases are not what fuels the field.  Most jury experts are retained in civil litigation matters involving major corporations and claims of monetary damages rather than crimes and jail sentences. 


My education in consumer psychology translates well to consulting on civil cases, because most jurors view decisions about money through the lens of a consumer.  Jurors’ initial exposure to most litigants is from the perspective of a consumer and this remains a salient frame of reference in their decisions.  Moreover, lawyers are essentially marketing and advertising a message to jurors.  First, lawyers segment and target their market through jury selection.  Second, lawyers promote an advertising campaign with a message that attempts to influence decisions – and in civil cases these messages always involve money.


So far over a 13 year career, working for three national consulting firms, I have consulted with corporate entities and law firms in hundreds of legal cases involving Fortune 500 companies, domestic and foreign governments, major network and cable television stations, newspapers and other media, major professional sports teams, athletes, sports franchise owners (including NFL, NBA, MLB), boxing champions, Triple Crown horseracing, and major recording artists.  The most interesting aspect of the field is the constant exposure to new information; I frequently jump from a case involving computer chip patents to international banana trade litigation to claims of defective children’s toys.


I now have my own jury consulting firm  More recently, I have blended my work experience in the legal field with my education in consumer psychology to launch an international internet marketing firm for the legal industry  I also currently author several blogs on branding and consumer behavior.  Thus, I am continually finding new ways to apply my educational training in psychology to my career pursuits. 



Ira K. Packer, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic Psychology)

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School

“A Career in Forensic Psychology”


My main professional identity is as a Forensic Psychologist.  However, over the course of my career, although most of my activities have focused on the practice of forensic psychology, I have been involved in multiple roles, including performing forensic evaluations, supervising, teaching, administration, and research.  In reviewing these multiple roles, I have been struck by how my ability to perform these functions is attributable to the core principles and knowledge that I gained throughout my education and training as a psychologist.  Although I am an advocate of specialized training (at present, I serve as President of the Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology – CoS), my main message is that such specialization must build on a very strong foundation of broad and general training in the science and practice of psychology.


I also would like to offer the following caveat when describing my career path and choices: the context for my training (which began over 30 years ago), differs greatly from the opportunities available to students beginning their training now.  I received my Ph.D. in Psychology in 1979 – that was only one year after the formation of the American Board of Forensic Psychology (, the Board-Certifying organization for Forensic Psychologists (which, in 1985, was incorporated into ABPP – the American Board of Professional Psychology – ).  It was also two years before  the formation of Division 41 (Psychology and Law) within APA.  In 2009, there are graduate programs that offer concentrations or exposure to Forensic Psychology, internships that have forensic rotations, and a number of Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs in Forensic Psychology.  So, those who are interested in Forensic Psychology today have much more opportunity to seek out and obtain relevant training today.


In my case, after completing by Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, I obtained my first job at the Center for Forensic Psychology in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I was able to get that job despite having had no formal forensic training, because the model was that they would recruit well-trained psychologists and provide forensic training on the job.  One of the lessons I learned from that first job is the importance of obtaining training from highly skilled and competent supervisors; four of my supervisors/colleagues from that first job went on to become President of ABFP and one became President of AP-LS/Division 41 of APA. That is, obviously, too high a bar to set today, but it is important to obtain training from ABPP certified Forensic Psychologists, to ensure that the level of practice is consistent with the highest national standards.


After 6 years as a forensic evaluator, I obtained my first administrative position, as Director of a Forensic Service in Springfield, Massachusetts, overseeing provision of services to the courts and correctional facilities in that area.  Although I had never received any formal supervision as an administrator, I found that I was able to succeed in this new position due to: a) mentoring that I received on the job;  b) my substantive knowledge about Forensic Psychology, which provided me with credibility with my supervisees and external stakeholders, such as Judges, attorneys, sheriffs, other administrators; c) my training in the science of psychology, which prepared me for collecting and utilizing data to drive policy development and implementation; and d) my training as a Clinical Psychologist, which allowed me to “keep my cool” when dealing with difficult personalities (of both supervisees and superiors).


Over the 8 years that I worked in this position, my administrative and managerial responsibilities gradually increased, and I was then prepared for a higher level position as Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Mental Health.  This job involved overseeing the delivery of Forensic Mental Health Services statewide.  It was a very gratifying experience, and I felt that during my 3 year tenure I accomplished a great deal. However, after 3 years I felt compelled to leave the job for personal reasons, which is another important lesson that I would like to pass on.  Although I was successful in the job, and enjoyed it, the  job required a great deal of travel and being away from home, during a period when I had 3 young children.  I simply made the decision that my “life” was more than my job; I needed to balance satisfaction at work, with personal satisfaction, and family responsibilities.  Others may have chosen differently, and I think that would have been reasonable.  But, I continue to advise all of my students and supervisees that they need to be sure to consider both professional and personal considerations when making job choices.  For short periods of time, it may be very worthwhile to sacrifice personally in order to obtain the best training and work experience.  However, when making longer term decisions, there needs to be a balance.


Since leaving the Assistant Commissioner job (about 13 years ago), I have found enormous satisfaction working in an academic setting that also has allowed me to function as a Forensic Psychologist and as a supervisor.  I am currently Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  Although it always strikes me odd to be called a Professor of “Psychiatry” when I am really a Psychologist, this is really just a matter of nomenclature.  Although I do teach and supervise some psychiatrists, most of my work involves training, educating, and supervising psychologist.  My duties include being the Director of a Forensic Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship program, which attracts the best and the brightest trainees.  I am continually impressed at how much better prepared my trainees are, compared to my situation 30+ years ago.  They have typically taken at least a few graduate courses in Forensic Psychology and have also had some clinical exposure to forensic populations. By the time they enter my program, they have a good sense of what is involved in becoming a Forensic Psychologist and are motivated to eventually seek Board-Certification by ABPP.


I would like to end where I started: emphasizing the need for a strong foundational basis in the science and practice of Psychology.  Although, as noted, my postdoctoral fellows have been exposed to Forensic Psychology, more importantly they come well prepared as scientist-practitioners.  They bring experience with the relevant clinical populations and a scientifically-driven mindset that allows them to seek out relevant data, and analyze the data to apply to the psycholegal question at hand.  I also receive applications from those who have been focused almost exclusively on forensic populations throughout their training – that is, all of their clinical experience has been with prisoners or those involved with the legal system.  However, if they have not received broader clinical experiences, they typically are not well-prepared for forensic work. When I reflect on my career, I am also struck by the fact that it was really my strong foundational training that I was able to build upon, not only to specialize in Forensic Psychology, but also to expand into other roles, which included administrative, supervisory, and policy-making positions.




Michael Perrotti, PhD.  Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Michael Perrotti Inc.
”An Applied Career in Forensic Psychology”


The beginnings of my career in forensic psychology were fostered by a family tragedy wherein my mother became ill with cancer.  My sister and I had to care for her and watch her suffering for several years.  This provoked nurturing in both of us.  My sister became a surgical nurse.


I initially wanted to go into medicine.  I was an emergency room volunteer orderly from age 15 to 16.  I also attended premed medical education.  However, psychology always intrigued me with the impact that one can make on other peoples’ lives as opposed to the more insular circumscribed impacts that one has with medical treatment on other individuals.


I received an early exposure to forensic psychology at Delaware State Hospital as a staff clinical psychologist.  I had the good fortune of working in the forensic unit of the hospital.  There, I evaluated individuals who were referred by the courts and/or correctional facilities.  These individuals were referred for competency testing to stand trial, sanity, and other forensic matters.  Other individuals had been suicidal and were referred to us to be stabilized and then transferred back to prison.  In this setting the chief psychologist supervised me with psychological testing, and I was able to assist him with three to four partial test batteries a week.  This gave me tremendous experience in psychological testing.  Moreover, the Jefferson Medical School had an in-service training program in their hospital.  Psychiatrists, physicians, and psychologists were all permitted to attend the seminars and training.  Thus, it was a very collegial atmosphere.  My interest in forensics merged with my interest in neuropsychology.  We dissected human brains and were able to see the effects of such things frontal lobes of the brain that were atrophied due to alcoholism. Thus, I received what would later prove to be invaluable training in neurology, brain anatomy, and brain physiology.


My bachelors program in psychology at the University of Delaware and my masters program in psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University provided the best of both worlds following the research scientist model, or the Boulder model, as well as applied clinical model with extensive training in psychological testing.  Thus, I received a good background in biological sciences, research, and psychometrics as well as statistics, statistical analysis, and research design.

My Ph.D. dissertation was also in a forensic setting at California Youth Authority.  The focus of the dissertation was on the effects of Direct Decision Therapy on locus control, aggression, and self-esteem in juvenile offenders.  There was a significant and dramatic reduction in violence as a result of Direct Decision Therapy, which is a cognitive therapy focusing on decisions behind problems and consequences of problems.  These results showed me that there could be a viable model for reducing violence and helping young people in terms of making better, prudent decisions for their lives and their futures.


My training in forensics was further elaborated at the New School for Social Research in New York, where there were faculty from the University of Chicago. There was extensive training in research and research methods.


At Alliant University in San Diego, my pre- and postdoctoral Ph.D. internships were at the California Youth Authority which afforded me the opportunity to work with youthful offenders and gain further experience in forensic psychology, i.e., assessment and therapy.


I developed a love for the law and psychology and forensic assessment. I have conducted comprehensive evaluations for family, civil, and state courts as well as for the government.  These assessments and evaluations gave me an opportunity to use all of my training in the biological sciences, research design, statistics, and psychological testing, and to contribute to the profession common to the betterment of individuals’ lives as well as offering expert opinions to the courts.  I also was called on to assist with scripts for CSI Crime Scene.  I developed a character for the show Vanished who would be a cult leader. This was patterned after a real life case.


I cannot think of any more rewarding area of psychology than forensic psychology in terms of the rigorous training, opportunity to impact individual lives, and to experience a mix, or blend, of law and psychology and the application of psychology to problems with law.


My current passion is development of a group for the homeless to teach them about self-support and support of each other.


Other titles held:
Certified Forensic Expert

Expert Witness Panel, San Bernardino County Superior Court

Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court San Bernardino County

Expert Witness Panel, Orange County Superior Court

Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court Orange County

Expert Witness Panel, Los Angeles County Superior Court

Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court Kern County

Expert Witness Panel, Kern County Superior Court

Member, National Academy of Neuropsychology

Member, American Psychological Association

Member, California Psychological Association

Member, National Register of Health Services Providers in Psychology

Expert Evaluator, Orange County Family Law Court

Expert Witness, State of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, Enforcement Division, Board of Behavioral Science Examiners

Member, American College of Forensic Psychiatry

Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences, USC Keck School of Medicine, 2005-2006


Heike I. M. Mahler, Ph.D., College Professor at California State University, San Marcos and Research Faculty at University of California San Diego

“An Academic Career in Health Psychology”


The patient had had coronary bypass surgery barely two days ago. He was in the intensive care unit. He had a 10-inch incision down the middle of his chest and another on the lower, inner side of his right leg. There were various wires and tubes leading from his body to a number of machines and receptacles surrounding the bed. Some of the machines were beeping. He was weak, somewhat groggy, in pain, and a bit nauseous. Other patients lay in beds nearby in various stages of consciousness. Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and ward clerks were bustling about. All was as it should be and to be expected, except…  I was there, with a camera crew. We were setting up lights and cameras and microphones. All morning a little voice in my head had been saying, “You’re crazy! You can’t film an interview with someone who had heart surgery just the day before yesterday. He’s not going to feel like talking, he’s not going to want lights and a camera in his face. Even if the patient doesn’t back out, there is no room in the intensive care unit for tripods and cameras and lights. Surely the doctors and nurses will have you thrown out when they trip on the cables…”


How had this come about?  How did a classically trained social psychologist come to develop videotapes for surgery patients? Let me back up a bit.


I was the first member of my family to attend college. I am the daughter of working-class German immigrants, and college was simply not an option for anyone in my extended family until my generation. I entered college with the goal of a career in criminal justice (perhaps as a police officer or attorney – I wasn’t sure), and began taking a variety of introductory social science courses (I had been advised by a police chief, and other criminal justice experts participating in a career day event at my high school, that a social science major such as sociology or psychology would be desirable preparation for a criminal justice career).  Although I generally found all of the courses interesting, it was my first psychology class, in particular, that left me wanting more. In short order I was majoring in psychology, volunteering as a research assistant, and entertaining ideas of going on to graduate school.


It was a particularly well-received research proposal in my Introductory Personality class that led to the beginning of my research career. The instructor’s effusive comments on my paper lead me to believe that my proposed project would make major contributions to the field and should be conducted as soon as possible. No, the professor didn’t actually say that, but isn’t that how anyone would interpret “nice job”? I offered to let my professor serve as my advisor on the project. He delicately steered me to another faculty member whose interests would be “more appropriate.” After skimming my paper, that faculty member diplomatically offered me the opportunity to volunteer as a research assistant on some of his ongoing research projects. Over the next three years I would conduct a variety of research projects (including a Master’s thesis) all related to the topic of illusory perceptions of control/contingency. During this time, there were a number of other undergraduate and Master’s students working in the same or neighboring labs. We all supported one another, helped each other enter data, bounced ideas off each other during lunch and Friday afternoons at the local pizza parlor, and piled into small cars and small hotel rooms to attend conferences. It all made for a very active and stimulating academic culture.


I entered the Ph.D. program in Experimental Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, in 1981. At the time, all the Social Psychology faculty members and most of their graduate students were primarily conducting research programs in applied settings (court rooms, police stations, hospitals). My previous training was entirely lab-based and I had never considered conducting applied research. Although the first several projects that I conducted as a Ph.D. student were lab-based, I gradually became interested in applying my previous work on perceived control to surgical patients. I had noticed among my own family members who had undergone major surgeries, that those who were motivated to maintain control seemed to take a more active role in their recovery and resumed their daily activities more quickly following surgery. This lead to a dissertation that examined how perceived control over recovery and desire for control over health care predicted the speed of recovery of coronary bypass surgery patients. My dissertation work eventually lead to a series of NIH funded projects that involved the development and evaluation of a variety of videotapes designed to prepare coronary bypass surgery patients and their family members for surgery and recovery. In order to provide the detailed sensory information that previous literature had established to be important for speeding recovery, and that my colleague Jim Kulik and I believed would instill greater perceived control/self-efficacy, the videos featured interviews with real coronary bypass surgery patients at various stages of recovery from surgery – including in the intensive care unit.


My Health Psychology research career has been guided by three major goals/principles. First, my work has focused on the dual goals of theory development and application. Thus, I frequently move back and forth between the lab and the field when conducting research. Laboratory work is best suited to the control and isolation of theoretical variables of interest. However, fieldwork is essential for determining the practical significance of variables and for theory refinement. Second, I have always tried to design projects that were methodologically rigorous. Many of my projects have involved the development of interventions for individuals undergoing major medical procedures. A distorted picture of the benefits of those interventions could have serious adverse consequences. Further, I have made efforts to insure that my research includes outcomes that the medical community cares about – medical practitioners are not likely to pay attention to health psychology findings unless the relevance to clinical practice is apparent. Thus, rather than exclusively focusing on psychological factors such as anxiety, coping, and social support, my colleagues and I have also collected measures such as speed of hospital release, re-hospitalizations, and medication use. Adhering to these principles has resulted in more time consuming, effortful, and complicated projects than might otherwise have been the case.


My work in Health Psychology has allowed me to hone the skills I first developed as an undergraduate research assistant. However, it has also provided me with a number of experiences that I never could have imagined as a student. I have written mini-screen plays (videotape scripts), served as a director, producer, and editor, worked with a wide variety of professionals (e.g., nurses, doctors, physician’s assistants, producers, directors, graphic artists, etc.), and interviewed patients and their family members during extremely stressful and trying times in their lives (sometimes at 3:00 AM!). It has required a good deal of work and careful preparation, and on occasion, turning a deaf ear to the little voices in my head.


Lawrence Najjar, PhD, Interaction Designer, TandemSeven

“A Career in Human Factors Psychology”


I design software so that it is easy to use.


My job has a lot of different names – human factors engineer, usability specialist, information architect, user experience architect, engineering psychologist.  The name that seems to be the best match right now is “interaction designer.”


I got a masters degree in engineering psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology.  My first job was for a government contractor outside of Washington, DC.  I designed a software and hardware user interface to help government analysts translate intercepted foreign language audio messages into English text.  I talked to a user representative and wrote detailed specifications that described how I wanted the user interface to work.


My next job was with IBM.  I helped design the user interface for the next generation of US air traffic controllers.  I observed and talked to air traffic controllers around the country.  One lesson I learned is that you can’t count on users to tell you what to design.  The final project cost $3.5 billion so air traffic controllers could have had almost any user interface they wanted.  The few users with opinions only asked for the new system to work faster than their current system.   After the user analysis phase, I performed tradeoff studies and designed a customized keyboard, selected a new trackball, designed the audio alerts, worked on the design of new digital flight strips, helped with the ergonomics of the workstation, and designed an efficient layout of workstations in the en-route centers.


After that project, I moved to the commercial side of IBM in Atlanta and mostly did usability tests of software products.  The software was designed by programmers rather than people like me who focused on the needs of the prospective users.  It showed.  I asked representative users to perform typical tasks using early versions of software.   I listed the many problems the users had, rated the usability severity, and suggested design solutions.  The problem was, we were evaluating software that was about to be released and it was too late to make the major changes the users needed.  So, my recommendations were mostly ignored.  Very frustrating. 


I took a buy-out package from IBM and went back to Georgia Tech to get my Ph.D.  It was supposed to take two years, but it took five-and-a-half.   I worked part-time on-campus at the Georgia Tech Research Institute writing design requirements for highway traffic management center operators, performing an accessibility evaluation on an advanced photocopier, and designing and evaluating a wearable computer user interface for poultry plant quality inspectors.  For the wearable computer, we used a head-mounted display, simple voice recognition, ear-protecting headphones with speakers for audio feedback, and a very simple application that I designed.  Our prototype worked perfectly in a test-run in an actual plant.

Then the World Wide Web happened and I wanted to be part of that user interface revolution.  I got into a couple of Web design firms and worked on AOL’s online annual report, Home Depot’s first e-commerce store, the redesign of, and a wide variety of other projects.  The dot-com boom went bust, my company died, and I was laid off.  I could not get a permanent, full-time job for 18 months.


The job I finally did get was in another city.  I moved to Austin to work at BMC Software, a company that made company-wide, system management products for mainframe computers.  I designed graphical user interfaces for a couple of mainframe products and wrote accessibility user interface design guidelines for our desktop-based Java application developers.  But it was clear the company did not value ease of use and they laid me off along with half the usability staff.


My current job is with a 40-person design consulting firm called TandemSeven.  The world has gone Web.  So I mostly design portals for company intranets and complex, browser-based applications.   My clients include Abbott Laboratories, Campbell Soup Company, Girl Scouts of America, and Orbitz Worldwide.  I get to use my years of experience to work smart and fast.  I do a wide variety of work – writing proposals, presenting proposals to prospective clients, learning a new domain, interviewing users to identify their needs, creating personas that describe users with representative needs, writing prioritized design requirements, working with clients, performing iterative user interface design, conducting quick usability evaluations, and writing detailed design specifications.  The projects last several months and each one is different.  I feel like I’m using a lot of my brain.


If you’re interested in this career field, here is my advice:

A career in interaction design may be right for you if the more you learn about it, the more you think “Wow.  That is so cool.”



Joel R. Philo, Human Resources, Senior Manager of Field Compensation, JC Penney

“Motivating Corporate America”


I am easily bored, which is why working for the Federal Government as a Worker’s Compensation Claims Examiner after college was such a bad idea.  My desire to innovate, excel and make an impact was irrelevant there.  As my motivation slowly slipped away, I became depressed and dreaded my daily commute to a bland, boring office.  As I mulled over how to make a change in my career I started talking to a college buddy who was going to graduate school to learn something impressively labeled, “Industrial-Organizational Psychology.”


Though the name of the field intrigued me, it was the subject matter that really hooked me. Motivation, teamwork, leadership, there were so many interesting and important areas being studied in this field, yet it seemed obvious that my employer had never been exposed to any of these findings. I could not understand why this was such a little known field.  Few things are more relevant to our society than motivating people at work.  I realized if I got depressed by a boring, de-motivating job, and was less productive for it, then others must be similarly depressed and unproductive.


I don’t know whether it was my desire to improve American well-being and productivity, enjoy my career, feed my ego, or make the best salary available in the field of Psychology, but I decided to take the plunge and enrolled in the I/O psychology PhD program at Texas A&M.  My courses, research and applied experiences under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Pritchard expanded my mind and changed my understanding of people and organizations. In my three years on campus I grew intellectually and professionally. I could have stayed on campus for many more years and built up publications for an academic path but the departure of my research advisor and my wife’s growing impatience with graduate school jolted me off that course.  I took an internship at Home Depot and we moved to Atlanta.


Working in a large corporation brought back memories of my days with the Feds, but now I was positioned to make a difference.  I learned a lot in my time at Home Depot, including the fact that making a difference is difficult, even in the private sector.  Being an intern, I had a lot less influence then I thought I did and had to take comfort in small contributions.  However, in retrospect, it was valuable to have the opportunity to work on a myriad of typical I/O projects including assessment centers, corporate wide surveys, 360s and organization change projects.  Although I learned a lot of technical skills in my time there, the most important skill I began to develop was political savvy, an underrated and untaught skill necessary for bringing about change in an organization.


With my first child on the way I decided to pursue something more permanent than an internship and moved to Minneapolis to join a small consulting firm called ePredix.  Working in a small company was a big change.  My cubicle was in the same row as the guy who got promoted to CEO while I was there.  I knew everybody in the company and felt like I could contribute in many different ways.  I had a fellow I/O psychologist as a manager there who was a wonderful mentor and friend. Jim Beaty, gave me gentle coaching and helped to further refine me as a professional and a consultant.  I had the privilege to conduct internal research, contribute to the organizational strategy and engage in external consulting on employee selection.  Although I had many friends and positive experiences there, my wife missed her family in Dallas and I was fortunate to receive a job offer from Frito Lay that called me back to the DFW metroplex. 


Working in a corporate division of PepsiCo exposed me to a whole new world of complexity.  I focused on selection systems and supported the corporate wide survey.  I also had the privilege of receiving and delivering training on both change management and diversity/inclusion. PepsiCo develops its talent and I enjoyed my time there both growing and contributing.  Shifting the frontline testing system from paper and pencil to online was my most cherished achievement, and took over a year of effort.


Although I felt valued at PepsiCo, I came to realize that the center of power was far from Frito Lay HR.  When JCPenney recruited me and I was interviewed by the HR EVP Mike Theilmann, I realized that I could have much more impact and growth by jumping ship.  I feared looking like a job hopper, but Mike pointed out he never held a job for more than 2 years and convinced me that the new opportunity was too good to pass up. I became the first incumbent in a newly created position, Manager of Associate Insights. It was a poorly understood role with ambiguous responsibilities, and I loved it.


In this role at JCPenney I helped to bring focus and understanding on Associate related metrics to improve the engagement (motivation) and productivity of our associates. I led the development of an online scorecard of Associate metrics which I later helped incorporate into an online balanced scorecard of Associate, Customer, Sales and Profit metrics.  Besides leading these projects, I also conducted internal linkage research to demonstrate the impact of Associates on the business.


Leading projects, conducting analyses and managing organizational change contributed to my continued professional growth, but it took a new leader to really expand my mind and focus me higher up the corporate ladder. When my new manager, Kirk Thor, transitioned into his role as the VP of Organizational Development, I knew little about him except that he liked Kodiac bears and everything Nordic.  I quickly understood his style, however, when he told me that his success as a leader would be determined by my progress in the organization over the next two years.


In my many organizations I’ve had a slew of managers.  Kirk was by far the most inspirational leader I ever reported to, and he quickly grew me.  In addition to my previous duties, I became the leader of a new strategic alignment service within the company.  This cast me in the role of an entrepreneur and change agent, and I learned how to swim upstream. I built an internal clientele who benefitted from a clarified strategy that aligned with work processes, people and metrics.  Facilitating strategies with VPs and their teams exposed me to a whole new realm of challenges and opportunities.  Besides my new strategic services, I also had the opportunity to lead an integration project when Organization Development was combined with other areas into a larger Talent Management team. Managing this integration and managing my new direct report further reinforced my desire to be a leader. 



Barbara Bucklin, PhD, Director of Instructional Design

A Consulting Career in Corporate America”

As director of instructional design for a learning and performance-improvement company, no two days are the same as my team and I strive to meet our clients’ diverse needs. The 10 or so members of my team are PhD or MA-level professionals with backgrounds in Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology, organizational development, and instructional design/technology. My work is so varied I often find it difficult to describe it in basic terms. To put it the most simply: I-O psychologists study relationships between people and their work environments. In my job at Ardent Learning, our work generally focuses in three areas:


Assessment: First I do detective-like work to find out why employees aren’t performing optimally, and/or why they have bad attitudes about their work. To do this, I look at several areas that really encompass what I-O psychology is all about:


Designing and delivering solutions: After completing the assessment, we offer solutions that will improve performance – based on the problem we discovered. These solutions range from training to coaching to organizational recommendations. Once our clients agree to a solution, we have a full team of people on staff who can build and implement it. It’s my job to manage that team and pitch in when needed to get it right for our clients.


Evaluating and sustaining behavior: After a program has been delivered, we evaluate its effectiveness and make refinements. This is where all those statistics classes become important. As a graduate student I always wondered when or if I would use those skills – the answer turns out to be yes!


So how did I end up in my current position? It was a lot of hard work and a little luck. I discovered a passion for psychology as early as high school, but at that time I’d never heard about Industrial-Organizational psychology. I got lucky as an undergraduate student when I enrolled in an elective I-O psychology class with my future graduate advisor. For me, it was the perfect blend of psychology and practical business application. At that point I volunteered as a research assistant for several I-O psychology studies and continued to work hard in my classes. Once I was accepted in the I-O graduate program at Western Michigan University, I conducted research related to learning and incentives and was fortunate enough to get an internship with a major pharmaceutical company.

Now I’m doing the work my graduate studies prepared me for with clients in automotive, pharmaceutical, technology, and retail industries. I’ve encountered many people in many types of jobs and I’m always pleased when I can make their working lives better.


Liberty Munson, PhD, Senior Psychometrician

“A Career as a Psychometrician in Corporate America”

I always knew that I wanted to be a psychologist, but until college, I assumed that I would go into counseling. That changed on the day that I learned about Industrial/Organizational psychology. At Iowa State University, psychology majors were required to take an overview course on the various careers available in psychology. Although I hadn’t realized that such a branch of psychology existed, as soon as I heard about it, I knew that this was the field for me. Not only does Industrial-Organizational (I/O) research (and its practical application in organizations) make a difference for companies and their bottom-line, if done correctly, it can also make a difference in the lives of employees. Because people spend much of their life working, if I/O psychologists can improve work experiences, we will be making a huge difference in people’s lives.


Because I had a number of bad jobs by the time I entered graduate school, I was particularly interested in job satisfaction. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was lucky enough to work with Charles Hulin, one of the groundbreaking researchers in the measurement of job satisfaction. In fact, my dissertation was on the antecedents and outcomes of the emotional and cognitive components of job satisfaction. Throughout much of graduate school, I thought my career path would take me into academia and survey research, but my internship altered my path. I took an internship in the Employee Selection Group at GTE because I wanted to broaden my experiences in the I/O field. While at GTE, not only did I have the opportunity to work with Nancy Tippins, a leader in our field in employee selection, I also had the opportunity to do fascinating work. In the six months that I was an intern, I worked on a selection test battery intended for all hourly, entry-level employees, performed a variety of job analyses, conducted content and criterion-related validity studies, and set the cut score for an exam using the Modified Angoff method. It was an incredible experience that began my lifelong interest in selection test development and its associated components and sparked my interest in the practical application of I/O research.


As a direct result of this internship, I was offered a position as an HR Specialist in the Assessment Services group, which focused largely on employee selection, at The Boeing Company. Although Boeing had used assessments to select hourly employees in the past, the notion of using a more structured process for selecting salaried employees was relatively new. While working in Assessment Services, I developed and implemented Boeing’s structured interview process, including developing, and occasionally conducting, interviewer training. As part of this process, my team created an interview question item bank, which streamlined our ability to create structured interviews. I also designed, developed, and validated a variety of assessment tools, such as cognitive ability tests, writing exercises, problem solving activities, and leaderless group exercises, all of which were used for selection and performance management in union and nonunion environments. With each new exam that I created, I also created assessor training, scoring procedures, and all associated components necessary to establish the assessment’s validity. Outside of the employee selection arena, I evaluated and validated Boeing’s internal certification exams, created test development and item writer training, and developed policies and procedures for the development and administration of Boeing’s internal certification program.


After working in Assessment Services for four years, I decided it was time to explore my original love from graduate school—job satisfaction, so I took the opportunity to work on Boeing’s Employee Survey team. In that role, I designed, administered, and analyzed Boeing Employee, Action, and Exit Surveys and presented results to all levels of management, including senior vice presidents and presidents of Boeing’s major business units. Working closely with a wide variety of internal organizations, I also designed, administered, and analyzed surveys intended to address specific work group, function, or organizational issues as well as customer satisfaction, and provided consultation on research design and statistics. Finally, I developed and implemented Enterprise-wide survey governance process that defined when and what surveys were appropriate for the Boeing employee populations. Although I learned quite a lot about survey design, analysis, and interpretation through this experience, it became clear to me that my passion was no longer job satisfaction and survey research; my passion was testing.


Because my passion for testing was so strong, I jumped at an opportunity to work on Microsoft’s certification exams as their psychometrician. Although this job is not a typical career for most I/O psychologists, my education and experiences have served me well. Developing a valid and reliable exam follows the same principles regardless of whether it’s a selection or certification exam. As Microsoft’s psychometrician, I am solely responsible for defining and designing the psychometric strategic vision, including exam design, development, psychometric parameters, and key performance/quality indicators, for all Microsoft certification exams, managing the psychometric program requirements for all of our exams, and ensuring the ongoing psychometric (validity and reliability) maintenance of these exams. This means that I’m responsible for ensuring that our processes result in valid and reliable exams. In fact, much of the actual psychometric analysis is completed by a vendor, but I occasionally perform these analyses myself; I do it often enough to keep my skills sharp but not so often that I become bored.


I’ve also developed and implemented innovative approaches to exam development that allow my team to create exams for less money and in less time but within my psychometric vision for our certification program. Because I facilitate the standard setting process for most of our certification exams, I have the opportunity to interact with industry experts on a regular basis—none of which work for Microsoft and many of whom don’t realize (until they are invited to one these sessions) the rigorous process that Microsoft follows to ensure that our certification exams are valid and reliable. It is amazing to learn about their experiences with Microsoft technologies, their exam experiences, and their ideas for improving both; they are clearly proud of their Microsoft certifications and their value in the industry. These interactions make me feel proud to be a part of the team at Microsoft that makes this happen. Additionally, one of the great aspects of my job is that I also analyze our exam candidate customer satisfaction survey data quarterly and develop action plans that my team and our business partners can take to improve our exams based on this feedback, so I haven’t completely left the world of surveys and satisfaction.


I/O psychology is a great field within psychology that offers many different career paths from the more traditional—academician, researcher, internal consultant, and external consultant—to less traditional, such as mine—psychometrician. After two years, I can honestly still say that I love exam development as much or more than I ever did, and I love my job.



Tracy Montez, MA, PhD, Industrial Organizational Consultant

“A Career as a Psychometrician in Public and Private Agencies”


When I began college, as an undergraduate at a small California State University, I was terribly anxious over the notion that I still did not know the answer to the infamous question “What did I want to be when I grew up?”  It seemed that my closest high school friends knew exactly where to go to college and what classes to take for their declared majors that would eventually lead to their chosen career paths.


I, on the other hand, went to a local college because it was affordable and declared Business Administration as my major because Marketing sounded interesting.  It took only one semester for me to know that business was not my calling.  The classes offered to fulfill the business major only partially held my attention.  Rather, it was the field of psychology that kept calling me.


Despite the intentions of well-meaning family members and friends warning me that listening to people’s problems all day would be tedious and stressful, I changed my major from business to psychology.  I knew that the field of psychology must encompass more than clinical work.  So, I scheduled an appointment with my undergraduate advisor. 


When I met with him, I discussed my interests and my family’s concerns.  With great patience and understanding, he described the many types of psychology.  Within an hour, my limited and naïve scope of the field of psychology was broadened.  And, after he elaborated on the discipline of industrial and organizational psychology, I knew that I had found my calling.  Here was a discipline that not only “borrowed” concepts, theories, and research from the other disciplines in psychology, but also generated its own theories and scientific findings, applying this extensive knowledge to the world of work.


I entered graduate school knowing that I had identified a career path.  My initial interest was to become a college professor.  This decision was primarily based on the enthusiastic and knowledgeable professors that I had both at my undergraduate and master’s degree institutions.  Regardless of whether or not the class was part of my major, the professors were energetic, experts in their field, well traveled giving them wonderful examples to illustrate the concepts in the assigned textbooks, and committed to teaching the students taking their respective classes.


The first six years of college truly had an enormous impact on my decision to pursue a doctorate.  It was during my doctoral program at a Midwestern university that I determined research was not my strength.  Although research is critical to the understanding and application of psychology, I knew that I did not possess the skills to complete research for publication purposes and hence secure a tenure-track professor position.  Although my calling was still industrial and organizational psychology, I needed to identify a specialty in this vast field.


Upon graduation, I returned to California and began working for a small consulting firm.  It is here where I found my specialty, developing selection tests.  During my four-year tenure with this firm, I primarily developed, administered, and scored a variety of tests for all ranks of fire service and law enforcement for agencies located throughout the western United States.  The process was challenging.  That is, not the application of my selection and testing knowledge, skills, and abilities, but rather the process of working within male-dominated occupational fields.  At the time, I was a young woman with an advanced graduate degree explaining to high-ranking, male, fire service or law enforcement chiefs the importance of following professional guidelines and technical standards when developing and administering promotional tests.  I was often asked the question “How can you develop a test for a fire engineer when you have never driven a rig, pumped water, or fought a fire?”  This is where I would elaborate on the value of “subject matter experts” and how psychometricians used that expertise to develop fair and defensible tests.  During this time, I expanded my test development expertise as well as cultivated my ability to work with different groups of people which would greatly help me in my next career endeavor.


Deciding to take a break from traveling, I went to work for a California state agency.  I started at staff level developing regulatory tests.  I had to make a slight adjustment in my application of skills.  That is, instead of developing tests to produce a list of rank–ordered individuals, I was developing tests to determine minimum acceptable competence.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with a variety of professions and decided to accept a promotion within the agency.  Eventually, I became the manager of the unit and the lead psychometrician for this state agency. 


I supervised a staff of eighteen, many having advanced degrees in psychology or statistics.  As a team, we developed or assisted in the development of regulatory examinations for over 50 occupations in the State of California, from psychologists to contractors.  As a manager, my duties included working with regulatory boards to ensure that fair, valid, and legally defensible licensure examination programs were being implemented, reviewing and writing legislation pertaining to the regulation of these occupations, meeting with legislators and talking about the importance of adhering to professional testing guidelines and technical standards, addressing questions and issues raised by candidates for licensure, licensees, and stakeholders, and educating those associated with regulatory tests about the phases of examination validation.


I worked in state service for approximately ten years, took some time off to start a family, and subsequently returned to the profession by establishing my own consulting business.  I continue to specialize in test development and licensure examination program evaluation.


I am grateful for my education and those involved in the development of my knowledge, experience, and expertise.  I could not have completed my educational programs without the dedication of my professors and mentors.  I should note that the state agency at which I was promoted to lead psychometrician was the same state agency that I held my first graduate assistantship and gained my first practical exposure to the field of testing.


Regardless of the discipline of psychology, it is my belief that graduate school provides an individual with the ability to think critically, analyze data and information, speak in public, write for a variety of contexts, and work with different groups of people and occupations.  The chosen discipline of psychology then adds an advanced level of expertise that makes a person extremely marketable, especially if you truly enjoy the work you do as I do.


Michelle Donovan, PhD, People Analytics Team Member at Google Inc.

“A Fulfilling Career in Industrial/Organizational Psychology”
I majored in psychology in college because I wanted “to help people."  My dad thought that was great, but that I should perhaps be more specific.  So I took out my Intro to Psych textbook and started ruling out specialties.  Counseling?  Nope, I was a career counselor at our university counseling center and started to feel burnt out by everyone's troubles within months.  Clinical Psychology?  No way, I didn't want any "Silence of the Lambs" clients.  Developmental psychology?  I love kids, but I wasn't sure I wanted my career to depend on them.  And so on.  I was simply undecided until I took an undergraduate class in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.  In that course, I discovered an area of psychology where you worked with real people in real jobs to try to solve practical, challenging problems.  Finally, I had found my niche.  And hey, along the way I'd be studying different jobs, so if I/O psychology didn't work out, I thought that perhaps I'd stumble on another job that fit along the way.  And with that another career in I/O psychology was born.
As an undergraduate, two of my psychology professors, Brad Caskey and Rik Seefeldt, advised me to submit three applications each to three types of Ph.D. programs: your top rated dream school, middle tier school, and "thank god I got in somewhere" school. I lucked out and was accepted to one of my dream schools:  the I/O psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I knew I had the grades, a decent GRE score, and a summer research internship, but I was still surprised to be accepted.  At the University of Illinois, I worked with my advisor, Professor Fritz Drasgow, on studies ranging from creating and validating tests to designing and analyzing surveys.  During the Ph.D. program I also completed an internship at a company called Personnel Decisions Research Institutes in Washington, D.C. I still remember calling my parents from a pay phone at the D.C. mall after my internship interviews; I told them I was going to work in our nation's capital to help people.  My dad thought that was cool, my mom wondered where they'd be able to park the RV when they visited.  

During my internship I had two major projects. The first was to work with our D.C. office Director, Dr. Elaine Pulakos, to study adaptability in the Army.  I helped design a survey to measure adaptability, then visited several Army bases to administer the survey. At one survey administration session I was accidentally introduced as the “Paratrooper Instructor” and I politely told the 100+ cadets that while I knew nothing about jumping out of airplanes, boy, did I have an awesome survey that they could fill out!  They were disappointed, but they picked up their pencils and filled out the survey. I proudly flew back to Washington D.C. with a suitcase full of data.  After we entered the data in a database, I helped analyze the data and our paper describing the findings was published in a prestigious journal called the Journal of Applied Psychology.  The paper won an award for the best article published in I/O psychology at our annual Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP; conference; it was really gratifying to be recognized in front of the 3,000+ attendees. Our second project was conducting a job analysis at a government agency.  To be eligible to work there I needed to obtain a top secret clearance.  Taking a government-issued lie detector test was a little terrifying, but mostly fascinating.  Fortunately, I passed and while working on this project we conducted interviews, studied people's jobs, and trained them on computer software, which helped them describe their jobs.  It was during this internship that I fell in love with the idea of working as an I/O psychologist in an applied setting. When I returned to Illinois to finish my Ph.D. there was no turning back.  I wanted to finish my dissertation, get my Ph.D., and start working in this field.

My first job after my Ph.D. was at a small consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, called Terranova Consulting Group.  It was owned by two smart and hard working I/O psychologists, Cristina Banks and Karen May, who had built a small company with a great reputation among their clients.  I was lucky that they took a chance and hired me after some extensive interviews and an on-site visit.  At Terranova, I worked on a wide variety of projects -- a training needs analysis survey for a biotech company, HR audits for startups in the Silicon Valley, job analysis projects for various companies to help them understand what their people did and how to select, train, develop, and manage them in those jobs.  I found the projects that I enjoyed most were organizational surveys.  The idealist in me loved the idea that I could capture "the voice of the people," apply some unique skills (analyzing the data and creating a presentation to tell the story), then convince leaders to take action to improve the work environment based on the data.  So when I saw an opening at Intel Corporation called "Survey Researcher," which involved managing surveys full time, I decided to have an informational interview with them to learn more.  That informational interview turned into a job offer and I spent the next six years at Intel working on surveys, focus groups, and other projects related to HR data and metrics to help inform important decisions and strategies (e.g., How do we retain people?  What should our company look like in the future?).

After six years at Intel I started to think about next steps. And here's where the power of networking came into play…  I found my next job at Google because of someone I met through networking.  I've been with Google for two years now, where I'm part of a team called People Analytics.  While Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, the mission of People Analytics is to organize information on Google employees and make it accessible and useful.  Our goal is to ensure that all people-related decisions are based on data. No easy task since we make hundreds of people-related decisions a day.

My specific role is to manage our survey program, which includes our annual survey sent worldwide to over 20,000 Googlers. I also manage a small team which helps collect and analyze data, such as surveys and focus groups (we call them "roundtables" at Google so they don't sound scary and people actually show up).  Our group is responsible for not just gathering the data, but making sure that data influences change. Real and meaningful change. After just three months at Google, I made recommendations based on some data I analyzed and when I presented to two directors they said, "Yes, do it!"  In moments like that, I feel a part of something very special... helping to make Google a better place to work. Granted some of the changes our data has led to are small (e.g., new fitness courses based on a fitness survey), but some are bigger and more far-reaching (a much greater emphasis on career development for Googlers and fundamental changes in the compensation and benefits we offer).

I'm not sure where my path will lead next.  Looking back I think any success I have had is partially due to hard work, supportive managers and colleagues, a strong family network, and plain luck.  I always encourage undergraduates in psychology to think about Industrial/Organizational psychology as a career.  It is a thriving field (SIOP has around four thousand professional members) and has the potential to have a major impact in how we understand, hire, assign, promote, train, manage, reward, and treat people at work. This is no small feat as the average American spends about 50% or more of her waking hours at work.

Over the years I have had the privilege of studying many different kinds of jobs, including assembly line workers, salespeople, soldiers, security guards, ordnance officers, analysts, managers, software and hardware engineers, chefs, and CEOs. What I know for sure, is that while every job is unique and fulfilling in its own way, the job of an Industrial/Organizational psychologist is still the best fit for me.


Susan Leavy, M.S., MFT, Coordinator for the Prevention of Crimes Against Women, California State University, Fullerton Women’s Center

“A Diverse Counseling Career in the Non-Profit Sector”

Earning a Master of Science Degree in Counseling, completing state mandated requirements, passing written and oral exams to earn a Marriage, Family Therapist license was not carefully planned.  I was delivered to that place through providence, and the most unlikely of circumstances.  The suggestion came from a homeless customer at a coffee counter.  Every morning Bill ambled into the coffee shop where my waitressing skills were honed.  He was a “dropped out” nuclear scientist who was brilliant and interesting and kept me on my toes while we conversed about anything and everything.  “What are you doing here?” Bill casually inquired one sunny spring morning.  “Pouring your coffee,” I quipped in return.  Then, the bombshell, “No, I mean what are you doing waitressing?  You are too smart to be doing this.”   I retorted, “Yeah, right,” or some such thing, but went straight home and called my college Alma Mater to apply for graduate school.


California State University, Fullerton had been a cocoon, a place to practice contrived counseling sessions with other students, to audiotape practice sessions with friends and relatives who eternally attempted to sabotage the process.  The field was relatively new and the educational preparation was in its infancy, no internships required. 


The educational process was an exercise in self-worth, it said, “I am smart enough to earn a graduate degree.”  I gave little thought to what might happen if I actually graduated with a degree in counseling.  Then one fine spring day four years after Bill’s prompt, I graduated.  Now what?  After graduation, sheepskin in hand I called, and called, and called to find employment.  “Yes”, I had a degree; “No” I’ve never counseled a “real” client.   Each call ended with a regretful dismissal, “return when you have experience.”  Now what?


My luck changed when an insightful Volunteer Coordinator at The Laguna Beach Free Clinic gave me an opportunity to present the “birth control rap.”  Teaching women and men how to correctly and consistently use available forms of birth control for maximum effectiveness against unintended pregnancy was to be my first post graduate position.  I was grateful for it. 


Providence reared its head once again in the company of my volunteer efforts for the Clinic.  The Free Clinic supported a telephone hotline that gave assistance to callers who were victims of sexual assault and/or domestic violence.  I was asked to enroll in a 40-hour training and begin answering calls.  A combination of intensive training and responding to calls from survivors of horrific ordeals would define a purpose for my future.  I found my passion in counseling, accompanying, and advocating for, survivors of violent crime. I also provided prevention programs in hopes of preventing others from suffering victimization or perpetrating violence.


The trajectory of my career took me many places, primarily non-profit, and deeply into the culture of rape, male/female stereotyped expectations, poorly prepared police and hospital staff and trauma therapy.  While at the Laguna Beach Free (now Community) Clinic I was Coordinator of Sexual Assault Services, Counseling Coordinator and served a stint on the Board of Directors.  Hotline calls also came from women in abusive relationships.  An unexpected opportunity arose when the first shelter for battered women and their children was conceived and opened in South Orange County.  I was asked to help open Human Options as a staff member.  Domestic violence had not yet been recognized by the court system as a violent crime.  Those first years working in women’s issues were ripe with the prospect of change, from gaining protection under the law to women’s empowerment.


The next stop in my career was Clinical Director for YMCA Counseling Services, providing supervision for trainee and intern counselors.  This position had a distinct flavor of non-profit enterprise, allowing me to work at the business end while also providing counseling services.  Before too long I was beckoned by another non-profit.

Planned Parenthood was preparing to create a counseling component, fortunately  I was a former colleague of the Assistant Director.  I was hired to create a pregnancy prevention program:  a program that provided educational services to schools, and counselors who would be housed in all six of the affiliate’s clinics. 


I am currently working at CSUF in the Women’s Center.  My position is Coordinator for the Prevention of Crimes Against Women.  I have a 37,500 person constituency with whom I have the opportunity to address the scourge of sexual assault.  Last year we were granted funds to create a ten minute video, specific to CSUF, about sexual assault prevention.  The video is non-traditional, in that men are asked to become part of the solution.  It’s time for men to take a real part in sexual assault prevention, to learn to intervene in dangerous situations and to refrain from objectifying women.  The video can be seen on the Women’s Center website.


I believe every step of my journey brought me to my current position.  I have the privilege of being in a position to effect change, in terms of the social norms of sexual behavior of college students.  Counseling survivors of sexual assault allows me to work with students to stay on track, stay in college and graduate.


Even though my career was a surprise to me, in the end it is what I should have planned all along. 


Tina Freeland, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Private Practice

“A Career in Private Practice”


People often ask, “How do you do this work?” Their question refers to the hours spent listening to others as they pour out their stories of pain, anger, trauma, loss, shame, guilt, and all of the other human emotions that punctuate human life.  Aside from the professional satisfaction that my work provides, there is no easy or singular way to explain why one is attracted to the field of clinical psychology or what keeps a clinician practicing for years on end.  Most of us who become clinical psychologists have very strong listening skills and are quite curious about human nature and behavior.  Good psychologists are also empathic, sincere, respectful and ethical.  Individuals must have certain personal qualities to become a competent and successful psychologist, qualities that are deeply rooted in a person and are developed out of personal commitment.


Not all psychologists begin their education in the field of psychology.  My own undergraduate degree from U.C.L.A. is in English (Literature). What better training to become a psychologist can one receive than from the stories and narratives we find in literature?  From literature I gained a deep understanding of symbolism and myth, and the human condition.  Who can surpass Shakespeare or Dostoevsky in teaching us about tragic decisions and their consequences?  What sources beyond our vast library of world literature can better educate us about the extraordinary range and depth of human experience across cultures and ages?  Where can we look for more engaging illustrations of family and intergenerational drama than those provided in literature?  Students who complete their bachelor’s degree in fields as diverse as education, business, biology and the arts develop an integrated and liberal view of human nature that is central to the practice of clinical psychology.


I completed my Ph.D. at USC with extensive training in psychological theory and practices, philosophical foundations, research and statistics, as well as a long internship.  Earning the doctorate degree involved original research and a written dissertation, in addition to examinations.  Most graduate programs require or strongly recommend that their students receive personal psychotherapy as part of their training.  After graduation, psychologists must complete an additional internship and must pass a state licensing exam before they can work independently with patients. 


For more than 30 years I have worked in private practice, providing psychotherapy to individuals (children, adolescents and adults), couples, families and groups.  A typical day might include seeing several individual patients experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as couples and families with relationship difficulties.  When a patient first seeks psychotherapy, the psychologist’s initial job is to assess the nature of the problem.  Most of the time this assessment occurs through a clinical interview in which the therapist gathers extensive information on the patient’s background and history.  Sometimes it is also necessary to administer standardized tests to patients in order to fully define and conceptualize their difficulties.


The actual work of psychotherapy is personal, often painful and uncertain, but ultimately hopeful and rewarding.  People usually come to therapy because their lives have become difficult, dysfunctional and stuck, and they do not know how to repair the problems on their own.  Sometimes, difficulties in the present have powerful roots in the past, and patterns of behavior are anchored to perceptions and experiences from another period in life.  At other times, individuals make decisions based on their best judgment and intentions, but lack resources to explore better options.  Regardless of the source of the problem, my work is to assess, conceptualize and create a treatment path for recovery.  The general field of psychology has many models that clinicians draw from in developing a treatment plan; most experienced clinical psychologists, including myself, integrate methods and strategies from these multiple approaches in order to meet the unique needs of each patient.


Some of the most intense work I have done as a clinical psychologist was completed in hospital settings.  When patients become so ill that they cannot safely function independently in their daily lives, hospitalization becomes necessary.  Understanding severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and suicidal intentions, as well as dementia and delusional disorders, has given me a lasting regard for the struggle and bravery of individuals who must be treated in the safety of a hospital setting.  Clinical psychologists are able to acquire hospital privileges that allow them to admit, assess and treat these individuals, and to work with the families who must learn how to understand and support the mentally ill. 


In both private practice and inpatient work, clinical psychologists work closely with other professionals, particularly psychiatrists and primary care physicians.  Since psychologists are not licensed to dispense medications (unless they have completed medical school), they collaborate with medical doctors to discuss the medication options that might help certain patients.  I see my patients regularly, usually at least once a week, and am able to provide important clinical information to prescribing doctors who will consider my input in selecting medications.  Medical doctors see their patients far less frequently (sometimes only every two to three months), and, therefore, rely on my observations and communication about the patients we treat in common.  I have a comprehensive understanding of psychopharmacology that is necessary in this collaboration with medical doctors. 


The work of clinical psychologists requires ongoing learning, professional development and personal growth.  Clinical psychologists must complete a certain number of continuing education hours in order for their license to be renewed every two years.  These educational requirements afford clinical psychologists the opportunity to refresh their skills and to acquire new specialized training in areas of interest.  Animal-assisted therapy is one of my areas of personal interest, and, over the past five years, I have learned to use my dog in sessions for specific therapeutic purposes.  Moses (a rescued Rhodesian Ridgeback) and I are trained and certified as “Pet Partners” through the Delta Society so that we can work together in helping others feel, talk, take comfort and heal.  I am also very drawn to the new neurobiological research on trauma and attachment, which provides hopeful applications in the field.


Finally, returning to the original question, we ask ourselves how one does the work of clinical psychology, year after year, without suffering burn out, over-identification with illness, physical distress due to emotional distress, or boredom.  I train graduate students who are completing their internship requirements to become licensed clinical psychologists, and this question is asked over and over.  Self-care is an essential aspect of being a successful psychotherapist who is able to sustain the clinical work over many years.  Being mindful of one’s emotional and physical state is critical, as is finding individual ways of maintaining one’s personal health.  Yoga, meditation and spiritual experiences, exercise, social engagement, sports and hobbies, recreation and vacations are examples of self-care activities that clinical psychologist turn to in order to keep themselves in good health.  And last, psychologists often consult with their own psychotherapists in order to address the personal issues that arise in their lives, as well as those that arise as a consequence of their work. 


Casey Ackerman Cooper, PhD Counseling Psychology, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

“A Career in Sport Psychology”


I have a long history of sports experience as an athlete, and as a coach’s daughter.  Growing up in Southern California, my father was an international Track and Field coach.  I became accustomed to the demanding life style and extraordinary rewards that accompany elite athletics.  I trained as an Equestrian competitor and was awarded top honors in national competitions and state circuits.  Tragically, my career was ended at 16 years old when my horse was diagnosed with epilepsy after experience a grand mal seizure on the eve of a new competitive season.  After finishing that year showing other people’s horses at competitions, I retired from riding while still in High School.


The retirement allowed me to pursue other interests that have served me well in my career as a psychologist and radio host.  I found myself reconnecting with sports in a very unexpected way during my undergraduate years at USC.  As a tutor for student-athletes, I became aware of the numerous and varied on and off-field complaints of my students.  Believing that they were in need of more professional support, I began learning about the sport psychology professionals at the university counseling center and decided that the combination of communication major and appreciation for athletic culture provided an optimal foundation for me to build a career as a sport psychologist.


I was surprised to learn that there were so few educational opportunities that allowed me to become a licensed psychologist with a sports specialty.  So I created my path at USC with multiple departments.  After speaking with my sports psychology mentor, I chose to enroll in the MFCC program.  This important foundation allows me to conceptualize my clients and teams from a family systems perspective.  I later declared a sports specialization with the support of the Kinesiology Department during my Counseling Psychology, Ph.D. program.  Sports specific supervisory experiences were much more difficult for me to locate.  However, after a more careful review of the staff rosters of the University Counseling Centers on the APA Internship list, I was able to locate several that could provide sports mentoring and training opportunities.  Students should take the time and initiative to seek out and interview for specific supervisors at internship sites that match their own interests for specialization.  I was ultimately matched at UCLA and was very grateful for the sports exposure I was given. 


The majority of my training prior to licensure was at College Counseling Centers.  However, I am always grateful that I developed my overall clinical skills in many other non-sports settings that provided a solid, all-around experience that is crucial for the success of my current private practice. 


My clients consist of athletes of all ages (8-60+), athletic families, and teams.  My hours are split between treating clients, networking with health professionals, meeting coaches, speaking with booster clubs and other sports groups, writing columns for various sports websites, giving interviews, donating time to sports related non-profits, and supervising a psychological assistant.  There are several misconceptions about sport psychologists.  The most significant is that I simply help athletes run faster and jump higher.  I find that this is a helpful description: I’m a psychologist who treats depression, anxiety, anger management, family discord, and other difficult life issues.  I just happen to work exclusively within the culture of athletics.  As a result of feeling better, most athletes experience an elevation to their performance.  Athletes should not be evaluated or treated as a different class of clients.  I apply my knowledge of athletic culture, values, and norms along with current research related to athletic samples to my application of cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal therapeutic interventions to increase my effectiveness with this group.  In this way, athletes who seek assistance are no different than any other client who strongly identifies with a cultural minority.  There are some performance enhancing techniques that I have become familiar and developed over the years, but this is the smallest percentage of what I discuss with clients in my practice.  Because of this philosophy, I strongly encourage students interested in sports psychology as a career to seek out a program that is APA Credentialed and can support their earning a license in their state as a psychologist.  Beware of sports psychology certifications that are not awarded by your state’s board.  These “sport psychology professionals” are exposed to very real limits to their scope of practice and can encounter some legal difficulties for themselves and their clients.


Sport psychology is an up and coming field with new programs offering comprehensive training and supervision.  The opportunities are vast and the research to be conducted is immense.  I plan to continue in my private practice with a psychological assistant and I am now hosting a radio show fully dedicated to sports psychology.  My clinical focus is spreading positive parenting messages and supporting a balanced lifestyle within a culture of sports excellence for athletes through my practice, online presence, publications, and traditional media.


Matthew Soskins, PhD, Biostatistician, San Diego Hospice and Independent Statistical Consultant

“A Career in Quantitative Psychology”


I applied to graduate school believing I wanted to become a psychology professor. I was accepted and entered the psychobiology program at Northwestern University in which I would research brainwave-based lie detection – pretty cool.


A little over a year into the program, my advisor and I were meeting to discuss my future. I had already figured out that academia was not for me, but was worried about telling him and letting him down. He had figured out and worried about the same thing, probably before I did. At first we were both nervous, and then both relieved. He assured me that he was happy with my work, and that I was welcome to stick around as long as I wanted. He also assured me that his goal was my happiness, rather than my becoming a professor like him in order to make him look good as my mentor. A few weeks later he introduced me to Russ, a man who started and owned a home remodeling business. 20 years earlier earned, Russ had earned a PhD in my advisor’s lab.


My stress level greatly declined as I no longer had to worry about publishing, so I decided finish my PhD, and then hopefully use it to get a job. My job search was difficult because: the economy was horrible at the time, I had lots of education but no direct experience at anything practical, I appeared unfocused because I did not know what I wanted to do, I moved to a new city where I had no contacts, and I did not know how to look for a job. With my Northwestern PhD, I was able to land adjunct teaching jobs pretty easily, which are both enjoyable, and pay better than graduate school. Without knowing what I was looking for, I worked as many part-time jobs as I could find including editing wedding videos in someone’s garage, stuffing envelopes, and more.


I eventually figured out that I had three marketable skills: technical writing, statistics, and teaching. Because most people hate grant writing and statistics, I found work in these areas without much trouble. I took a full-time job as a grant writer, though not the type you would expect. I was hired by a large hospice more as a fund raiser than as a grant writer. I mostly wrote 2-3 page letters requesting funding from local and national foundations. I continued teaching as an adjunct here and there, and at this point my involvement with teaching really was just for personal fulfillment and fun.

As an independent statistical consultant, I have had the opportunity to work for various organizations on diverse projects. Some of these organizations included Kaiser Permanente, Ophthonix, SAIC, Orkand, UCSD, and Telos. I helped these companies in designing studies, i.e., deciding what data to collect in order to prove a hypothesis and how to collect it.  I also helped them to interpret data that they had already collected and figure out how to interpret and apply results to achieve outcome goals.

As a grant-writer, I learned all about my organization’s programs and services. Fortunately, we are just about the only hospice doing medical research, and we were paying an outside consultant to do our statistics. I told a few of the doctors in our organization that I had taught statistics at Northwestern and consulted as a statistician at several major companies, and would be happy to take a look at their projects. Five years later my primary job is now as a biostatistician, and my secondary job is writing large, NIH grants. I also use the other skill that I gained in graduate school – the ability to do scientific research – by helping experimenters design their studies. In addition, I still teach as an adjunct here and there for fun.

It seems that now am somewhat immersed in academia again, as I have published several articles and am actively involved in teaching and research. I think I enjoy it because I feel I have control over all of the things that I did not like about academia. I function as a statistical and writing consultant for other people’s research projects, so I get to have a hand in and learn about lots of different projects. I also get to live in San Diego.


I advise students to 1) figure out a couple of things that they are good at that others do not like doing, 2) find others who are doing similar work with whom they can network, and 3) constantly try to learn new skills and get better at those they already have. If all else fails, never say “no” to extra work – the more suits you try on, the more likely you are to find one that fits.



Simone Gunderson, MA.  School Psychologist, Capistrano Unified School District

“A Career as a School Psychologist”


I have always had a passion for children and have wanted to work in a career that allowed me to make a difference for them.  During my undergraduate studies, I began researching careers that involved working in the educational system and the opportunity to work directly with students.  While doing this research, I discovered the field of school psychology.  I chose the field of school psychology for both the challenge and positive impact I can have on a child’s education. 


I discovered that a school psychologist typically works within a school setting, providing services to students from the preschool through the secondary level.  They collaborate with teachers, parents, and professionals to determine the best learning environment for students.  Their duties typically include conducting educational evaluations to determine the appropriate placement of students.  Additionally, they counsel students, provide parent and teacher consultations, and are sought after as a resource for student interventions.


After completing my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Irvine, I began working on my graduate degree at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California.  This program combined both a Master of Arts degree in Educational Psychology and a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Psychology.  A Pupil Personnel Services Credential is required to practice as a School Psychologist in the state of California.  The graduate program consisted of a minimum of sixty graduate units, which included a 1200-hour internship.  The graduate course of study focused on counseling, academic and behavioral interventions, completing psycho-educational assessments, research, and evaluation.


Prior to completing my graduate degree, I held a variety of jobs working with students with disabilities.  This kind of experience can be very valuable when entering the field of school psychology.  I worked as an Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) instructor for preschool age students with moderate to severe autism.  This position was especially helpful gaining experience working with the growing number of students with autism in our school system.


Currently I work for Capistrano Unified School District as a full-time school psychologist.  I am positioned at both a middle school and an elementary school.  As a school psychologist, I have many duties.  The majority include conducting psycho-educational evaluations on students and interpreting the information to parents and staff regarding the appropriate placement of students.  These evaluations may include intelligence testing, academic evaluations, and determining how a student is functioning both socially and emotionally.  Counseling students on various issues such as school success, behavior, and emotional issues is also an important part of my job.  Most school psychologists also serve on the school site’s crisis management team in order to provide support and consultation in the event of a school crisis.  Additionally, as a member of the-school’s intervention team, I participate in meetings regarding particular students that are struggling.


The field of school psychology can be very rewarding.  School psychologists work in collaboration with teachers, parents, and administrators to promote student success.  There seems to be a steady need for professionals in the field of school psychology.  If working with children and helping them see their true potential seems interesting, a career in school psychology may be for you. 


N. Vanessa Vaughn, MSW.  Clinical Therapist 

“A Career Helping Children”


I first began to consider the field of social work as a freshman at Tuskegee University. Once accepted into the social work program at Tuskegee I soon learned that there are opportunities in almost every field for a social worker.  It was through my volunteer experiences and internship experiences at Tuskegee that I first realized that I wanted to work with individuals within the criminal justice system. I felt an overwhelming urgency to advocate on behalf of individuals who were mostly seen as degenerates who plague society with violence. It was during this time that I began to notice racial and non-racial disparities that existed in the criminal justice system and wondered what could be done to decrease such disparities.  Knowing and feeling as such I decided that the pursuit of a Masters in Social Work degree would be most beneficial to my future aspirations.


Upon entering the University of Michigan School of Social Work, I was bombarded with various resources and opportunities to gain insight into my prospective field via workshops, alumni presentations, and career fairs. I can recall feeling prepared to work in the field and confident in my abilities as a clinician, but unsure about the path I would take to impact the lives of others. For many students there is a degree of anxiety associated with securing employment following receipt of their graduate degree. My experience was no different. When I reflect on the transitional period between graduation from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the day I actually began my career as a clinician, I would like to think I submitted hundreds of résumés. Several of my closest friends shared this sentiment as they too wondered what the future would hold for them as graduates of a master of social work program that is held in the highest regard by educators and professionals in the field. 


While seeking various work opportunities as a clinician I worked a mentor in the foster care system and a direct care worker with homeless youth. I also remained connected to the School of Social Work as a part time student services representative. As I interviewed for the position of clinical therapist in a community based treatment program for sexually reactive youth at a non-profit human service agency I thought, this is it!


As a Clinical Therapist at the agency, I provide individual, group and family therapy, clinical testing, individual assessments and crisis intervention to youth ages 12-19 that have been adjudicated of sexual offenses. As a clinical social worker with sexually reactive youth I focus on issues related to past abuse and or trauma the youth have experienced and its correlation to their propensity for offending. After working in the field for a while I began to seek opportunities to work with victims of abuse and neglect as a means of balancing the emotional impact of my clinical work with sexually reactive youth. Seeking balance in my career, I began to work as a contractual mental health therapist servicing children, youth, and families impacted by abuse and neglect. More specifically, I provide intensive home-based short-term counseling in order to preserve families, reduce the need for out of home placement, and prevent the recurrence of abuse and neglect to children.


When working with teenagers it is my belief that you have to constantly reinvent the wheel to ensure they are grasping the concepts and more importantly relating them to their lifestyles, past experiences and or offenses.  In my current positions, I am able to be creative in my approach with clients and utilize non-traditional clinical techniques to foster an understanding of the significance of internalizing and applying treatment concepts.  The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing a family regain trust and hope for a child or teenager they thought was hopeless or a teenager making the decision to take responsibility for his behavior and internalizing treatment concepts to prevent further victimization.


It has been a consistent challenge to hear candid accounts of how a child’s past experiences can impact his/her life in such a way he or she will never forget. With this in mind, my career goal is to encourage and support children and youth with turbulent backgrounds with hopes of ensuring that their futures are predicated on their potential and not past experiences. I wholeheartedly believe that if you have the capacity to withstand and overcome the challenges that are presented on a daily a basis in this field, there will always be a career opportunity for you because there is no shortage of children and youth who need someone that will commit to teaching them how to overcome and survive the hardships of life.


Tom Offerdahl, Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, Owner of “Embrace Recovery”, Addiction Treatment Center

“A Career Helping Others”


Growing up in Hawaiian Gardens, California I remember I always wanted to be a teacher.  Unfortunately, I was one of seven kids and college was not something we could afford. So instead I got a job at the phone company as a Telephone Operator and worked my way up to Service Representative. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome, however, and was forced to look into a new career. I went to a local community college and took a vocational test to help me determine a career path… It said I should become a mortician! No thanks.


I was five years clean and sober at that time and my roommate was a Drug & Alcohol Counselor. So I interviewed several people who we were Drug and Alcohol Counselors to determine whether or not I would have to do any repetitive handwork as I was limited with carpal tunnel syndrome.  It turned out that physically I was fit for that type of job. More importantly, I would finally be able to realize my dream of being a teacher - teaching people who suffer from addiction how to get sober and reclaim their lives. I myself never had any treatment for addiction,  I got sober through Narcotics Anonymous and a wonderful Licensed Clinical Social Worker.


Saddleback College offered a certification program for alcohol and drug counselors in which I enrolled in 1995. One of my internships was at South Coast medical center, the Genesis unit to be exact. It offered exposure to detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment for alcoholism and addiction.


My first job in the field of recovery was at a residential treatment program in 1996. I facilitated both process groups, education groups, and their PC1000 program. PC1000 is a court ordered program for first-time offenders, who were guilty of driving under the influence. I fell in love with my career choice. Being a drug and alcohol counselor is the most rewarding thing I've ever done and I received positive feedback from my peers and clients, so I knew I was on the right path.


After one year I was able to get a job on the Genesis unit at South Coast Medical Center.  Originally, their Chemical Dependency unit was combined on the 2nd floor with their behavioral health unit. So in addition to being a drug and alcohol counselor  I was also introduced to working with people with co-existing disorders such as depression. I was also put in charge of running the weekly Family group which allowed me to learn and help family members dealing with loved ones who have the disease of addiction. Many of these family members attended weekly for up to five years and it's helped me see how recovery takes place in, and impacts, the whole family unit.


When the Genesis unit was taken over by a new program I was once more challenged. The new program was larger in scale, with more components, and was not a nonprofit program the Genesis unit was.  It became clear over time that their vision of how to treat addiction was different from my own. As a result, I opened up my own outpatient program for addiction. I co-founded it with my mentor, who has worked in the field for 18 years and is the best drug and alcohol counselor that I know.


Running our own treatment center for addiction is the scariest and most exciting thing I've ever done.  I am no longer encumbered by administration, and can finally treat people as individuals with individual needs. More importantly, I was able to set a limit for how many clients we would take on at a time. We decided on 8 as our years of experience shows that any more than that and the clients would not benefit, literally getting lost in the crowd. Our evening outpatient program has been so successful that we are adding a day outpatient program as well. Embrace Recovery (the name of our program) is celebrating its 1st anniversary.


I love my work and continue to grow and learn as a counselor. I am passionate about what I do and feel it is so important to maintain the integrity of the field of addiction.  Because of this, we offer an internship program where counselors can get hands-on experience as drug and alcohol counselors.  It also helps me to guide those who, though they may be well-meaning, do not possess the skills to be an effective counselor.




This page provided career profiles for professionals working in both research and practice.  We hope that the information individuals shared in their profiles regarding their career paths and their advice to you is helpful.  Although these narratives are a great start to exposing you to potential careers in psychology, they can only provide a glimpse of some of the many potential career opportunities available.  In addition, because no one individual’s narrative can represent an entire field or profession, we encourage you to seek the advice of as many other professionals you can regarding your prospective career path.  Chapter 2 provides tips on how to find such individuals and how to make the most of your conversations with them.  We hope that reading the testimonials included in this chapter has inspired you to take become even more proactive and learn about other career options more on your own.


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