Social-Organizational Psychology

Several people have asked me over the years exactly what is covered in ‘social-organizational psychology’. Social-Organizational psychology refers to the name of our program at Teachers College, Columbia University, housed within the Organization & Leadership department. It’s complicated to explain because it merges two fields that are not traditionally merged together (e.g., like say ‘industrial-organizational’ psychology). In addition, the program name doesn’t quite capture the various focus areas headed by different faculty members.

Recently, a prospective student reached out to inquire about the program. I’m posting my response to her here:

Our program is different from traditional industrial – organizational psychology programs. There’s less of an emphasis on industrial-side topics in I/O such as: job analysis, job satisfaction, performance appraisal etc.

Our program is rather eclectic in it’s content areas, our faculty have diverse interest. To give you a flavor, we have five programs housed in our department including: an MA program, a PhD program, an Executive Masters program, an ELDP (Eisenhower Leadership Development) and other Executive programs (e.g., Professional Practice in Organizational Development).

The give you an idea of the content focus of our faculty we have a:

1. Center for Group Dynamics (with a ‘Group Relations’ flavor)
2. ICCCR (International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Research)
3. Center for Applied Research in Organizational Psychology (this includes organizational development and consulting to organizational systems, leading and managing change, executive coaching.)
4. We also have faculty who are interested in, broadly defined, Diversity research (e.g., demography and stereotypes in organization, ageism, gender bias, women in science)

I would say the focus is a little broader than traditional I/O programs. Moreover, our program produces both scholars and practitioner (i.e., traditional I/O programs and Organizational Behavior programs in business schools focus on producing primarily researcher-scholars who go on in academic careers; I would say our program has produced more of a mix: 60% practitioners, 40% academic).

The strength of our program lies in it’s broad eclectic focus giving students exposure to a wide range of content areas, should they choose. The other side of the story is that the program doesn’t lend itself to easy categorization, so you’d have to be comfortable with the ambiguity of not having a definitive ‘label’ attached to you. Your identity in this program is emergent and forged rather than bestowed on you as might be the case in other programs.

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