From Classwork to Applied Experience: Understanding the life of an Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Graduate Student

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP) Visibility Committee recently wrote a blog introducing students to the rapidly growing field of Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology. As a quick reminder, I-O psychologists study behavior in the workplace and are employed in various academic and organizational settings. Perhaps you are now seriously considering graduate school in this field, and while knowing the benefits of a future career in I-O, still have some questions about what life might be like as an I-O student. We can help with that!

What is a typical day like in an I-O graduate program? Well, like most questions in psychology, the answer is that it depends.

Types of Programs

I-O students’ experiences are somewhat determined by the type of program they are enrolled in. Within the field of I-O, you have the options of obtaining a master’s degree or a doctorate.

  • Master’s programs tend to last about 2-3 years and generally aim to train students to be practitioners within organizations or consulting firms, meaning that they apply the science of I-O rather than develop it.
  • Doctoral programs tend to take longer, approximately 4-6 years, and usually focus much more on training students to become scientists who will work in academic settings or organizations actually conducting research and developing the science of I-O. This being said, most doctoral programs also include some of the practitioner training that is provided in master’s programs.


How are classes different for I-O graduate students compared to undergraduate students? For both masters and doctoral students, class sizes tend to be much smaller (anywhere from 5-20 students). Graduate students are expected to participate often in class and perhaps even help the instructor by leading discussions on assigned readings.

Here are some courses that I-O students might be enrolled in:

  • Industrial Psychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Advanced Research Methods (especially doctoral students)
  • Advanced Statistics (especially doctoral students)
  • Performance Appraisal
  • Selection of Employees
  • Leadership
  • Workplace Motivation
  • Occupational Health and Safety


I-O graduate students, especially in doctoral programs, work with their advisors to develop and conduct studies on employees in workplaces. Junior-level graduate students might be responsible for tasks like conducting literature reviews, developing online surveys, and managing the day-to-day tasks involved with running a data collection. Senior-level graduate students are more likely to be assisting their advisor with analyzing data and writing scientific publications. Additionally, most students are required to lead their own master’s thesis project and/or a doctoral dissertation project where they collect data, analyze it, and write up the results.

Applied Experience

I-O graduate students in both master’s and doctoral programs are typically provided with opportunities to engage in applied work. They may be helping their advisor with a consulting project for a company or even leave school for a period of time to complete an internship within an organization. Graduate programs vary in the extent to which they expect and require students to engage in these practitioner work experiences.

So what is a typical day like?

Although it depends, most students spend some of their day in class and doing homework, while assisting their advisors with research tasks or working on their own research projects. Some may be working on applied practitioner projects. Others might not even be at school, but instead away on internship. It can be a very busy time. Despite all of this work, graduate students still have fun, too! Graduate students often become very good friends and even future colleagues with other students in their programs. They study together, collaborate on applied and research projects, and spend time together outside of school.

Now that you know more about the life of an I-O graduate student, we encourage you to learn more about specific programs that might fit your interests and career goals by following this link.

About the Author

Tori is an assistant professor in the Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Program at Colorado State University. She recently received her doctorate in applied psychology from Portland State University, with a major in industrial-organizational psychology and a minor in occupational health psychology. Prior to that, Tori completed her BA in psychology at Whitworth University. Her research interests include the work-family interface, sleep and fatigue in relation to the workplace, and occupational stress interventions.