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NJOD Learning Community Sponsors New Event

NJOD Learning Community Sponsors New Event:

“Learning Day 2014: Bridging the Gap between Academics and Practitioners”

By Regina Lind

I went to graduate school with someone who has turned out to be one of my closest friends.  We pursued our Masters in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, a field that offers both science and practice, a duality that attracts many of us to study it.  My friend and I exemplify the two faces of the discipline as he became a professor and researcher while I became a practitioner.  

Over the years, we have often debated the merits of our chosen paths, at times embodying the great divide between those who research OD and those who practice it in applied settings.  I’ll accuse him of holding court in his ivory tower, publishing research that has little applicability to the “real world,” while he argues that I’m a slave to the clients I serve, diluting the research until it bears little resemblance to the science and theory upon which it was based. 

This debate is what spurred my interest in joining NJOD’s Education Team.  This team was formed to explore how NJOD can involve academics in our practitioner community, and create mutually beneficial opportunities for partnership.  Initial activities focused on identifying local (NJ, NYC) professors who were interested in developing ways for academia and practice to collaborate.  Once the Education Team identified an initial group of researchers, the idea was born to host a “Learning Day”, a one-day conference to create a shared, mutually-respectful space for researchers to highlight their science, and practitioners to illustrate the theory’s relevance in the workplace.  

Learning Day 2014 featured joint academic/practitioner panels on topics such as Engagement, Leadership, and Global Talent Management.  Each session included an academic who presented the latest theories in the field, often including the academic’s own research, and practitioners who shared their experiences with the topic in business settings.   This juxtaposition sought to showcase the intersection points between research and practice, rather than any of the antagonism often depicted (see Rynes, 2007). “Our goal in pioneering this program was to explore ways by which academia and practice can better understand each other’s work, and tackle today’s toughest organizational challenges. There are opportunities to connect research data, trends, and theories to the complex real-world dilemmas that Corporate America faces on a daily basis. Together, with distinct voices in the same conversation, we are able to quickly uncover clear, sound solutions for those burning issues,” says Tara Seager, President of the NJOD Learning Community.  

Professors participated from New Jersey and New York-based Universities with HRM and Organizational Psychology programs such as Rutgers, and Montclair State University.  Practitioners represented many industries, including pharma and consumer products.   

In addition to the topical sessions, the event opened with an interactive keynote address by Dr. Michael Horne (Genentech) and Dr. David Jamieson (American University).  As Dr. Horne and Dr. Jamieson described, practitioners often see researchers as facing academic pressure to publish which fuels a focus on theoretical relevance rather than real-world applicability. Conversely, academics think practitioners lack the sophistication to interpret the science, and water down the rigor to a point where researchers lament the loss of the essential findings.  Given this potential dynamic, the Learning Day challenge was to craft a shared space that cultivated synergy between research and practice.  Academics were encouraged to make the research accessible, while the practitioners were tasked with demonstrating how the theory can be relevant to what they see in the workplace. 

Learning Day closed with an Open Space experience for all attendees, during which participants suggested and then explored topics of personal interest in organic, fluid small groups. 

Although this was an inaugural event, the attendance exceeded the Education Team’s expectations. Feedback to the Board from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.  Dr. Lilian Abrams, Chair of the Education Team, reports “I am extremely pleased by the great enthusiasm shown by attendees to learn more from each other.  Now we need to continue to build and strengthen the partnerships, and find new ways to continue to benefit each other’s work".    

Given Learning Day 2014’s success, the Education Team continues to pursue the partnership between local academicians and those who practice in applied settings. Areas of potential exploration include matching researchers and companies, internships, forums for faculty to discuss research findings, and vehicles for practitioners to inform academic program offerings and curricula.  Tara adds, “I could not be more pleased by the level of partnership and candid conversation that this program has started, we are truly excited to continue to explore working together to co-create an amazing future for OD professionals”.

As for my friend and I, well, we both attended Learning Day.  While we aspire to do a better job of respecting each other’s specialties, I’m not sure we’re ready to completely let go of the debate!

Regina Lind is Vice President, Organization Effectiveness at Viacom Inc., and a member of the NJOD Education Team. 

If you have additional ideas to share on this topic, the NJOD Education team would love to hear from you, please contact labrams@abramsandassociatesllc.com.

Rynes, S. L., Gulik, T. L., & Brown, K. G. 2007. The very separate worlds of academic and practitioner periodicals in human resource management: Implications for evidence-based management. Academy of Management Journal, 50: 987–1008. 

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