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Academics' Forum: An Interview With Dr. Lillian T. Eby: The First Female Editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology

Dorothy R. Carter & Nathan T. Carter, University of Georgia

In this installment of the Academics’ Forum, I am pleased to write about someone I am lucky to call my friend and colleague at the University of Georgia, Dr. Lillian T. Eby, or, as you probably already know her, the incoming editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology. What you may not know is that Lillian is the first female editor of the top journal in applied psychology in its century-long history. Interestingly, her taking the helm also brought the journal back full-circle to UGA where founder Ludwig Reinhold Giessler first established it (Thomas, 2009)1.

I chose to interview and write about Lillian primarily because of her new editorship position, but the reasons to interview Lillian for this academic forum are endless. She is, of course, a phenomenal researcher who—in addition to publishing ceaselessly in top journals—was among some of the first I-O psychologists to secure large funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a time when many were still being told that I-Os “don’t get grants.” She is also the director of the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research (OIBR)2 at UGA—an institute that is focused on providing services, information, and support to UGA faculty members to enhance the quality and relevance of interdisciplinary research in the social and behavioral sciences. Under her leadership, OIBR has helped faculty generate over $75 million dollars in grant funding since 2015 and substantially increased the institute’s value to faculty both pre- and postaward. Further, she truly puts her research on mentoring into action. She is well known as a fantastic doctoral advisor, she runs a highly successful mentoring program for junior UGA faculty in the social and behavioral sciences through OIBR, and she mentors new faculty in our department and the I-O program simply out of her own kindness and generosity. In fact, that is why I asked my colleague and husband, Nathan Carter, to join me in the interviewing and writing for this article. We are both extremely thankful for Lillian’s guidance and friendship over the years, and it was a great excuse for the three of us to hang out over craft beers and fried clams at our favorite seafood joint in Athens, Georgia!

The remainder of this article is organized around four overarching questions that summarize the many questions Nathan and I asked Lillian for this interview: (1) How did you get here? (2) How does it feel to become editor of our field’s top journal? (3) What is your vision for the journal? (4) What is your advice for junior faculty members?

1. How Did You Get Here?

Lillian describes her pathway as “nontraditional.” Although she came from a family of academics, she was convinced early on that this would not be the path for her. If you have met Lillian, you may be able to see her rationale; the stereotype of a stuffy academician does not fit her. She is fun and personable, warm and endearing. In terms of her professional goals, she wanted to do something practical, yet another break from the academic stereotype. So, having earned her BA in Psychology and Sociology at Western Michigan University, she went on to earn her MA in I-O at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) with the goal of going into I-O practice. Yet, it was during her time at UNCC that she realized she loved research. In 1992, she succumbed to the family trade and began working on her PhD in I-O Psychology at the University of Tennessee Department of Management.

After graduating with her PhD in 1996, Lillian accepted her first—and only—tenure track position at UGA. By this time, she had already begun to publish in the area of mentoring, with her first sole-authored publication on the topic appearing in the Journal of Vocational Behavior in 1997. Although a cursory glance at Lillian’s career record shows the typical indicators of success (e.g., multiple first-authored articles within a year of graduating), a closer look reveals a theme we identified in talking to Lillian about her career: wanting to do something that matters. Her early work examined job loss, unemployment, and well-being; ethical approaches to organizational restructuring; and other topics that focus on the worker and the impact an organization has on their psychological and overall well-being.

A real turning point in her career—one that led her to accomplish research with far-reaching implications for society—originated through the mentoring she received from a faculty member in sociology as part of the OIBR mentoring program. This faculty member impressed upon her how relevant I-O psychology could be to the substance abuse treatment workforce (e.g., drug and alcohol counselors) and, thus, to the goals of the NIH. Despite knowing nothing about the “how,” “who,” or “what” of NIH funding, Lillian began to pursue it. She told us that she locked herself away for a summer to learn everything she could about the grant-funding process as well as the substance abuse treatment workforce, particularly with regard to the mentoring relationships between counselors and their supervisors. Of course, this was no easy road. It was extremely difficult to navigate demands that were so far out of her “home arena” of I-O psychology, even after receiving funding. For example, in order for her work to have the impact she desired, she needed to publish in journals that would reach the target audience (i.e., NOT mainstream I-O or management journals). So she (successfully) figured out how to publish in top-tier drug abuse and health services journals. More generally, she says that she experienced first hand the challenges of being an interdisciplinary researcher and often felt disconnected from her home discipline. However, she says that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.

After 10 years of NIH funding wound down, she began to reconnect with I-O and found that she was warmly welcomed back. This led to a sort of “second career,” she says, in which her leadership abilities were more the focus. Around the same time, she began her tenure as the director of OIBR. Although this is technically an administrative role, Lillian says that she believes she gets the best of both worlds, being able to play a part in university leadership while building a large network of researchers and remaining highly immersed in social science.

A general theme we identified in our discussion with Lillian was that she attributes the majority of her successes to her motivation, persistence, and work ethic. She qualified many of her answers with the admission that her career is peppered with “risky” choices and that she did not follow a “paint by numbers” path. However, she also believes that she is living proof that taking chances on interdisciplinary research with real-world implications can work out. We agree.

2. How Does it Feel?

Lillian laughs that her first reaction to the news she was named editor was “terror and panic” followed by the more positive feelings of surprise and humility as she realized her colleagues had chosen her out of the list of other highly impressive candidates. When she noted that she had the concern that she would “be under the microscope” because she is a woman (and the first woman), we asked her to elaborate on her feelings about that, to which she said confidently: “Bring on the microscope!” To us, this is classic Lillian. She may worry a bit, but she always comes back to a confidence and dauntlessness that is truly inspiring.

Indeed, many others have been inspired by her. Lillian noted how wonderful it has been to have so many people thank her for taking on this role and how her recent experiences have made her even more aware of how important it is for women to take positions of leadership when they can. Female researchers have said things to her like “You make me think I could do this someday,” and she notes that this is a major reason she decided to pursue the opportunity. She noted that she has fallen into the cognitive trap that many women (and men) experience, asking “Why me?” Yet, she said that even having that thought bothered her because she knows she is a strong woman and wants to model that for others.

3. What Is Your Vision for the Journal?

Lillian articulated a strong vision for the future of JAP. First, she is committed to maintaining high methodological and conceptual standards at the journal. Second, she said she is determined to enhance the peer review experience for authors and reviewers. She noted that as the premiere journal in the field, many researchers send their best work to JAP first, and thus, the journal has a responsibility to give authors actionable feedback to improve their science, even when they miss the mark. As an associate editor (AE) she said that she has been inspired by authors who came to her and thanked her for her feedback even though she had rejected their article. Additionally, she has some ideas for how to reward the “army” of volunteer reviewers for the journal. This is representative of her own research on mentoring. Her focus will be on encouraging developmental reviewing among reviewers, as well as on developmental feedback for AEs so that they will leave feeling equipped to be editors themselves. Finally, she said she believes the most important part is kindness—“There is no reason not to be kind,” she says.

Third, she is committed to encouraging and supporting practices that support open science. Although JAP has already done a lot toward these ends, our field overall has been relatively slow to adapt to demand for open-science practices, which she describes as a “train that has already left the station.” She hopes to encourage reviewers and AEs to not, for example, ask for post-hoc hypotheses, moderators, or mediators, and to rein in requests to redesign the study altogether. More complete methodological reporting that allows for replication and improves transparency is also on her radar. She says that plans are already underway for small changes that will help bring these goals to fruition.

Further, she has plans to try to maintain and increase the journal’s diversity in two key ways. She has developed an editorial board and review team that are diverse in all senses of the word, including race, sex, and national origin as examples. She also hopes to increase the diversity of the journal’s representation of interdisciplinary work and improve the translational impact of our science. Collectively, these efforts will enhance our science by bringing many viewpoints to bear on common problems and improve the translation of our science for public good.

4. Advice for Junior Faculty?

Our final question for Lillian was what her advice would be for junior faculty. First, she noted that she regrets that many junior faculty get the advice that there is only one pathway to success. Although she sees nothing wrong with the “traditional” path, she believes her path has been more fun—and riskier—as a result of making her own way. She also emphasized the importance of more senior people in this equation, noting that she had a small group of people who really believed in her early on, and she is committed to paying that forward. For example, she said, little things like sending an email after reading an article you really like can be a huge boon to that up-and-comer. But her biggest advice is what resonated with us the most: “Do what you love and remember that you can make this career anything you want!”


We hope we have made it clear why it is so inspiring to work with someone like Lillian Eby. She is of course highly influential at our university and the field more broadly, but more importantly, she is a kind senior faculty member who is generous with her time. We have no doubt that all of these qualities will be evident as she assumes her new role at Journal of Applied Psychology.


1 Thomas, R. K. (2009). Ludwig Reinhold Geissler and founding of the Journal of Applied Psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 122, 395–403.

2 Notably, this is the same William A. Owens who was a former president of SIOP (1969–1970) and the namesake of the SIOP Scholarly Achievement award, meaning this important institute has seen two generations of I-O psychologists as its director. Bill was the founder of the Institute for Behavioral Research, and OIBR was renamed after him and his wife, Barbara R. Owens, after their deaths.

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