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SIOP Award Winners: Meet the Team Who Won the M. Scott Myers Award for Applied Research in the Workplace!

Liberty J. Munson

As part of our ongoing series to provide visibility into what it takes to earn a SIOP award or grant, we highlight a diverse class of award winners in each edition of TIP. We hope that this insight encourages you to consider applying for a SIOP award or grant because you are probably doing something amazing that can and should be recognized by your peers in I-O psychology!

This quarter, we are highlighting the M. Scott Myers Award for Applied Research in the Workplace awarded to a team: Debby Gebhardt and Todd Baker from HumRRO and Marilyn A. Sharp, Stephen A. Foulis, Jan Redmond (not pictured), Peter Frykman, and Edward J. Zambraski from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.






Share a little a bit about who you are and what you do.

Deborah Gebhardt (principal scientist) and Todd Baker (senior scientist) are members of the HumRRO (Human Resources Research Organization) staff. Our backgrounds are in biomechanics, anatomy, and industrial and organizational psychology. We have been developing, validating, and implementing physical performance, ergonomic, and work environment assessments for over 25 years. During that time, we have provided services in the public, private, and military sectors to clients such as Fortune 500 companies (e.g., AT&T, Union Pacific Railroad, Walmart), U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, TSA, and numerous state and county organizations.

Describe the research/work that you did that resulted in this award. What led to your idea?

In 2013, the United States Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Department of Defense (DoD) rescinded the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, thus providing women the opportunity to serve in direct combat roles. The U.S. Congress mandated that the standards for each combat arms job be based on documented job requirements and that there should be no “artificial barriers” to women’s entry into a combat arms career field. We conducted a 4-year study to develop and validate an entry-level assessment that all personnel entering the army must pass to be placed in a specific military occupational specialty (MOS) job. The project involved participation of over 6,000 soldiers across the phases of the study. The job analysis included observations of over 400 soldiers performing combat arms tasks, focus groups, job analysis surveys, and biomechanical and physiological assessments. Following the job analysis, we developed tests and criterion measures, and conducted reliability, concurrent validation, and predictive validation studies.

What do you think was key to winning this award?

The key to winning the award was the impact of this project on the future of the army personnel and the care and detail put into the study.

What did you learn that surprised you? Did you have an “aha” moment? What was it?

We have always known that the success of a validation project requires input from all parties who will be affected by the outcome and the cooperation of the client, staff, and participants. However, the magnitude of this project and the detailed data collection was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which interdisciplinary backgrounds provided the means to generate a product that has already reduced attrition in basic military training and reduced injuries.

What do you see as the lasting/unique contribution of this work to our discipline? How can it be used to drive changes in organizations, the employee experience, etc.?

The army can recruit and place personnel into the MOSs commensurate with their physical capabilities, which in turn will decrease attrition from military training. This project demonstrated the need for an interdisciplinary approach to achieve an assessment that provides a substantial return on investment.

How did others become aware of your award-winning work/research? 

This project received not only the M. Scott Myers Award, but also multiple awards from the Army. Others became aware of it through SIOP publications and the SIOP conference. HumRRO also published the award on its website, and the army published its awards in their publications.

Who would you say was the biggest advocate of your research/work that resulted in the award? How did that person become aware of your work?

Paul Sackett wrote a letter of recommendation as did several army personnel, such as Mike McGurk who is the director of research, U.S. Army CIMT at the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

To what extent would you say this work/research was interdisciplinary? 

This project was multidisciplinary from the start. To develop physical performance assessments, one needs backgrounds in I-O psychology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology. The HumRRO and army team had personnel with this expertise. We also added army disciplines related to operations, training, epidemiology, and combat deployment.

There were two major challenges. One involved developing assessments that addressed the physical demands across the MOSs and that met the army’s constraints for administering the assessment with limited resources and space. The second challenge was acquiring subjects (n = 6,000+) for each project phase while meeting the human subjects’ requirements. This challenge was made more difficult because women were not in combat arms MOSs and had to be recruited from other MOSs. The army has a very rigorous human subjects process that was adhered to for each phase. Although we had to learn new army acronyms, a primary challenge centered around gathering data in a manner that ensured the safety of the subjects.

Research in the 21st century that benefits an organization must be interdisciplinary to ensure that we provide the best outcomes. The quality of this project reflects the use of an interdisciplinary approach.

Our recommendations include (a) gain a background knowledge of the other disciplines; (b) respect their discipline as equal to yours; (c) share approaches and discuss combining approaches to yield the best outcome; and (d) learn as much as you can about the other discipline, be curious, ask questions.

Are you still doing work/research in the same area where you won the award? If so, what are you currently working on in this space? If not, what are you working on now and how did you move into this different work/research area?

We have several projects in this area with the U.S. Air Force, State Department, and several cities/counties.

What’s a fun fact about yourself (something that people may not know)?

We (Debby and Todd) were locked in a county jail during a site visit (accidentally).

What piece of advice would you give to someone new to I-O psychology? (If you knew then what you know now…)

Never assume you are the smartest person in the room…you are not. Further, learn from everyone around you regardless of their job title.


About the author:

Liberty Munson is currently the principal psychometrician of the Microsoft Technical Certification and Employability programs in the Worldwide Learning organization. She is responsible for ensuring the validity and reliability of Microsoft’s certification and professional programs. Her passion is for finding innovative solutions to business challenges that balance the science of assessment design and development with the realities of budget, time, and schedule constraints. Most recently, she has been presenting on the future of testing and how technology can change the way we assess skills.

Liberty loves to bake, hike, backpack, and camp with her husband, Scott, and miniature schnauzer, Apex. If she’s not at work, you’ll find her enjoying the great outdoors or in her kitchen tweaking some recipe just to see what happens.

Her advice to someone new to I-O psychology?  Statistics, statistics, statistics—knowing data analytic techniques will open A LOT of doors in this field and beyond!

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