Why Being a Scientist-Practitioner Matters

Posted by Matt Grawitch

I recently put together a proposal for a panel session that would bring a group of scholars and practitioners together to discuss issues related to the work-life interface. One of the experts on my proposed panel serves as an external consultant to organizations, and she mentioned that many people who work internally in organizations tend to have a very negative opinion of academics who conduct research in the area of the work-life interface. The argument is that many academics spend their time studying issues that have little to no practical value to organizations.

Of course, I would never put myself, or many other academics I work with, into that particular box. However, I know that there are an awful lot of academics who do fall into that stereotype of the “ivory tower” academic.

That got me thinking about my own philosophy and what I try to do as a professional. I was trained under the scientist-practitioner philosophy, which means that my work, whether it is consulting organizations or teaching students, is based in research, and, conversely, my research paradigm emphasizes the practical realities of organizational life.

None of this is to say that I lack an interest in understanding the inner workings of people – after all, I am a psychologist. I believe that basic research has led to many advances that have practical implications, but I also recognize that a lot of “applied” research has become so narrowly focused, and sometimes needlessly sophisticated, that it has the potential to render itself irrelevant to practitioners.

I know I’m not the only scientist-practitioner out there. I was trained to be a scientist-practitioner, so my teachers and mentors were scientist-practitioners themselves. I even work with several individuals that fit into that category, and I have a host of contacts whom I would identify as true scientist-practitioners as well. We do exist!

However, if applied psychology refuses to constantly pay attention to the “gap” between science and practice, then it runs the risk of rendering itself irrelevant to many people who deal with the day-to-day realities in organizations. And, if practitioners who deal with those day-to-day realities refuse to pay attention to solid research, then they run the risk of creating substantially less effective programs that are guided more by heuristics than sound science.

So, we have today the same struggle that has confronted applied psychology since its inception. We must constantly scrutinize the divide between scientific research and practical realities. Practitioners need to learn from researchers and utilize sound scientific processes when designing new initiatives and programs. Researchers, for their part, need to devote more resources toward the study of issues that concern practitioners and do a better job of communicating results in a way that is meaningful to people working in organizations. It sounds like a tall order, but if scientist-practitioners become more common in academia and in organizations, they can begin to diminish the gap and strengthen the relationship between science and practice.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/umairmohsin/2067636565/

Comments are closed.