Thomas E. Mitchell
Division of Applied Behavioral Sciences
As a child, I was always interested in finding the "one best way" to do something; I was obsessed with efficiency. It was only later in college that I heard about Fredrick Taylor, the father of scientific management (see The One Best Way, a biography of Taylor by Robert Kanigel). As an undergraduate psychology major, I was introduced to the idea of studying work behavior. But instead of becoming a human factors engineer, I stayed in psychology and found a greater interest in social psychology, particularly in how it applies to work.
After finishing my master's degree in industrial psychology, I worked with government agencies in the area of test development and validation. But because I missed academia, I returned to school. After completing my doctoral degree, I had planned to work as an industrial and organizational psychologist in industry, but my career plans changed when I was offered a teaching position in Louisiana. The rest is history.
I found my place in academia at UB in 1984 and have been here ever since, only venturing out to visit the world of work in my consulting activities.
With regard to my research interest, I am most interested in understanding how applicant faking on personality tests affects job performance. There is a lot of debate in the field as to whether or not fakers turn out to be better or worse at their jobs than non-fakers. There are also interesting questions as to why applicants fake, and it is not always simply to make a good impression! Do they believe their "work" personality is really different from their "home with friends" personality? Because of the revival of the use of personality tests, these issues need to be explored.
Over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in devising better ways to provide graduate students with real-world experiences in their capstone course in industrial/organizational psychology.
With the help of Mike Sturman, a colleague at Cornell University, I have been able to provide very realistic data sets for students to analyze. The very cleverly designed software program that Mike developed allows me to create data sets of any size and to any specifications. By creating hidden secrets within these data sets, I can challenge even the very best students, who must be good detectives find the answers buried within. Many graduates from the program have used their reports from this course to get very good jobs with consulting companies.
When I am away from campus, I am an avid tennis player and fan of the game. It allows me to retreat into an entirely different world and serves as an excellent reprieve from the daily activities of teaching and research.