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Scientist-Practitioners in Video Gaming

2009 May 26
by Richard N. Landers
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One of the trumpeted concepts in SIOP is the idea of the scientist-practitioner: the I/O psychologist with one foot in rigorous academic research and the other working with real organizations on real problems.  It’s a difficult balance, and one that many simply choose not to attempt, landing themselves firmly on one side or the other.  Frankly, I’d always thought of this as a uniquely I/O (or perhaps even psychology) concern.  But it’s not.  Many areas have scientists and practitioners and all the conflict that goes along with it.

Enter this article from the Escapist.  Some familiar themes emerge.

With 25 years on one side and three on the other, I can tell you that the difference between our two worlds isn’t as big as one might think, and the delineations between “practicing” and “preaching” are not as important as they often seem. There is value to each side of the equation. There is also great value in there being no equation, no sides at all.

Such a quote could fit right into an I/O conference presentation about the scientist-practitioner divide, couldn’t it?  But it’s not – this quote is about the video game industry, where academics in the ivory tower fight to remain relevant to commercial video game projects.  Suprisingly, many of the same themes emerge. Some issues raised in the article:

  1. Once a person goes into industry, it is very difficult to get back into academia.
  2. Practitioners feel academics are too judgmental about the expertise of practitioners.
  3. Practitioners who have successfully completed a few major projects assume that makes them qualified to teach, while academics disagree.
  4. Practitioners assume many academic innovations are not commercially valuable, at least initially.
  5. Practitioners think academics without industry experience could not possibly know what they’re talking about.

Sound familiar?  What this tells me is that the scientist-practioner model is one that exists outside of I/O, in many fields, even though they might not describe it with the same words.  Perhaps some of these other fields have something to teach us?  Does this occur in chemistry, biology, and physics?  In what fields has the scientist-practitioner flouished, and why?  And perhaps more importantly, where has this model failed, and is I/O going down the same road?  I wish I had an answer.

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  1. May 28, 2009

    I am glad to hear this is not just an I/O thing; I thought it might be. I have tried to straddle this divide, but I have to say I have had an easier time pulling my own teeth (ok, I haven’t tried, but you get the picture).

    I am convinced that regularly reading research makes me a better practitioner. I am also convinced that performing scientific research would make me a better practitioner too; I will get to that some day.

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