A Mix of Two Passions – Julia Johnson-Toney

“I chose to study Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology because I was interested in understanding why and how people behave in the workplace. As an undergraduate student at Meredith, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my psychology degree. I found myself struggling with the idea of being a “traditional” psychologist or counselor because I also had a passion for what I was learning in my business courses and it felt like there wasn’t a pathway for me at first. That’s when I found this overlap of the two worlds, I-O psychology. In this field, you work to address workplace scenarios and problems using a scientific study of human behavior. You’re a “workplace psychologist.” As I researched more, I was particularly interested in the organizational psychology side of the work, and how those theories and principles could and should be utilized in everyday work. I found that I-O psychology really was the perfect mix of my two passions!

Staying at Meredith for my master’s degree felt 100% like the right choice. As a senior, I was part of the early I-O master’s program where I was able to take graduate courses during my last two semesters. During this time, I was able to experience the program curriculum and faculty firsthand and explore what careers could look like for me with an I-O degree. I loved how Meredith’s program offered opportunities and flexibility. I had done lots of undergraduate research so working in the research lab with Dr. Joe Mazzola was appealing. I could choose what to study and explore topics of interest. I also really appreciated how the program has students take both psychology and MBA courses. Seeing the other side of the workspaces we’d really be in helped prepare me for my career and taught me where my I-O lens would be impactful and necessary.

My first official semester of the I-O program was fall of 2020 at the height of COVID-19. I had chosen this program because of the intimate cohort style in-person classes and that had to be completely reimagined. Thankfully, it worked out wonderfully. As students and faculty, we had to figure out what virtual learning looked and felt like. At the same time, I was working a full-time job, so I had to learn how to balance being fully remote in my job and grad school. It was a challenge sometimes. I felt like I never left my computer and didn’t know my cohort peers as well as I would have if we were in person. I had to work to make those personal connections and work to set personal boundaries. It was a tough first year, but I am grateful for the experience. The time went by fast and I became highly adaptable, a trait I carry in my toolbelt today in my professional career.

At Meredith, I learned that I am capable of pushing myself. The professors within the program really cared about us as individuals and wanted to be sure we left the program with the jobs we wanted and the skills needed to do those jobs. That meant sometimes re-doing assignments, receiving tough critiques on papers and projects, working on career development outlines, researching jobs, and more. The program pushed me to think differently and seek feedback and input. Because of it, I am a better team member, collaborator, and innovator.

The case studies we did as part of our courses prepared me for my career. In those learning experiences, we heard about a problem a company was having, conducted a needs assessment, researched ways to address the set of needs, provided a plan of action, and developed criteria for success metrics. This is very similar to the work I do in my current position as a program manager for change management and talent development at Duke University Health System. Having this practice while still in the program helped me develop the skills needed to perform my work and put theories into practice.

My favorite strength is Achiever because it’s different in how it shows up individually and in groups. In groups, this strength can inspire others with a call to action through modeling behaviors/expectations and inspiring others. Individually, it’s the part of me that is driven towards accomplishing something, whether big or small, and understanding that this brings joy. Knowing that I have a need for achievement is highly impactful for my professional development because it allows me to manage myself. It helps me set the pace and levels of productivity within my work, helps me communicate to my supervisor what I need to feel fulfilled, and helps me manage my own emotions when working with others who may not have this same strength.

During my undergrad and graduate experience, there was a large emphasis on learning within a community. That’s the reason I chose Meredith back in 2016 and moved from Minnesota to North Carolina. I wouldn’t change this experience for the world and the people you meet while at Meredith are lifelong partners and friends.

The faculty in the I-O program are immensely supportive and truly care about the students. They want to see you shine and be successful and are there to help you in any way they can. It’s a community that cares. The majority of us still are connected to each other daily, creating lifelong friendships.

As I continue to grow in my career, I’d like to see myself in a senior leadership position working in organizational and leader development and honing in on my skills in change management. Long term I’d also love to work as a consultant and potentially teach as an adjunct for I-O graduate courses. My near future goals are to continue to learn and grow my knowledge, skills, and abilities in this space by obtaining advanced certifications in either change management or organizational development. I truly love the work that I do. The work is impactful and is in pursuit of making the employee experience better and more positive at Duke Health.”