The last two months, as we headed towards this symposium, I was passing through a deep spout of depression and hopelessness and was in somewhat of a life-altering existential crisis. It occurred to me that I was expected to say something as the opening remarks, I was contemplative on what was the key message I wanted to bring to light…

But I was not sure. As many of you know, Industrial Organisational (IO) psychology is not necessarily the focus of my research. Perhaps in the heart of my heart, I remain the man, or perhaps the fish from the old man and the sea. So, what could I say, or do that gives a vision to IO and the way forward?

Having said that, in the last couple of years coming back to India, and engaging with IO, some facts have been apparent to me. Yes, it is true that globally IO has a large place of vocation. For example, in Germany, a senior- level industrial psychologist earns an average salary of 105,934€, in Australia- 115,000, UK-£92,337, US-92,000, and as much as 130,000 USD. On the other hand, the reality is IO has almost no existence in Bengal, and very little in the rest of the country, although it has been taught at university levels in the state for at least the last 20 years, that I Know of. While there have been only 2 organisations in Bengal which hire IO Psychologists.

So why is that the case? The unfortunate reality is our education system historically has only given relevance to clinical and related psychology. This is mirroring the society, where psychology is only envisioned through clinical practice, overshadowing psychology of arts, sports, aeronautics, space science… let alone IO. In fact, this was the reason I had to take a call to leave psychology as a vocation, after finishing my first PHd in psychology, because I did not want to be a clinician, and not a lot of vision was provided. Indeed, IO does seem like an afterthought in university education, even from bachelor level, the way it is taught hardly develops any interest among students , and the second fact is the lack of connection and promotion with industries. Educators have been busy with the theoretical jargons, and not engaged with industries substantially. So, this has caused a conundrum, which has two folds, once the students who pass out with this discipline, almost invariably never end up getting a job in IO, and the only job IO has to offer- directly, is to be a teacher in IO. On the other hand, the industries and organizations who need the expertise of this discipline end up losing what IO have to offer. This is especially true in the case of our broken- down organizational system.

There is also another interesting conundrum, it is regarding the gender gap. Even though we do not like to admit, we have still not broken the glass ceiling, what is worse is that we don’t like talking about it much, pretending… We have achieved equity. In Bengal, psychology has historically primarily garnered the attention of women, such is the case for students in IO. Why is that?…I do not know, and as of now, no one has given me any satisfactory answer.

Whereas, as of the latest data, in the US, Gender wise Us- 48% are women, Which means that around 50% are also male.I can only imagine there is still the stereotype of psychologists being mental health professionals only, which in public perception is they are less than a doctor, and I would imagine, IO is a smaller part of psychology, so men do not even take part in it, and with a strange turn of event, as because men do not participate, it is considered less relevant in the industrial sector.

Faced by these difficult questions, I kept on asking myself … who will answer this call of our society? Who will raise the sail, and dash the turmoil of these unpredictable waves?

While deep in depression and lost in a sense of purpose, and perhaps identity, I happened to re-read one of the books that always gave me peace: In Victor Frankel’s “Man’s Search of Ultimate Meaning”, he contemplates a story of one of his students-

It goes: “In the mental hospital,I was locked like an animal in a cage. No one came when I called begging to be taken to the bathroom, and I finally had to succumb to the inevitable. Blessedly, I was given daily shock treatment, insulin shock, and sufficient drugs so that I lost most of the next several

weeks…But in the darkness, I had acquired a sense of my unique mission in the world. I knew then, as I know now, that I must have been preserved for some reason- however small, it is something that only I can do, and it is vitally important that I do it.”

My purpose was to give my students the purpose, this is where I was uniquely placed. It has been for them for the last two months that I got up in the morning. Delving deep within them and their work, they provided me with the answers to what I was looking for. I was observing them, and contemplating what was within them,that needed to be harnessed to make them in the right vessel, yes,they are hard-working, diligent, focused, and proactive – so much so that, they worked through the Durga puja to complete every mission I had set for them. They had courage under fire, exemplified by this marvelous symposium they have pulled off (lord only knows the challenges we have had). But most importantly it was their patience, kindness, and true empathy. I believe that is the most important skill of an IO psychologist.

So, I propose to you that this symposium is about not only creating professional output for students who have taken up or want to take up IO psychology in Bengal… but it is more. I believe it is the growth of these young women, not only as a legitimate career, but also a purpose to heal the minds of the industries as entities, and the human beings being part as individuals not merely as ID badges. The problem that happens here is that people are treated as machines in the industries, like an engine in a sports car. As the engine goes on for miles and miles across rain and valleys, often over years, it malfunctions, you can change some of the parts, put some grease on, and it is back working again. The unfortunate reality is, that if a human being is malfunctioning you can indeed fix it to an extent, but when it goes too far,we cannot change parts, but work pressure has taken away their life force, and forgets them in the wayside as dispensable cogs.

Perhaps there is more value in considering the intrinsic value of the human being not only a valuable member of the organization, but of the society, and their family, and trying not to fix them when things happen, like organized yoga seminars,for di-stressing. That is why,when I talk to any young student, I never ask what you want to be as you grow up, I ask who you want to be as you step into the world. As such that is asking a young mind to shape their purpose, and where they can uniquely contribute to. For IO, not only do you have to love human beings, have a deep inquisitiveness on the processes that make them work, and be motivated, but indeed how this becomes a part of a healthy organization or industry. The health of any modern society is often shaped by the health of its industries, and the humans in it. Industries are hence not only about work, but a sign of health, and prosperity. IO can play a crucial part in healing these human beings, and the organization they are part of, and create path of how these conundrums are not allowed to happen in the first hand rather than putting bandages on large wounds, IO can help human beings find their own purpose in live through vocation, and lend hand in a happier society… that is what they are uniquely placed to do… this is their purpose.

Yes the situation is a double-edged sword, in one sense there is nothing, so starting from zero is mountainously difficult, at the same time, because of this virgin territory it becomes the right soil to sow new seeds of growth. Infact the lack of males should be celebrated, because in Bengal there are no, (or very little) males, there is no glass ceiling to be shattered, and when there are,we celebrate it as equal socio-gender partners. I call upon all the universities that teach IO, to hold at least a position of IO psychologist in their ranks. I call upon our industries to treat our employees as human-beings, to understand them, not merely to exploit them, much like classical anthropologists were used to know about far of culture, but use IO expertise for the betterment of all. I call upon my fellow educators to, yes, deal with theory, but let not theory be a king without his clothes, and jargons run supreme at the cost of real life engagement with human beings and industries.

This symposium, and the path forward, is about purpose. I am no longer afraid of the future of IO. You are the Stewarts of the ship. My young women, my kids, my amazing human beings, I am in awe of your dedication, I only wish I was as focused as you were at your age. But at my old age, I have found purpose, to care for my planet and sharks through my research and support you in your journey in IO. Remember,if you make this your path, your purpose, there is nothing, but life itself that can stop you. And I call upon you, my students,to remember the songs we sing,the stories weshare, and hope for a vocation that gives us meaning, gives people purpose at work, and holds on to our loved ones, for when the storm comes … . As they will.

Prof. Dr. Raj Sekhar Aich

Professor of The Department of Psychology,  Director of Sister Nivedita University Transdisciplinary Lab 


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