Nancy Tippins, PhD, is now a leader in the field of industrial/organizational psychology, but back during her time at Agnes Scott College, a small women's liberal arts school, she didn't like the only psychology course she took.

She remembers thinking that the subject was "pretty silly." Her path into psychology came indirectly during her first job: auditing electronic data for a bank.

Learning how to design a computer program that tracked the smallest fractions of a single cent was fun, but actually auditing the transactions made her miserable. So she dove into reading books about career choice, job selection and finding the best job fit for her skills and personality.

"It finally occurred to me after two years of reading these books that that was a whole topic of study, and I should study it," says Tippins, recalling Studs Terkel's "Working" (Pantheon Books, 1974) and James O'Toole and Edward E. Lawler III's "Work in America " (MIT Press, 1973) as favorites.

Tippins earned a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1981 and re-entered the corporate world.

Her first job as a psychologist was with Exxon, where she developed tools including employee-selection systems and employee and customer opinion surveys. She later joined Bell Atlantic, where she first managed its selection research and later oversaw a variety of corporate operations, including test administration, affirmative action, downsizing and human resources. She then moved to the former GTE, where she served as director of leadership development and selection methods.

Now, Tippins runs a consulting firm where she manages a team of psychologists that helps organizations select employees for positions ranging from customer-service representatives to CEOs.

Helping organizations reduce hiring mistakes means higher productivity, and less work errors, turnover and retraining costs, Tippins says.

She finds her career rewarding because it enables her "to go into an organization and actually solve a problem, and have the evidence that you solved it," she says.

Besides her leadership role in the corporate world, Tippins became a leader within Div. 14, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Starting as a volunteer on the committee designing conference workshops and continuing-education courses, she eventually ran for SIOP president because she wanted to influence the direction of the I/O field. During her term, she worked to increase the visibility of I/O psychology within business, industry and government, and within the larger discipline of psychology.

"When business and industry confront big, big problems, they're not always coming to psychologists, and we believe they're ignoring a good source of information," she says.

She also helped promote the development of an online consultant locator service, and guided the revision of the group's Principles for the Use and Validation of Employee Selection Procedures.

In Tippins's view, leadership is the ability to organize people to achieve a common goal.

"It's partly defining what the goal is, it's drafting a strategy to achieve that goal and it's motivating the group whom one leads," she says.

--C. Munsey