Chockalingham “Vish” Viswesvaran has been named one of the most influential industrial and organizational psychologists in the nation.
The FIU professor was ranked 13th overall for the number of times his works were cited in textbooks that are the mainstays of industrial and organizational psychology courses.
You could also call him the accidental psychologist.
“In 1980s India, the social push was for people to become engineers or doctors – this is before tech companies opened up offices in India – and so I chose civil engineering,” Viswesvaran said. “I thought this is great, I’ll get to build dams and structures and everything.”
Then reality set in for Viswesvaran. Instead of working in an office developing strategies that could improve cities, he quickly learned that junior civil engineers like him spent their days at dusty construction sites ensuring builders followed blueprints.
He flirted briefly with earning a master’s degree in business administration until he realized that there too, he’d be tied down in a different way – working long hours behind a desk for the benefit of a corporation.
It was a career counselor who suggested to Viswesvaran that he travel to the United States and become a university professor. While working on a master’s degree in civil engineering in Iowa, a chance encounter with a fellow student who he helped with a class project afforded Viswesvaran the opportunity to become familiar with a well-known industrial and organizational psychologist.
“I never knew in 1988 when I was taking classes with this professor that I would become a psychologist,” Viswesvaran said. “I think I was just trying to find myself. The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be in a structured job. I wanted the freedom to do what I want.”
The professor gave Viswesvaran freedom with one caveat – that his work had to be socially relevant, not just some bit of research that was conducted in a lab and offered no tangible benefit. Decades after earning a Ph.D. in human resources management, it’s a litmus test Viswesvaran still applies.
He finds ideas for his research in the mundane. Sometimes he finds the germ of an idea from reading an article in the newspaper. Other times, he spots interesting trends in business.
Viswesvaran has studied everything from how managers make decisions to absenteeism in the workplace. He has even explored whether emotionally intelligent people post appropriate content on social media.
Among his most referenced works is a 20-year-old study on the reliability of performance assessments. Other well-cited works involve the use assessments of emotional intelligence and integrity and how these affect workplace behavior.
“Surprisingly it caught fire. The 1996 paper is still being debated and argued. More research is being organized around it,” Viswesvaran said. “It feels good to see people talk about your research 20 years later.”
According to ResearchGate, a website used by researchers to share their work with colleagues, Viswesvaran has published 135 peer-reviewed articles or conference papers which have been read by more than 42,000 people and cited 9,610 times.
Authors of the study that named Viswesvaran among the nation’s most influential industrial and organizational psychologists found his works cited in 44 textbooks. His mentor from the University of Iowa, Frank L. Schmidt, was cited in 62 textbooks and was ranked third nationally.
“I feel happy and honored,” Viswesvaran said. “Of all these different ways you can measure influence – article citations, text book citations, and media appearances – textbooks are how we shape the next generation.”