Corporate Investment Strategist for the Military

Hendrick Ruck, PhD
U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory

Director of Corporate Investment Strategy. Let me start out by confessing that, as a student, I did not have a conscious, burning desire to become a psychologist. In fact, I was not even introduced to psychology until my junior year of college. I was majoring in mathematics and physics and, by my junior year in a 4-year ROTC program, it was too late to change. I was hooked, though, and upon graduation, immediately began a master's program in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology at the Stevens Institute of Technology under the tutelage of J. Myron Johnson. At the completion of my Master's of Management Science (MMS) in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology, the Air Force transferred me from Hoboken, New Jersey, to San Antonio, Texas. I thought I was leaving civilization, and, even worse, ending my relationship with psychology. I was wrong on both counts.

My first Air Force assignment at Lackland AFB was as a job/task analyst and writer of task inventories for use in the occupational analysis program developed by Ray Christal, PhD, and headed by Walt Driskill, PhD. Performing interviews and collecting job information took me to more than 40 locations in 30 states and allowed me to learn, in depth, how work gets done in the Air Force-an exciting opportunity for a young lieutenant and budding I/O psychologist. The deep understanding of how jobs, occupations and organizations interrelate that I gained through that experience has formed the foundation for much of my subsequent research and all of my management activities.

Aware of the limitations of pursuing applied industrial psychology as an active-duty officer, I left the Air Force to pursue a doctorate at Stevens. As a civilian, I moved from the applied occupational analysis program led by Driskill to the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, to work with Christal, who had initially developed the occupational analysis methodology. Building on the knowledge gained in my first assignment, I developed techniques and software for determining, based on occupational analysis data, what needed to be trained. This led to research on decision support systems to enable personnel managers and training managers to work together in making decisions about the structure of occupations.

In the mid-1980s, I had the opportunity to broaden my experience into the area of human factors. Because of research I had done in assessing probabilities of accidents, the Air Force Safety Center in California invited me to develop statistical approaches for understanding the role of human factors in mishaps. Previously, the center had used a clinical approach. At the time, the Air Force was losing more than 60 aircraft per year to crashes; the large number of mishaps lent itself to statistical analysis. My work included design and funding of human factors databases, and, more importantly, changes in the ways human factors data were collected, recorded and assessed.

San Antonio beckoned to me after a couple of years in the safety business. The Air Force was building a new training laboratory (a descendent of Gagne's Denver training lab), and needed a senior psychologist to develop programs and form a team to build a state-of-the-art program in intelligent tutoring. This major project resulted in the Air Force's establishment of a leadership role in the field. It also took my career down a new path.

My work in training technology led to an intense but very rewarding 1-year appointment to the White House's Interagency Learning Technology Office, a presidential initiative designed to foster maximum transfer of technologies to the education and training establishment. As a team comprised of representatives from six federal agencies, we initiated a variety of innovative technology transfer projects, one of which recently received the Hammer Award from Vice President Gore.

My present position at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, as the director of the Crew System Interface Division, the largest human factors research organization in the military, has significantly changed my understanding of human factors. I had previously viewed human factors primarily as a psychological profession. Our multi-disciplinary staff of over 250 government and contractor personnel consists of physicians, pilots, anthropometrists, optometrists, engineers (of all types) and, of course, psychologists. As a manager, my challenge has been to coordinate the work of the staff in shifting the research from a cockpit-oriented focus to a broader crew-station orientation-an exciting and challenging adventure.

The future? I have just been named director of Corporate Investment Strategy for the Air Force Research Laboratory — a position that promises to broaden my experience base even further. I hope to use my knowledge of organizations, business, marketing, and statistical analysis in developing investment options for the Air Force's leadership as it decides how to allocate more than $1 billion to science and engineering each year.

As an Eagle Scout, my advice to people embarking on a career in psychology can be summed up in the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared!" — both in terms of academic preparation and in terms of recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities. My choices have been made with a philosophy of seeking adventure, developing my knowledge, skills and abilities, and being flexible regarding my "next step."

(Originally published in the July/August 1999 issue of Psychological Science Agenda, the newsletter of the APA Science Directorate.)