William (Theo) Nichols (he/him/his) is a current IO MPS student and a Residential Director at the University of Maryland, College Park. 


What made you want to pursue a career in IO psychology? 

This will be my second Master's degree. I have a Master's in Higher Education, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. But I had a psychology class with a professor who I found very challenging. I struggled in class a lot, and I went to her and said, “I need to figure this out, what do we have to do for me to do well in this class?” And she proceeded to take a very keen interest in me and asked me what I wanted to do with this higher education degree. So I told her that I love Human Resources and training and developing people, because that's what I did in the military. So she asked me why I was studying higher education. And I said I don't know, my mentor told me that if I like working with students and doing all these things, go for higher education work. And she asked me if I had ever considered I/O psychology. And I didn’t know exactly what that was. She encouraged me to consider it, and started telling me more information about it. I kind of put it by the wayside, but once I graduated from the program, I went to my first professional position at East Carolina University. While I was there, they were doing a career fair, and I felt like the I/O program and it stood out to me. Something just told me to just take a shot in the dark. And I reached out to the professor teaching in that program, and decided to take one class. I'm from Vegas, so you know, we gamble out there. So I was gonna gamble on myself. This professor asked me some questions similar to what the other professor had asked me, and told me that taking a class in I/O was going to tell me all that I needed to know to decide if this was my path. this is gonna be like in this gonna tell me all these it's gonna tell you all you need to know. And I have never in my life, in any of the other classes I've taken, found something that I've truly loved and valued so much. I got an A in the class, but I didn't feel like I did anything. Because when you love what you do, it doesn't truly feel like work at that point. This professor told me about the I/O program at UMD and told me that I should consider it. So I did, and here I am. Take a gamble on yourself. 


What skills are you learning at UMD that are going to help you in your career going forward? 

I love training and development. I love being able to see something and being in the position to make it better, essentially. I was thinking about this while I was taking Matt's class, there’s this quote that I live by called “Good, Better, Best.” It really resonates with me being in this program. It's something I learned throughout my time in my fraternity as well. It goes: “good, better, best, never let it rest until your good gets better, and your better gets best.” I think about this, and it's very telling in regards to my experiences with the program. We’re always looking to take a company’s “good” and make it better, and ultimately make it their best. We ask those questions, we dissect things and get down to the roots of the problem. We help companies to be able to see, not necessarily from our perspective, but in ways that they're also going to be receptive to. I love that we are able to come up with feasible solutions and efforts that can make that “good” into “better” and then into “best”. I'm learning different tips and tricks that I can put in my arsenal. Even within the work that I do now, I'm infusing what I’m learning into it. I just took one class with Ken and I feel like now I know how to do a heat map so that our department can understand more about what this looks like. I was talking to one of my colleagues, and they said we didn’t do any of this, and I thought well, you all need me here. I feel like it's so amazing to be able to see something, learn about it in class, and then directly apply it. I think being able to apply it helps the concept of the learning stick. I'm always excited because I never know what skills I’m going to gain next. It's like a gumball machine; until you twist the knob, you don’t know what you’re going to get until it comes out. I've been loving it. 


Why did you choose UMD? 

UMD was recommended by a professor. I did my research and decided that I was going to invest my life and time into this. I got a chance to connect with Dr. Aiken, the former program director, and then I actually applied for a previous year and then deferred my enrollment. I saw some of the videos that Dr. Aiken was making on YouTube. She did a panel-like series of interviews with students and people who were interested in coming into the field. I loved the perspective and could see that the program was very intentional in regards to the impact that they were trying to have and in showing the relevancy of the work. I went to the open house and was asking all the questions, looking for continuity. The follow-up was there, as well as the rigor, and all the professors were reaching out and talking to me, and they were instrumental in making the program what it was. So I packed my bag and my dog, and we drove 36 hours across the country, and now we're here. 

What is the something about you that no one would guess? 

I was in the Army for about 10 years. I started as a Human Resources Sergeant, and my whole goal was training and developing soldiers, and processing soldiers for deployment. I should have known then that I liked IO work, and should continue on in that path. And I’ve noticed, since then, that things started to slowly but surely fall in line with this path.


What is the best feedback that you have ever received?

A mentor shared something with me that stands out: a candle loses nothing by lighting another. I'm a very analytical person, and I thought about the potentiality of a candle lighting another candle, that then lights another candle. I believe in continuing to pour into others, lighting other candles that can continue to light other candles. Ultimately I would like to give back to the world and continue to make everything that I'm a part of better in every aspect that I can. Hopefully that continues to pave the way and pay it forward. Just giving that gift of love and intentionality and thoughtfulness, I think is amazing. Hopefully, if I light one candle, other candles will continue to light, leading to more and more being lit, which will be amazing. This goes back to the original question of how I got into IO. I was trying to figure out my life, and was thinking about what I would do when I finish this degree. In that process, I feel like one candle was my interest and passion about this work, and it got ignited. And now I'm lighting other candles and passing it along. We're not losing anything when we do this. If anything, it kind of helps us. It motivates us even more, like our candles are getting brighter through spreading the light.

A man in a black suit, white shirt, and tie, wearing a black tophat, is smiling at the camera. He is leaning against a grey pole, and there are leaves in the background.