Valerie Martin Miller is an IO MPS alum and the Co-Director of College Counseling for Bullis School. 

What made you want to pursue a career in IO?

I have a long interesting history with IO, even before I knew that what I was interacting with was IO psychology. During my  undergraduate work at Gettysburg College, I knew that I wanted to study psychology. I have always been fascinated with human behavior and why people do what they do. As an undergraduate, I had some really incredible opportunities, such as working as a research assistant. I had the chance to work with a child development psychologist, a cultural psychologist, and two or three social psychologists. I got a summer research grant on overlapping topics, psychology and philosophy, and in my senior year, I was selected for honors research, which was in social psychology, specifically self-regulation and motivation. That work was published as part of a much larger study! That self-regulation and motivation psychology work is what led me to the field of IO. At the time, I was pretty focused on clinical work, and thought that would be my path. That didn't work out, and I'm glad for that, because it's not where I needed to be. Over the years, I've stayed connected to IO work, because a lot of the self-regulation and motivation work overlaps between social psychology and business, so that's where that began. As I've progressed through my career, the skill-sets of leadership, performance management, talent development, employee motivation, and making workplaces wonderful places for humans to flourish has been very interesting to me. So that's what brought me here. Now, as I'm in a leadership role, having these skill sets is really important and helpful. 


Why did you choose UMD in particular for your studies? 

I chose  UMD for some pretty straightforward practical reasons. I work full time and was not interested in quitting my job. I was looking for programs that would allow me to learn while still being employed. Something that I learned about myself was that the in-person classroom component is important to me. I wanted to find a program that would both allow me to work and to be in-person at the same time, as well as also being local. 


Are there particular courses or projects like during your time in the program that have stood out? 

I'm the kind of student who excels in the classic model of education. I've really enjoyed that I have classic homework and projects, but also work that is not so classical. This “old meets the new” modern component of some of the homework, for instance watching some YouTube videos for Ken’s course, is different. But it’s nice to have these other resources available. In David's classes, we've done a lot of hands-on project work, which I thought I would dislike, but it has given me some skill-sets to utilize. So, I have enjoyed what I would call “the old meets the new” aspect, where I'm getting a little bit of a classical education model as well as some modern-day types of education. And I certainly do not want to leave Meg out of this at all, those Statistics classes blew my mind. It's not my strength, but I feel like I have skills I didn't have before. And these classes have been so different from the Stats classes I took as an undergrad. And so again, old meets new, we're learning the same statistics but doing it in a totally different way in R Studio, and thinking about the work very differently than I did in undergrad. 


What skills are you learning that you feel like are going to help you in your career going forward? 

My particular set of life experiences has included a lot of public speaking and presenting. So this is an area I have been good at for a long time, but I have been able to bring them out again in this program. More specifically, this public speaking and presentation skill that I have worked on and needed throughout my career has been put to new use in new ways at UMD. This program has presented me with some new opportunities to grow my skill set. Some of the consulting projects we've done for David's classes in Talent Development, and other classes where we are doing real consulting work, we're presenting to clients and I got to see my skill set in a new way. 


What is something about you that no one would guess? Or what's your favorite leisure activity? 

Something that no one would guess and that is also one of my favorite leisure activities is that I am into mushroom foraging. My husband's parents are all biologists, three out of the four of them, and they got into mycology as a hobby after retiring. We're talking microscopes, specimens, and dehydrators, stuff like that. So, we kind of got into it. This time of year, the morels are popping up. We're getting excited to get out into the woods. We're looking for edible mushrooms and also just some cool mushrooms, even ones that we can't eat that we just want to take home and do spore prints on. It's a really fun hobby. It makes a hike in the woods a little bit more like a treasure hunt, and there's a real practical component to it. If we find stuff we can eat, we bring it home and eat it. Maryland is full of edible mushrooms.


What is the best piece of advice or feedback that you've ever received? Or what advice can you share with incoming or future IO psych students? 

I read a really great book by a Stanford psychologist called the Path to Purpose, which is about adolescent development and how one finds purpose in their lives. It's something I try to integrate into my work here at Bullis School. I have this great chart in my office that talks about the three concentric circles of purpose, which are: your skills, your passions, and the needs of the world. Where those three things come together is where you find what you should be doing in life. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to end up with a specific job title, like an architect or chef. It's that these three things might get you to think about how you should be in a helping profession, or you've always been interested in research work. That could be biology, or psychology, but also something else. Whatever it is, it helps you to think about your place in the world. For me, that was great for the  job that I have, helping kids. It was also interesting in that, as I traverse my own adulthood, I think about what kind of work and activities are relevant, satisfying, and interesting for me that will also make a difference and be important in the world.. This reminds me that it can all be for the same purpose, that my work is serving my overall purpose, and can look like a lot of different roles. It can look like employment, or volunteer work, or activities. Whatever it is, I can be serving my own purpose and the needs of the world at the same time, while doing different things. I try to incorporate that message a lot with my students, and to be kind to myself about this as well. This has been life changing for me. 


A photo of a woman with brown curly hair looking at the camera. She is wearing a light colored button up shirt.