Our lab's research is built upon the basic theoretical framework of person-environment (P-E) fit. P-E fit theories state that the degree of compatibility, or "fit," between an individual and his/her environment (e.g., a job or an academic major) predicts a broad range of human behaviors and is crucial to important outcomes (Su, Murdock, & Rounds, 2014). In the work setting, these outcomes include job performance, job satisfaction, organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB), and withdrawal behaviors (including turnover). Employees who are more compatible with their work environment tend to be better performers, are happier with their jobs and careers, contribute more to their organizations, and are less likely to withdrawal from or quit their jobs. In the education context, P-E fit is linked with higher academic achievement, degree attainment, and persistence in school. In the life domain, research has shown that better fit leads to increased life satisfaction and higher quality interpersonal relationship. In sum, the fit between person and environment really matters!
From the foundational propositions of P-E fit, our research studies two sides of the coin--the person and the environment--as well as the outcomes of P-E fit. On the person side, we study individual differences in interests, motivation, and personality traits and how these personal attributes and their interaction with the environment influence individuals' educational and career development, the choices they make, and how well they do in school and at work (Nye, Su, Rounds, & Drasgow, 2012). This line of research is tied into broader issues in testing and assessment, personnel selection, and human resource management.
Central to the individual differences line of research is the construct of interests. Simply defined, interests are individual preferences for certain work activities or environments (e.g., repairing things, helping people, persuading). Interests describe people in relation to their environments and serve as the drive for individuals to navigate through and function effectively in their environments (Rounds & Su, 2014). It is a key component for individuals' academic and workforce readiness and success, beyond cognitive abilities and personality traits. One area of our lab's research is how to best conceptualize P-E fit in terms of interests (typically referred to as interest congruence) and innovative methods for the measurement of interest congruence.
On the environment side, we study institutional and organizational strategies that can increase people's actual and perception of P-E fit. The presumption here is that both people and organizations are active agencies and P-E fit is a dynamic construct that can change over time via the interaction of the two, as individuals get socialized in the organizations and as individual try to manipulate and create their own environment. As such, organization climate and interventions can be very relevant to the enhancement of P-E fit. For example, it has been found that gender differences in interests, values, and goals underlie and partly explain gendered career paths and gender differences in career attainment, especially the underrepresentation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines (Su, Rounds, & Armstrong, 2009). Changes in the educational and work environment that target these psychological mechanisms may increase women's perceived fit with STEM fields and ameliorate the problem of disproportional leak from the occupational pipeline. This line of research has larger implications for public policy on workforce diversity and development.
Lastly, we study how all the above relate to important outcomes in education, work, and life. The term thriving is a key word in the name of our lab used broadly as an umbrella term to capture positive functioning at its fullest range. It denotes not only success in education and workplace (e.g., academic achievement, job performance, career advancement, job and career satisfaction), but also a flourishing life, mentally, physically, and socially. Therefore, our research has also examined psychological wellbeing and health in ways related to the workplace and organizations and the construct of thriving (Su, Tay, & Diener, 2014).
Our lab's research has a strong quantitative orientation and employs a variety of methods such as structural equation modeling, multilevel and longitudinal models, meta-analysis, psychometrics, multidimensional scaling, and response surface methodology.