A Retrospective with Alycia Damp, Upon the Successful Completion of Her PhD

September 8, 2022 by Andy Vatiliotou

Alycia Damp, doctoral candidateWe would like to congratulate doctoral candidate, Alycia Damp, on the successful defense and completion of her dissertation at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources. Alycia's interests have always been "motivated by a passion and curiosity around figuring out what 'great' looks like for organizations." She currently works as an Applied Scientist at Hireguide, an HR technology company, where she collabortes with a team of world class experts whose shared purpose is to make hiring better and fairer in organizations.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Alycia to talk about her time at the Centre, the importance of "knowledge theft" as an area of study, and the advice she'd like to impart to the next cohort of PhD students.

You came to the Centre with an MSc in Industrial and Organizational Psychology - what were your primary goals/aspirations for this next stage of your education?

When I came into the Centre, I was thinking of shifting my focus to more union-related research – more specifically around conflict between unions and management.

In the first year, the Centre exposed me to the topics and themes I could potentially research in that space, but it also reminded me that I’m still a psychologist and psychology researcher; the toolkit I needed to be an industrial-relations scholar was a little different than the one I had. I felt so well-prepared as a psychologist that I decided to stay in the psychology space and focus my research on workplace flexibility from a psychological lens – an approach that was really supported by the Centre.

That being said, I appreciated the Centre’s interdisciplinary approach, with special topics taught by Industrial and Organizational psychologists, and opportunities to opt into classes from different departments like Rotman.

Can you talk a little bit about your dissertation – why is “knowledge theft” an important area of study/discussion?

If you look at the popular press, there’s no shortage of people having their knowledge, ideas, and credit taken from them – it’s happening everywhere, all the time. We see this in the Harvard Business Review, The Wallstreet Journal, and even the presidential debates.

When I looked at academic literature, however, I found that “knowledge theft” hadn’t been systemically studied yet, if at all. There’s some literature on the concept of credit taking – people try to advance in their careers by taking credit that doesn’t belong to them – but there’s no research centered around the victim’s experience.

My dissertation is the first real endeavour to shine a light on “knowledge theft” from that perspective. I’ve learned how it affects victims, under what circumstances it matters more, and whether it is, or is not, harmful to their careers. Now that we know the answers to these questions, we can think of ways to circumvent it in organizations.

Can you expand on that? Talk to me about the impacts of “knowledge theft” on the victim.

When “knowledge theft” impedes career advancement – getting a promotion, for example — it can really damage a victims’ sense of self and personal identity. They might become less engaged with work, or feel disincentivized to contribute. They might think, “I’m not treated fairly. I don’t get an opportunity to showcase my skills here,” and decide to exit their organization entirely. This happens peer to peer as often as supervisor to subordinate.

Can you speak about your experience at the Centre over the past five years?

The Centre has been my community at U of T. The moment I finished my dissertation, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude for all the people who supported me, including the librarians, professors, Master’s and PhD students. No one is solely responsible for their own success, and I think the community that accompanies you on this journey makes such a big difference when it comes to your resilience and success.

I was also provided with so many opportunities to grow personally and professionally, including the chance to design/teach a course approved by the Centre – this was huge for my professional development. And then you have the Centre: a place to call yours where you can be productive within a closeknit community – that’s so important, and makes you feel valued as a researcher.

What does this milestone mean to you, and what’s next?

I’m going into a career where I don’t specifically need a PhD, but with this chapter closing and a new one beginning, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I’m going to miss the Centre and the community, but as an alumnus, I know this isn’t goodbye.

In terms of what’s next, I’m currently working for an HR tech company as an applied scientist. Leaving academia was a difficult decision, but I’ve realized that working outside academic institutions can be just as rewarding. I’m really grateful to my company, Hireguide, which has supported me through the completion of my PhD, and given me the chance to apply the science I’ve been learning – it makes me feel like my work is making an impact.

Finally, what advice do you have for the next cohort of incoming PhD Students?

Find your community and connect with the other PhD students. They’re your friends, they’re going to support you, and your relationship will transcend the PhD program.

The opportunity to teach a course will do so much for your professional and personal development. A lot of people don’t recommend teaching, because it takes time away from your research, but it nurtured a skillset I was never able to put into practise. I learned so much that I was able to apply to my industry career.

If you are going into academia, choose one conference to attend annually that fits your research interests, get involved in that community and volunteer on a committee. If you are not going into academia, conferencing is still an important, fun way build out a network, and you never know when the people you meet will call on you for help and vice versa.

In year three and four, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my dissertation said about my “brand” as a researcher – it wasn’t productive, and it slowed me down. Your dissertation research doesn’t have to define who you are. Your relationship with research throughout your life will be a journey, and it’s always evolving. Do it with care and rigour, but if things don’t work out as you expected, it’s okay to pivot ideas or topics. It’s okay to concede that what you originally planned to do isn’t feasible. You can always take research in other directions.