*April 29, 1944, †August 21, 2021
This Biography is reprinted from Frank’s APA Foundation Gold Medal Award Citation.
Frank L. Schmidt was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1944, the oldest of six children in a farm family. In high school he had strong interests in biology and evolutionary theory, and he had a semester’s advanced placement in biology when he entered Bellarmine College in 1962. As a sophomore, Schmidt became interested in applied psychology, especially psychological measurement. He graduated cum laude in psychology and was awarded a Woodrow Wilson graduate fellowship. He received his doctoral degree in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology from Purdue University in 1970. His interest in the complexities of data analysis began with his dissertation, which showed via computer simulation that regression weights estimated on sample sizes typical of psychological research performed more poorly than simple equal weights in predicting dependent variables. This led him to suspect that psychologists were routinely reading more into their data than was in fact there. This interest continued and eventually led to his work in the development of meta-analysis methods and his critiques of statistical significance testing.
During Schmidt’s first year on the faculty at Michigan State University, he and Jack Hunter began a research collaboration that lasted until Hunter’s death in 2002. Over the years they received three major awards jointly for their work. Schmidt was promoted and given tenure after only three years at Michigan State, but a desire for real-world applications of psychology led him to take a research position at the Personnel Research and Development Center at the U.S. Civil Service Commission in 1974. As the largest practitioner of personnel selection in the world, the Civil Service Commission (now known as the Office of Personnel Management) provided many interesting applied and basic research problems and time free of academic duties to focus on these problems. A great deal of Schmidt’s research was conducted during this period. In 1985 he accepted a chaired professorship in the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, where he remains as professor emeritus after retiring in 2012.
Schmidt has published a total of 198 journal articles and book chapters*, over 100 of them in top-tier journals such as Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Personnel Psychology. His work had been cited over 25,000 times and his h-index is 67 (that is, 67 articles with at least 67 citations each) according to the Publish or Perish software program; according to the Web of Science database, it has been cited about 10,000 times. The impact of Schmidt’s many research contributions is reflected in the fact that he has received the highest research awards from the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology, the Society for Human Resource Management, and both the Research Methods Division and the Human Resources Division of the Academy of Management. He also received the Ingram Olkin Award from the Society for Research Synthesis Methodology for his contributions to meta-analysis methods. All of these awards are for lifetime contributions to the application of psychology.
Two of Schmidt’s research contributions stand out in terms of their impact on applications of psychology: validity generalization and meta-analysis. An important research focus in I/O psychology is employment decisions—decisions about who to hire, promote, transfer, and so forth. Selection procedures used to help make these decisions include cognitive ability and aptitude tests, job knowledge tests, interviews, personality measures, and others. The numerous research studies conducted during the 20th century on the validity of such procedures produced contradictory findings. This led to the belief that the validity of employment methods was “situationally specific” and that no general conclusions about successful predictions of employee performance were possible. This conclusion meant that a new study would have to be conducted in every setting.
Schmidt, working with others, developed data analysis methods that looked across multiple studies and tested whether these conflicting research findings were real or artifactual (i.e., due to various statistical and measurement artifacts such as sampling error, measurement error, and range restriction). Application of these methods, called validity generalization (VG) methods, revealed in almost every case that the conflicts were artifactual rather than real and that tests, interviews, assessment centers, and other employment tools were consistently valid across jobs, occupations, and organizations. A particularly striking finding was that reliable measures of general cognitive ability (i.e., general intelligence) predicted performance on virtually all jobs.
Over the years, hundreds of such VG studies have been conducted and published, changing the way researchers and practitioners think about selection methods in what amounts to a paradigm shift in employment selection. These findings changed employment selection practices in many industries (e.g., petroleum and insurance), corporations (e.g., Ford Motor Co.), the U.S. government (e.g., the Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Job Service), state governments, the U.S. military, and other organizations.
Schmidt’s research, through the meta-analytic methods he developed with the late Jack Hunter, has had a major impact on areas of research outside of employment selection. Just as studies of selection methods produced conflicting findings, so too did studies in many other areas, making it impossible to reach general conclusions in these areas, just as it had been in the selection area. Schmidt and his associates modified the VG methods for use in any research area and explicated these methods in a series of three books on meta-analysis published in 1982, 1990, and 2004 (another edition is now in press).
In most applications of these methods, the results have shown that the research studies were not nearly as conflicting and contradictory as they first appeared to be and that general conclusions were indeed possible. These methods have been applied in numerous areas, resulting in major changes in conclusions from the research within each area. The number of applications outside of personnel selection now far exceeds the number in personnel selection. The methods of meta-analysis developed by Schmidt and his associates are more complete than other available meta-analysis methods in that they correct for biases in data created by measurement error, range restriction, and other study artifacts. For this reason, this approach is referred to as psychometric meta-analysis.
*as of 2013
Frank Leo Schmidt, 77, died Saturday, August 21st at UIHC following a sudden illness.
Frank was born April 29, 1944 in Jeffersontown, KY, the son of Nick and Olivia (Hohl) Schmidt. Frank married Betty McHargue in 1966. Betty preceded him in death in 2002. Frank married Cindy Quast in 2013.
Ph.D. from Purdue University (1970), Frank worked as a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Michigan State University (1970-1974). He left a tenured job to become a research scientist at the Personnel Research and Development Center at the U.S. Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management; 1974-1985). During this time, he also was a research professor at George Washington University. He was recruited by the College of Business at the University of Iowa for a chaired professorship in management in 1985, where he remained until his retirement in 2012 when he was awarded emeritus professor status. During his Iowa tenure, he also developed a close association with Gallup Organization, serving as a senior scientist (1993-2021), where he produced important research on the organizational impact of human resources practices.
Frank Schmidt was a paradigm-shifting scientist, a father of modern meta-analytic techniques, and an ardent and intellectually honest researcher of individual differences. His contributions not only transformed entire fields of psychological and management inquiry but also extended to hundreds of other fields where psychometric meta-analyses have become the bedrock of scientific knowledge.
Frank follows in death his closest collaborator, and professional soulmate Jack Hunter who passed away in 2002. Together, Frank and Jack developed systematic and quantitative techniques to look across numerous studies and collectively test generalizability of their conclusions, which they referred to as Validity Generalization (VG). Their research revealed that study-to-study differences were due to various statistical and measurement problems, such as sampling error, range restriction, and measurement error. When they applied their newly developed techniques, they could show that contradictory findings across studies were artifactual: cognitive ability tests displayed substantial validity for job performance, across jobs, organizations, industries and settings. Later, these types of studies were also used to establish generalizability of research findings across cultures. Over time, Frank, his collaborators, students, and other scientists relying on the same techniques studied usefulness and generalizability of virtually all types of tests and assessments used for employee decisions. Application of these techniques, now referred to as meta-analysis, in other areas of work psychology and management significantly advanced scientific knowledge pertaining to workplaces and evidence-based practice.
The influence of Frank’s work extended far beyond work psychology and management, leading to applications of meta-analysis in all areas of psychological inquiry, resulting in an epistemological paradigm shift in how scientific knowledge is created and updated. Furthermore, the impact of meta-analysis extended to diverse disciplines. In less than half a century, meta-analysis has become an indispensable tool in conducting research throughout the sciences, including the natural sciences, life sciences, mathematics, medical research, and even the arts. Frank’s development and continuous improvements of meta-analysis methods, detailed in his four highly influential and widely cited books and numerous research articles, are considered to be his greatest scientific achievement. For fifty years, Frank, in his own fields of work psychology and management, researched and demonstrated the potent and persistent role that individual differences play in the prediction of job performance and other workplace behaviors and outcomes. These individual differences are primarily general mental ability (i.e., general intelligence) and job knowledge as well as other non-cognitive variables (e.g., integrity and personality). Most notably, Frank’s research greatly helped establish general mental ability as the single best predictor of employee performance.
For his achievements and contributions, Frank was honored with numerous awards including the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Application of Psychology (2013), the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology (with Jack Hunter; 1994), the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award (also with Jack Hunter; 1995) and the inaugural Dunnette Prize (2015) from the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology, the Distinguished Career Award for Research Contributions to Human Resources (1995) and Research Methods (2002) from the Academy of Management, the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Award for Scientific Contributions to Applied Psychology (2008), and the Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award (2005) from the Society for Human Resource Management. The Losey Award was given to Frank because of the practical usefulness of his research for HR practices, mostly notably, staffing. In 2016, with a substantial donation from Frank, SIOP Foundation announced a yearly Schmidt-Hunter Meta-Analysis Award, recognizing outstanding meta-analyses in work psychology, in his honor since 2017.
Teaching and Mentorship
Over Frank’s career, he not only advised and directed over 20 dissertations and theses and taught thousands of students in university classrooms, but also other scientists and practitioners in the workshops, tutorials, and presentations he gave. When Frank was teaching a course or a workshop, it was guaranteed to be cutting-edge, clear, and useful. Frank was a very supportive mentor. His door was always open to all students for not only professional, but also general assistance and advice. He even took an interest in, mentored, and provided career support and visibility to his academic “grandchildren” (i.e., advisees and protégés of his own advisees). He was a master who modeled what it means to be an exceptional mentor. His students and junior colleagues have many memorable and touching anecdotes of Frank being interested and involved or going out of his way to be helpful and encouraging. For all his accomplishments in teaching and mentoring, he was recognized by the Thomas A. Mahoney Mentoring Award (2011) from the Academy of Management and the Dean’s Teaching Award from the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business (2011). Many of his doctoral advisees have successful careers of their own and have received accolades.
Frank, the Legend and Mensch
Given his professional stature and accomplishments, Frank could be intimidating. He had little patience for foolishness, intellectual dishonesty, or cowardice. With a few sentences he could reduce critics’ arguments to ashes. At conferences, audiences went to sessions because they knew Frank would be in the audience. When presenters were sloppy in their work or untruthful, he would, in a Clint Eastwoodesque gait, saunter to the audience microphone, and bullseye!
Yet, none of his criticisms were ever personal. He was interpersonally gentle, caring, and considerate. Even his critics were disarmed by his irreverent humor and uninhibited curiosity. He was not judgmental and thrived on all forms of diversity — diversity of ideas and diversity in individuals. For diversity of ideas, Frank’s instinctive reaction was enthusiastic inquisitiveness. When diversity presented itself in the backgrounds of others, Frank embraced it. He focused on each and every person individually, as a person of worth, transcending all divisions and categorizations. He was compassionate and honorable.
Frank leaves behind a momentous intellectual legacy that will continue to shape the future of work psychology and management to be sure, but also the future of science in general. He offered an elegant and quantitative way of knowing. He was greater than life. His legacy will live in those whose intellects continue to be shaped by the ideas that he introduced.
Frank was an incredibly creative person. He wrote “The Importance of Being Frank”, his memoirs, in 2015, an exciting and humorous account of his life. He was an ardent hunter, collector of guns, machetes, swords, arrowheads, bowie knives, hatchets, and pocket knives. Frank wrote a short piece on how to get to heaven and said, “With all these collections, I am a shoo-in”. He even started a bourbon-tasting club that recently held its first meeting.
Frank was involved in his community, especially with mental health issues. He was active in NAMI, Johnson County. After the death of his daughter Lisa, he funded a new tutoring program for at-risk children, now known as the Frank and Lisa Schmidt Education Program, in her honor.
Frank was a loving and devoted father, who was always there for his children and extended family. His steady optimism and encouragement had positive and long-lasting effects on them.
Frank is survived by his wife, Cindy; his children, Stefanie Schmidt Ragan (Paul Ragan) of Coralville, IA and Ronald Allen Schmidt of Pleasureville, KY; three siblings, Joseph (Angela) Schmidt of Chicago, IL, Stan (Elaine) Schmidt of Chester Springs, PA, and John (Nancy) Schmidt of Saratoga Springs, NY; his sister-in-law, Wanda Schmidt of Louisville, KY; step-children, Austin Quast and Molly Quast (Angie Corbin), both of Iowa City, IA; grandchildren, Gaven, Boone, and Wren; nieces, nephews, and numerous extended family.
Frank was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Betty; his daughter, Lisa; and siblings, Steve and Mary.