From the Science Directorate

The 2006 Science Leadership Conference (SciLC) focused on Supporting and Advancing the Careers of Scientists.

APA Science Student Council Early Researcher Award Winners Announced

by Jane Barrow

The APA Science Student Council (APASSC) established the Early Researcher Award in 2004, and has since given them annually to student researchers who have demonstrated outstanding research ability early in their graduate careers. While the APASSC ordinarily grants two $1000 awards --one for basic science and one for applied science--the pool of applicants was so impressive this year that four awards were given--two for basic science, and two for applied science. Information on the four recipients follows.

Evan Apfelbaum, a third-year doctoral student at Tufts University, received one of the Early Researcher Awards for Applied Science for his paper entitled Strategic Colorblindness: Normative Influence and Self-Regulation in Interracial Interaction. His research is focused on how white people modulate their social interaction when discussing race to appear unbiased, often by avoiding the topic of race altogether, and how such methods can actually backfire to make them appear even more biased. As Apfelbaum points out, this phenomenon has the unfortunate effect of making those who are most concerned about appearing unbiased seem to be extremely biased. When asked about how it felt to receive this award, Apfelbaum responded that "there is a lot of excellent research going on the field right now, so it's truly an honor to be recognized for my work." Since diversity is a key aspect of his research, he plans to utilize the funds to facilitate recruitment of a diverse participant pool for future research.

Eyitayo Onifade, a third-year doctoral student at Michigan State University, received the second Early Research Award for Applied Science for his paper entitled Risk Assessment: Identifying Patterns of Risk in Young Offenders with the YLS/CMI. His research focuses on community responses to juvenile crime and community efforts to improve current policies within the justice system regarding juvenile crime. Onifade notes that the etiology of delinquency is extremely complicated in nature, and that the justice system does not take these complicating factors into account when producing policies to regulate delinquency. While his short term goals include entering academia, Onifade states that his dream is to "expand the capacity of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to conduct policy-oriented community [and] psychological research that is empowering to the marginalized groups they often serve." In the mean time, he plans to use the funds to off-set the costs of several conferences he will be attending this spring.

Alexis Stranahan, a fourth-year doctoral student at Princeton University, received one of the Early Researcher Awards for Basic Science for her paper entitled Social Isolation Delays the Positive Effects of Running on Adult Neurogenesis. Her research focuses on neurogenesis in the hippocampus - the part of the brain that produces new neurons throughout life. Life experiences, such as stress and exercise, can affect the rate at which neurons are produced; Stranahan tested for an interaction between these two types of experience, finding that the stress of living alone limited the positive effects that exercise has on neurogenesis. Stranahan explains that she developed an early interest in "classical behavioral learning theories [and] after taking some additional courses in neuroscience, decided to go to graduate school to learn more about the interface between the brain and behavior." She is very excited to have received recognition of her work at the pre-dissertation level.

Nicholas Turk-Browne, a third-year doctoral student at Yale University, received the second Early Researcher Award for Basic Science for his paper entitled The Automaticity of Visual Statistical Learning. His research explores the implicit processes of cognition to gain a better understanding of their operation and purpose. One powerful example of these processes is visual statistical learning, where humans compute the relationship between objects in space and time then store this detailed information in memory without consciously thinking about it, a phenomenon that his winning paper described in-depth. "One of the most exciting aspects of my field of study is that it is relatively new," says Turk-Browne. "There are many questions to be asked and answers to be discovered. My research will continue to explore the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in implicit learning and memory, and how, having acquired implicit knowledge, future behavior is affected. This line of research will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of the human mind."

Navigating the Highway of Psychological Science

by Steven Breckler, PhD
Executive Director, Science Directorate
The 2006 Science Leadership Conference (SciLC) focused on Supporting and Advancing the Careers of Scientists. Several invited addresses and symposia examined the future of the academy, how we can nurture careers in psychological science, and how to handle threats and obstacles that stand in our way.

The Future of U.S. Science in a Flat World

The keynote address was delivered by Neal Lane, formerly Provost of Rice University (1986-1993), Director of the National Science Foundation (1993-1998), and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1998-2001). Drawing from his years of experience in science policy at the highest levels, Lane shared his thoughts about the future of U.S. science and the academy.

Neal Lane delivering the keynote address to SciLC.

Lane provided some historical context for the forces that shape funding of science in the United States. Drawing from Tom Friedman's observations about a flattening world, Lane suggested that the world of science is also being flattened. He pointed out that there is too little money for science and too few people interested in science careers. Ideology and politics have intruded into science, and public understanding of science is poor.

Lane suggested that the future of science in a flat world demands that more of us become >em>civic scientists - leaders who can reach across disciplines and communicate effectively with the public.

Threats and Obstacles

Neal Lane's keynote address was followed by a panel on threats and obstacles to psychological science. The panel was designed to address some common threats and obstacles, with the goal of improving collective understanding and developing a stronger position both to anticipate them and to defend against them.

The first speaker was Nancy Dess, a professor of psychology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Dess has been active in APA for many years, and currently serves as Chair of the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE). She talked about the threats and obstacles that form, unfortunately, an enduring part of the landscape of research with animals.

The second speaker was Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. Kruglanski co-authored a 2003 Psychological Bulletin paper with John Jost, Jack Glaser, and Frank Sulloway. Titled Political conservatism as motivated social cognition, the article offered a meta-analysis showing that the core ideology of political conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality. The article set off a firestorm, particularly from some conservative members of congress. Kruglanski shared his experience with these events and described how it changed his life as a scientist.

From left to right: Arie Kruglanski, Nancy Dess, Simon Rosser, and David Stonner.

The third speaker was Simon Rosser, Professor and Director of the HIV/STI Intervention and Prevention Studies (HIPS) Program at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. In July of 2003, an amendment was offered in the House of Representatives that would have cut off funding from five specific grants already funded by the NIH. What the grants shared in common was a focus on sexual health and behavior. The amendment was narrowly defeated, but it had a profound influence on researchers who work in this area. Rosser was among those whose grant was targeted for rescission. He shared his perspective on the threats and obstacles to conducting research on sexual health.

The final speaker was David Stonner, a social psychologist by training and currently Director of Congressional Affairs in the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. The funding agencies must respond to Congress when questions are raised, and the agencies are in the awkward position of simultaneously defending their investments while asking for more money to invest next year. Stonner talked about the federal agency perspective when threats emerge, especially from Congress.

Institutional Review Boards

An area of growing concern for researchers who work with human populations is the way in which IRBs execute their responsibilities for the protection of human research participants. Enough concerns have been expressed from the research community that APA is mobilizing its efforts to address them. Along these lines, a SciLC 2006 symposium offered recent perspectives on Institutional Review Boards.

The IRB Perspectives panel, from left to right: Philip Rubin, Gregory Miller, and Thomas Eissenberg.

The first speaker was Philip Rubin, Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, CT. Rubin provided a review of several recent commentaries on the IRB enterprise, including a recent report of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which he co-authored. That report, published earlier this year, suggested that federal regulations governing research with human subjects constitute a threat to academic freedom.

The next speaker was Gregory A. Miller, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. Miller was part of a group that published the Illinois White Paper, which focused on improving the system for protecting human subjects. The main conclusion of the white paper was that many IRBs show signs of "mission creep" - moving into areas of oversight for which they were not intended.

The third speaker was Thomas Eissenberg, Associate Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Eissenberg is chair of a new APA task force on IRBs, appointed by APA President-elect Sharon Brehm. He discussed the relationship between psychologists and IRBs, suggesting ways in which they can work collaboratively to protect research participants.

This panel was followed by an invited address by Ivor Pritchard, a Senior Fellow at the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). Pritchard suggested that psychologists can bring their own science to bear in understanding IRB decision making. An example he developed linked research on the framing of risk scenarios with the framing of IRB protocols.

Ivor Pritchard delivering an invited address on IRBs and psychology.

Taking Care of Ourselves

The second day of the conference started with a panel session on six different topics relating to the nurturing of careers in psychological science. The panel addressed the following topics:

  • Interdisciplinary Environments

  • Pipeline Issues

  • Mentoring

  • Diversity

  • Work/Life Balance

  • Alternative (Non-academic) Research Careers

Panel session on six different topics relating to the nurturing of careers in psychological science.

Following the panel session, conference participants broke up into six smaller groups, and spent the rest of the morning brainstorming programs and activities that APA could develop in support of these six areas. Among the topics that emerged as highest priority were addressing pipeline issues and public education about psychological science.

Looking ahead

The final panel focused on perspectives on the future of the academy. Speakers included Bernadette Gray-Little, currently Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; Suzanne Bennett Johnson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Social Sciences at the Florida State University School of Medicine; Ruth Ault, Chair and Professor of Psychology at Davidson College in North Carolina; and Timothy McNamara, Professor of Psychology and Associate Provost for Faculty at Vanderbilt University.

The speakers (all psychologists) shared their perspectives on the academy, drawing from their years of experience with academic administration. Among the themes that emerged in this discussion was the growth of psychologists working in medical and health-related academic units, how the university research infrastructure is moving toward interdisciplinary research, and the importance of research in undergraduate liberal arts settings.

Not noted above are two important parts of the SciLC covered elsewhere in this issue of PSA - the exceptional poster session featuring 22 of the most promising new investigators in psychological science, and the awards presented to the 2006 recipients of the APA Awards for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science and Meritorious Research Service Commendations.