Introduction

The way in which APAGS makes decisions on behalf of its constituency, YOU, is not always clear to the membership and we are sometimes asked about this process. In response, this article will describe this process in detail, but it is not an exhaustive review of the complex interplay of checks and balances involved in the process. Your participation in helping APAGS make decisions and represent student needs, opinions and issues is, as always, very welcomed and highly encouraged.

In understanding the operation of APAGS, it is first important to understand the genesis of our organization -- how APAGS came to be. APAGS was established by the APA Council of Representatives as a continuing committee within APA in 1988. APAGS has enjoyed rapid success and gained significant importance in the APA structure since that time. Because APAGS remains a continuing committee within the broader APA structure, APAGS operates within the parameters and mandates of the greater organization, which means that we help to create, and are also subject to, the policies that govern all committees within APA. We are also subject to, and protected by, the ethical rules and by-laws that govern APA

As suggested above, our status as a continuing committee means that we are involved in both the development and implementation of the policies and priorities that are established by APA, though it's elected Council of Representatives, Board of Directors, and numerous boards and committees. Students participate in this process in a variety of important ways. Student representatives, selected and elected by APAGS, are either members of, or liaisons to, many of the key boards and committees within APA and, thereby, provide direct input into the decision-making activities of these groups (as well as to the decision-making activities of APAGS). In this way, student perspectives are represented within most groups and are reflected in the policies developed by these groups.

The APAGS Committee and its student representatives to other APA boards and committees are the individuals elected by the membership - which is YOU. Non-voting APAGS committee members are appointed from a pool of applicants through a rigorous evaluative process. These APAGS committee members (who are appointed APAGS subcommittee chairs) and sometimes the members of APAGS subcommittees also serve as APAGS liaisons to other APA boards and committees to represent students. These APAGS governance members have several critical fiduciary responsibilities. As an agent of APAGS, some of these general responsibilities include:

  1. Setting APAGS policies and priorities.

  2. Identifying and addressing current and emerging graduate student needs and issues.

  3. Advocating for graduate students in all environments and arenas.

  4. Attending and preparing for business meetings, conventions, conferences and liaison board and committee meetings.

  5. Reporting on business meetings, conventions, conferences and liaison board and committee meetings to APAGS governance colleagues, staff, allies and constituents - to aid in decision-making processes.

  6. Discerning when to represent, when to lead, and when to both represent and lead students in relation to a broad spectrum of issues that affect students.

  7. Using judgement to appropriately prepare for and investigate issues in order to competently contribute to committee deliberations and decisions.

Representing and leading the student affiliates of APA is no easy task. Your representatives and leaders take their roles and responsibilities seriously. Designated APAGS representatives, or liaisons, are charged by the APAGS Board to suspend their personal beliefs in order to accurately convey the overarching views and concerns of psychology students in general. At times, the personal opinions of the APAGS representatives are solicited, but more often than not, the APAGS representatives must refrain from speaking for themselves and speak on behalf of the APAGS members they represent.

How do your APAGS representatives and leaders know what you want?

While it is rare for APAGS to poll its entire membership (most organizations do not), member survey is ongoing in a variety of formal and informal ways. APAGS has an established way for every member to reach the APAGS Central Office to share ideas, concerns or requests about any issue (email APAGS). We solicit feedback through newsletter articles and from the APAGS Web site. We consult with the elected committee members and appointed subcommittee chairs (and their subcommittee members) about topics pertaining to their areas of expertise. We ask for and get feedback from the network of over 300 APAGS Campus Representatives nationwide, who are charged with the task of being APAGS' eyes and ears on their campuses. We send out topical surveys to random and stratified samples of the APAGS membership, both via regular mail and through our email and listserv networks. Student surveys are also conducted through APA's Center for Workforce Studies (CWS) and provide yet another source of information about students. Faculty members, training directors, and other psychology student supervisors serve as another direct and indirect source of information for APAGS. And, there are a number of other data collection methods employed by APAGS to elicit feedback, all combining to impact APAGS policy creation and priority pursuit. Member input is vital to APAGS functioning and we actively solicit it frequently. Students rarely unanimously agree on all of the policies APAGS creates, or on all of the directions APAGS heads, but you can be assured most students support most of APAGS' initiatives most of the time. And, if you happen to disagree with one policy or priority of APAGS, is it likely that you enthusiastically support many of the other policies and priorities APAGS advances.

Building on Past Committee Work

Newly elected and appointed APAGS committee members are provided with a host of historical documents to help prepare them for their new roles. These documents are provided so that new members feel comfortable and prepared to immediately begin contributing in informed ways to discussions and decisions within the APAGS committee. Moreover, the historical documents outline the rationale and supporting materials that lead to decisions regarding various policies and priorities.

Because former APAGS committee members were charged, as new members are, to act, think and speak on behalf of students nationwide in conducting all APAGS work, current committee members trust that all previous decisions were predicated upon this fiduciary responsibility. Therefore, it is sometimes the case that current committee members must implement the decisions and adhere to policy and position statements enacted by past committee members, and they may not always personally agree with the decision, policy or position. This is also true for the broader membership of APAGS. Unfortunately, if past decisions were permitted renegotiation with every committee cohort turn-over or with every new class of doctoral students, APAGS would quickly become stagnant and ineffective. Policies and procedures would change every year and the priorities of the committee could potentially shift dramatically based upon personality and individual agendas, rather than on the collective needs and interests of graduate students nationwide. Therefore, it is the responsibility of APAGS representatives and leaders to adhere to past policy, formal positions and strategic planning to help move APAGS forward.

This is not to say, however, that past ideas, projects and priorities cannot be revisited as the current realities of psychology training, education, science, research and practice shift. Nor is it to say that new projects and additional priorities cannot be established. Occasionally, there may be times when circumstances warrant a rethinking of past APAGS practices and/or beliefs, or when new projects and priorities are important to address in a timely manner. When this is the case, the APAGS committee engages in careful and thoughtful consultation, with supporting evidence and documentation, to make an informed and democratic decision about next steps. If deemed appropriate, revisions may be proposed and new projects initiated. Institutional history and knowledge is very helpful to this process. The rapid and successful growth of APAGS' scope and influence is testament to APAGS' general practice of trusting in the wise judgment of predecessors and of trusting the process, with it's many checks and balances.

How Student Needs are Identified

APAGS elected members, appointed subcommittee chairs, subcommittee members, campus representatives, staff members, allies, and graduate students (among others) are excellent sources for identifying issues germane to graduate student development for which APAGS may wish to become involved. When such issues are brought to the attention of APAGS, the APAGS committee makes preliminary decisions about how to manage the issues and where they might or might not fit in with the broader goals and objectives of APAGS. Evaluation of each issue usually reveals one of the following:

  1. It may be that the issue is already being examined within APAGS.

  2. It may be that APAGS has already investigated the issue and referred it to another group or individual outside of APAGS, or decided that the issue is not currently a priority to pursue.

  3. Another group external to APAGS may be better equipped to address the issue even though APAGS is interested in the issue, and the issue will be forwarded to them.

  4. A current APAGS group may want to address the issue. Therefore, the leader of that group (APAGS subcommittee, working group, etc.) or area (Member at Large - Practice, Education, Research/Academic, Communications, Diversity or General Focus, or the Chair, Chair-elect or Past-Chair) will be consulted and/or asked to investigate the issue and bring recommendations to the full APAGS committee at their fall or spring business meeting, proposing potential next steps.

  5. APAGS may decide that the issue is redundant, expensive, or otherwise unmatched to the APAGS mission, or to APAGS' fiscal and human resources, including it's volunteer network.

  6. APAGS may decide to seriously consider and address the issue because it relates to a potentially important initiative for students.

Checks and Balances

There is no one APAGS committee member that speaks unilaterally for APAGS on any policy, position, future activity or project that has not come before the full APAGS committee for a decision. If the committee has not given the approval to pursue a particular policy, project or initiative, individual committee members do not make unilateral commitments or statements.

The APAGS committee is very proactive in both soliciting input from students around issues that most concern them and in approaching the governance of APA to advocate for students, present student views and represent students. For example, extensive efforts were made to gather student perspectives related to training and education leading to licensure in psychology, so that APAGS could adequately represent students at the recent APA meeting of the Commission on Education and Training Leading to Licensure in Psychology. Thank you to all those who provided feedback. APAGS provided critical input that was integrated into the final Commission recommendations, which promises to bring a more positive future for license-seeking psychologists. APAGS also provides representation of psychology graduate students to organizations beyond APA, including state and federal legislatures and international groups such as the Trilateral Forum on Psychology and the Psychology Executives Roundtable, as well as the Association for Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Training Centers (APPIC), among others.

As in any governance process, ALL members are not going to be in full agreement with ALL policy decisions, nor are all policy decisions going to be relevant to all members. Policy decisions are never unilateral and they usually always involve a variety of compromises. Thus, when one is not in full agreement with a particular policy that APAGS or APA has endorsed, it is important to keep in mind that this policy has been shaped by the contribution of students and may have been achieved with concessions to student needs. Also APAGS represents all psychology students and therefore must represent the collective needs and issues of all psychology students as fairly and equitably as possible. Thus, when adjudicating a particular policy decision, it is important to remember that the decision was made to meet the needs of a certain majority subgroup within psychology; while not discounting the ideas and needs of another minority subgroup. This need not detract from or contradict the concerns of other groups within psychology. This may simply reflect the diversity and breadth of pursuits within our field. There may be times when students believe that a particular policy is not serving their individual needs. In this case, it is important to examine the Association as a whole to determine whether these needs are being met in other ways by other policies. If the answer is still "no,” then it is advisable for the individual to get more involved in APAGS so that an individual's specific concerns are heard. APAGS needs your involvement to fully and effectively represent psychology graduate students. You can be heard. We want to hear from you. You can run for office, become a member of a subcommittee, spearhead an APAGS project, or simply drop us a line to tell us what you think. As always, please contact us at: APAGS.