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Every summer at the APA convention, staff from the Science Directorate and Science Public Policy Office visit with Division executive committees to exchange updates on activities and to hear about concerns and current issues. A theme echoed at almost every meeting is that we would all like to work more closely on scientific issues. There are plenty of these – funding, IRB regulations, dissemination of research findings, public perception of science, attracting students, and so on. Although we publicize activities broadly in both electronic and print forms, Division members, the lifeblood of our organization and our work, often do not feel well informed about APA’s efforts on behalf of science. We hope to help remedy that with this column, which we intend to be a regular feature from the science staff at APA to you. Our column will not be a list of activities – you can find this in the “Division Dialog” part of your newsletter. Rather, we will tell you about our current hot-button topics and substantive issues and invite your input, participation and feedback.
The topic of this first column should be familiar to you: getting our colleagues and students to value and participate in service to psychological science – as reviewers for grants and manuscripts, as panelists for policy, funding and advocacy initiatives and programs, as spokespersons to policy makers and to the public, and as committee members, officers, and ad hoc participants in organized academic and professional activities. The Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) began discussion of this issue at its last meeting. Their discussion was fueled by a concern that unless scientists actively engage in service to psychology as a discipline, policies, regulations, and the very future of the field will be determined without input from the scientific community.
Why is service by scientists an issue and why is this an opportune time to address it? There are many answers to this question, all of which boil down to the plain fact that it is devilishly hard to get psychological scientists to agree to serve on boards, committees, workgroups and other bodies that address policy and action at a discipline or even sub-discipline wide level. Such activities, as well as activities such as sitting on departmental or university committees or on the university's IRB or other oversight group are typically not valued and not rewarded.
We all know why – in the life of an academic researcher, research and teaching are high on the list, and service to the discipline or to the institution takes time away from these more heavily rewarded activities. These priorities at the individual level are mirrored at the institutional level -- we frequently hear how little service activities are valued by those who hold salary, rank and tenure decisions in their hands. Because of this seemingly rigid reward structure, we also hear that we are foolhardy to think that we can change the scientific community’s attitudes and commitment to service at the local and national level.
Well, foolhardy we may be, but we believe that the future of our science and discipline depends not only on producing good science but also on producing good leaders in our professional organizations and funding agencies. We need scientists who are willing to advocate for strong psychological science. We need scientists who are willing to take leadership roles in the institutions that regulate us, organize us and fund us. We need scientists who are willing to bring their expertise and perspectives to organizations like APA.
So what can you do? BSA and the Science Directorate intend to begin dialog at several levels – with department chairs, with university administrators, and with individual scientists at all levels of seniority to explore opportunities for and barriers to service, and to explore strategies to create a culture in which service is more highly valued, especially among graduate students and new faculty. BSA also wants to have a dialog with you -- Division members and Division leaders. We know there is variability across institutions in the extent and ways that service is valued and rewarded, and we want your help in culling practices from those institutions that do manage to make service a feasible and valued part of the academic research life.
This initiative was first discussed at Convention at a breakfast meeting with BSA members and with several Division presidents. The discussion focused both on ways to encourage scientist/academic division leaders to pursue leadership positions in APA (committees, boards, Council of Representatives and APA Board of Directors), and ways to encourage division members to be more active in broader service to the scientific community. Those of you who do work with Division or APA governance or with Science Directorate or Public Policy Office staff on substantive issues know that this is not an idle request. When we develop activities around research regulation and IRBs, animal care, testing and assessment, advocacy for funding, new research niches for graduate students, or mechanisms for educating the public about science, it is your input, concerns and activities that determine the content. This service occurs when you respond to our requests for comment or expertise; it also occurs when you serve in APA governance – on Boards, committees, Council.
How can service be increased? One can imagine many mechanisms. Service to the psychological community could be inculcated into graduate education as part of what it means to become a psychologist - but this will only be successful when faculty are, themselves, good role models and good mentors, providing expertise and spending time on committee and other service work. Service to the psychological community can be encouraged if you, the members of divisions that care about research and science, help in identifying, recruiting, cultivating, and promoting prospective candidates for governance—at all levels, in APA and in other organizations. What many fail to realize is how important it is to be well represented throughout policy venues – where the actual decisions that affect research and researchers are forged. Becoming involved in this way is not a quick fix – it is a long-term project. For example, election to the APA Board of Directors, a group that is critical for charting APA’s future, requires serving on Council first (not to mention getting known and being active in this body). The reluctance of the science/academic community to recruit and groom candidates for Council and APA Boards and Committees means that science is always underrepresented in these bodies. The few scientists who do service often wind up doing far more than their fair share.
It’s not our intention to try to solve the problem in this column. We would like to alert you to the initiative, to get you to ask “what have I done for psychology lately” and to help BSA, the Science Directorate, the Science Public Policy Office, and the rest of the science community collectively to think about encouraging service to advance the field. Please send your comments and your feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.