Steven J. Breckler, PhD, is the new executive director of APA's Science Directorate-a department with more than 20 staff members and a budget of $4 million. gradPSYCH spoke with Breckler, previously the Science of Learning Centers program director at the National Science Foundation, about his vision for the future of the Science Directorate and for psychological science.
Q. What areas of psychological science are going to be hot in the coming years and might be good fields for graduate students to set their sights on?
A. This is a great time to be a student in psychology. The resources available in colleges and universities are much better than they were 10 or 20 years ago. I would encourage students to keep themselves grounded in the real world and to make connections between their own interests in psychology and other fields of science.
I think the field of cognitive neuroscience will continue to expand. I am especially excited about some of the newest directions, such as social cognitive neuroscience. These areas also provide great opportunities to work across disciplinary boundaries, with psychologists in partnership with biologists, mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers.
Many pressing societal needs are crying out for contributions from psychological science. Education is a really good example. We need to know a lot more about how people learn, how to assess academic skills and achievement and why it is that so many children are being left behind by our educational system. These are all psychological questions, and more psychologists should be trying to answer them.
Q. In your opinion, what are some challenges facing the field of psychological science right now?A. I think that psychological science needs to become better connected with all the other fields of science. Not just within the social and behavioral sciences, but also across other fields: technology, engineering, biology, computer science, math and statistics.
Q. Can you elaborate on how you would promote psychological science?
A. One of my favorite examples is that the field of astronomy and astrophysics got a huge boost when Carl Sagan would show up on the "Tonight Show." He did it all the time and became a media celebrity.
Psychology should have that too. Psychology is just as interesting as astrophysics—to me it's more interesting. Why shouldn't we have our spokespeople out there on the "Tonight Show," talking about the latest research and the latest findings and theories in psychology?
Q. What is your vision for the APA Science Directorate?
A. I would like to see psychological scientists think of APA as their home—to make people feel like they are welcome there.
I want to work on connecting psychology with all the other sciences and disciplines with which we share common goals.
The third is connecting the science of psychology to national policy. Good science should ultimately inform policy issues.
— S. DINGFELDER