By joining one or more of APA's 53 divisions, students can find opportunities for professional development-such as networking, mentoring, grant funding and social support-that enhance both their careers and their membership in APA, say both professionals and students involved in divisions.
"Being involved with a division is a great way to make APA feel like home," says Jean Carter, PhD, a former president of two divisions, Divs. 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice) and 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology).
Membership in a division is affordable-student dues typically range from $5 to $30-and offers several key benefits, which include:
Making APA more accessible. APA has such a wide scope that students might find a division to be a more hands-on venue that allows them to get involved, learn about their specific fields of study and meet psychologists face-to-face, says Carter, co-chair of APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice.
"Joining a division is a much more intimate way of connecting with APA," she says. "You know more of the people that are active in your area."
Ample funding opportunities. Most divisions offer awards to their student members, such as cash prizes, travel stipends, research grants or even discounted lodging at APA's Annual Convention. Several divisions offer $1,000 or more to fund dissertation research.
And division awards have less competition than national awards, says Carter, a fellow of Div. 42, which will offer students a travel stipend for APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. In fact, nearly a dozen divisions offered stipends for travel to the 2004 convention in Honolulu.
Focused career interests. Rather than joining divisions right and left, use them to inform and narrow your career interests, says Florence Denmark, PhD, former chair of the psychology department at Pace University, a member of 13 APA divisions, including Divs. 3 (Experimental) and 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology), and former president of Divs. 1 (Society for General Psychology) and 52 (International). "It should be something that really interests you," she says, acknowledging that she has numerous interests but, "even for me, there's a few divisions where I devote most of my efforts."
Carter, a member of three divisions, suggests this strategy: "Students should join a division that represents your basic interest area and one on how you apply it. For me, I'm a member of Div. 17 because that's my background; Div. 29 [Psychotherapy] because that's what I do; and Div. 42 because it's how I do my work."
Increasing leadership opportunities. Many divisions place increasing emphasis on student representation, says Sarah Jordan, director of APA's Division Services. In fact, 23 divisions have student representatives, eight of whom hold voting power in the division's executive committee.
"By using that vote we can say that we know where our policy is coming from," says Tara Mitchell, a fifth-year legal psychology student at Florida International University and the past-chair of the student section of Div. 41 (American Psychology-Law Society), which includes a voting student representative. "We can help guide the organization to some extent."
And student leadership gives students unique skill sets, says Erica Johnson, a fourth-year rehabilitation psychology student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who, as the voting student representative for Div. 22 (Rehabilitation), helped plan the division's annual conference.
"I've learned the ins and outs of planning a conference," she explains. "It's useful to see the full spectrum of the type of work that goes on in a division." That knowledge can help students who pursue division or other leadership roles after graduation, she adds.
Professional development. "When you get involved in a division's student section, you come into contact with people who are future colleagues and potential future employers," Mitchell says. "It increases the likelihood that these people are going to know your name when it comes time for you to look for that job or ask for that grant."
So speak up: Professionals actually welcome the chance to help students, Carter says. "Professionals supervise people working on their postdocs, serve as adjuncts and even teach courses," she says. "There are a lot of senior people who would really like to provide that mentoring."
Getting all sides of the story. By participating in a division, Denmark says, "you learn there's a world beyond your campus." Students can network with each other as much as with professionals, which Johnson says is critical because psychology training programs are fairly diverse.
For example, 30 student attendees met to swap tips at Div. 22's most recent meeting. "When we got together, a lot of us had different information about internships or pointers about postdocs," she says. "Even though we're all trained in same field, we all had different types of information to share.
"Students can really be influential in divisions by serving as critical bridges, sharing information between fields of psychology," Johnson adds. "It's a fascinating way we can contribute to this professional organization."
See the APA Division Web sites.