Last year when Mary Lu Bushnell, PsyD, searched for a postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology, she turned to her fellow members of the Arizona Psychological Association (AZPA) legislative committee for help.
While pursuing her doctorate from Argosy University in Phoenix, Bushnell had volunteered with the committee, which monitors state legislation affecting psychology.
She built up a network of contacts, and through them Bushnell learned of a two-year neuropsychology residency at a Gentiva rehabilitation facility, working with head-injury patients and their families. She just finished her first year at the facility this summer.
Looking back on her association work, Bushnell says professional networking was just one benefit.
"I think it helped me be aware of issues I otherwise wouldn't have been aware of," she says.
The opportunity to network is just one reason students get involved in associations at the national, state and local levels. Some also enjoy the chance to work on issues directly affecting psychology graduate students, such as the number of internship positions available. Others still like to meet top researchers and fellow students in their field and gain new ideas--or just make connections, socialize and build friendships.
A BROAD EDUCATION
Dan Sheras, APAGS state advocacy coordinator for Kentucky and the APAGS liaison to the Kentucky Psychological Association (KPA), became involved in APAGS because he wanted to interact with more psychologists and fellow students, gain leadership experience and learn more about the psychology profession.
Sheras, a third-year doctoral student in Spalding University's School of Professional Psychology, focuses on child, adolescent and family clinical psychology. Working with APAGS, he recruits campus representatives at graduate psychology programs, keeps the representatives updated with information from APAGS and gives presentations to students on how and why they should get involved.
Working with the state psychological association, Sheras is helping organize programming aimed at graduate student members at KPA's annual convention.
One issue Sheras is particularly interested in is expanding the number of APA-approved internship slots available to psychology doctorate students, given the imbalance between the number of students seeking internships and the number of slots available.
His volunteer work has given him an appreciation of some of the issues he'll have to deal with as a practitioner--such as the number of visits covered by health insurance providers for clients, and ways to work with health insurance providers to try to get better treatment options covered for clients.
"It really gives you an education in what it will be like to be a psychologist," Sheras says.
FURTHERING CAREER GOALS
Amy Seay, an APAGS regional advocacy coordinator, began working with APAGS to learn more about policy and advocacy. A fourth-year clinical psychology student at the University of Arkansas, Seay's research focuses on interventions for victimized youth. By learning about policy, Seay is hoping to gain the background she needs to be a successful candidate for an APA congressional fellowship.
Through her APAGS role, Seay attended the APA Practice Organization's State Leadership Conference for the past two years, visiting congressional offices on Capitol Hill. Advocating to members of Congress and staff members in person on issues such as parity for mental health coverage is good preparation for a fellowship, she says.
Seay wants to learn how the political world works so she can help influence policy benefiting children.
Ultimately, her dream job would be working with the National Child Advocacy Center in her hometown of Huntsville, Ala., continuing research, evaluating programs and advocating for children's mental health rights.
ROUNDING OUT YOUR EXPERIENCE
Brian Hall, APAGS convention committee chair and a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student at Kent State University, got involved in APAGS after attending a session on student involvement in legislative advocacy during APA's 2003 Annual Convention in Toronto.
"Graduate school is about learning how to be a good researcher and a good clinician, but you don't learn how to review grants and conference submissions, or how to be a productive member of a professional organization," says Hall. "Being involved with APAGS helps with these other things."
Since becoming active, he's enjoyed the chance to meet top researchers in person, such as Tom Pyszczynksi, PhD, of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Jeff Greenberg, PhD, of the University of Arizona. Talking directly with them about their work on terrormanagement theory sharpened his ideas on applying the theory to understand aspects of terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder, Hall says.
Hall also likes just meeting and talking to fellow students from different programs.
As the convention committee chair for 2008 and 2009, Hall will plan graduate student programming at APA's next two annual conventions and help select entries for poster sessions and symposia.
Hall hopes to address one of his concerns--helping students improve their understanding of statistics, research methodology and using empirically supported treatments--with convention presentations from experts in the field.