It's been nearly 133 years since Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental laboratory for psychological research at the University of Leipzig. Wundt's techniques made it possible to systematically study human thought and behavior, ushering in the era of scientific psychology.
Since then, the science of psychology has thrived. In fact, a 2005 review in Scientometrics of over 1 million scientific journal articles revealed that psychology, along with mathematics, physics, chemistry, earth sciences, medicine and the social sciences, has become a hub science, a field that greatly influences other disciplines. Advances in psychology not only move our field forward, they advance science as a whole.
For psychological science to continue flourishing, graduate students must understand the trends, challenges and opportunities within and outside our field. Here are four strategies to advance your career goals while also promoting psychological science:
1. Embrace Interdisciplinary Research
Modern research questions are often beyond the scope of a single discipline. As a result, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation are increasingly funding interdisciplinary research proposals. Editors of high-impact journals publish research that is integrative and translational. And research departments recruit faculty with interdisciplinary experiences.
To remain competitive in this climate, graduate students must learn how to collaborate with scientists from other disciplines and integrate multiple methodologies into their research. A good place to start is by seeking research collaborators in fields such as biological sciences, linguistics, experimental philosophy, law, physics, computer science and robotics.
2. Demonstrate the Efficacy of Your Practice
The federal government, insurance companies and the public increasingly demand proof that psychological interventions work. Fortunately, scientific research has identified treatments from a variety of theoretical orientations that effectively target psychiatric disorders. There is also a growing body of support for psychological interventions to treat physical conditions, such as obesity. In addition, psychologists have developed a wide variety of assessments that can quickly and effectively measure psychiatric symptoms.
Graduate students who seek out training opportunities in evidence-based interventions will be at an advantage when applying for positions in tomorrow's health-care system. If such training opportunities are limited in your department, you can start by familiarizing yourself with the scientific literature on specific disorders, paying close attention to any randomized controlled trials that have been published, and seeking out treatment manuals and protocols. You'll also need experience using quantitative assessments of psychiatric symptoms. Not only do these instruments provide us with valuable data on the progress of our interventions, they also give clients a better understanding of their illness and treatment.
3. Engage in Empirically Supported Teaching
As graduate student teachers, we are role models for how psychologists think and act. Before instructing our students, we should ensure that our pedagogical methods are supported by psychological science. This provides students with an example of how psychological science is translated into real-world applications. Otherwise, we run the risk of providing ineffective education and diminishing the central role of science in psychology.
Researchers have identified several empirically supported teaching techniques that can increase student motivation, attendance and critical thinking.
4. Advocate for Funding
We need your help to ensure a continued stream of support for future scientific research in psychology. To become familiar with federal funding issues, check out the APA Science Directorate's Psychological Science Agenda newsletter. You can also sign up to receive action alerts on legislative and regulatory issues.
No matter your subfield or career track, science is the foundation that unites all of psychology. Together, we can ensure that our science continues to flourish.