Five psychology graduate students have joined APA's nongovernmental organization representatives at the United Nations as interns for the 2012-2013 academic year.
The students, all of whom attend schools in the New York City area, are learning about the roles psychology plays in global political, social and human rights issues. They are also helping to plan the UN's annual Psychology Day, which will showcase psychology's role in violence prevention.
All of the interns have studied some aspect of international relations, and most hail from other countries themselves. Jarell Myers, for instance, spent much of his childhood in Jamaica and is now a clinical psychology PhD student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. The internship has shown him "how psychology is applied on a grander, international level — the ‘macro' scale," he says. After he graduates, Myers hopes to return to the Caribbean to begin a career in clinical psychology, so that he can help shift the culture's stigma against mental health care.
During the three to four days per month the interns spend at the UN, they sit in on committees focusing on topics such as families, HIV/AIDS prevention, racism and xenophobia, sustainability, violence and children's rights. They are also lining up speakers for this year's Psychology Day, on April 25.
"It might take a year of planning to have one day of speakers come to the UN," says intern David Kerner, of Montclair State University. "But it's so fulfilling. We plan everything, then we get to watch it come to life."
The experience has also helped illuminate areas where psychology could play a larger role, says intern Shuchang Kang, of Teacher's College, Columbia University. For her master's thesis, she is studying how Skype has expanded psychoanalysis in her native China. "Being an intern, I've learned so much more about the development and dissemination of psychology. I really hope to figure out more ways to help developing countries like China use psychology — and how it might be able to help resolve some of the social problems there," she says.
Intern Sepideh Alavi, also a psychology student at Teacher's College, Columbia University, says the experience helped her bridge what she's learned in grad school and real-world psychology. "I get to be involved in advocacy, raising awareness around current issues," she says. "I definitely see myself continuing my work with the UN after the internship is over."
Kerner agrees. "I'd love to keep working on that place where psychology meets diplomacy," he says. "It's a field that's really fascinating, but not a lot of people know it exists."