For Chris Copp, Christmas came early last year. He learned in October that he'd been awarded a $7,000 Psi Chi grant to help defray expenses during his unpaid internship with the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. "I was blown away," says Copp, a graduate student in forensic psychology at Marymount University.
The grant provided some welcome relief from graduate school's financial pressures. "My student loans are stifling right now," Copp adds. "The grant helped me get a little bit of breathing room."
Psi Chi, the 85-year-old International Honor Society in Psychology, is an APA affiliate organization that recognizes academic achievement and aims to advance the science of psychology. Membership brings together psychology students at all levels, from undergraduates to doctoral candidates, interested in long-term psychology careers, says Jessica Thurmond, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University who joined Psi Chi in 2011 as an undergrad at the University of West Florida.
"I've made connections with people who have the same drive and passion for psychology that I have," says Thurmond, who is studying the neurobiological effects of childhood adversity.
The society inducted about 24,000 members last year, including some 1,600 graduate students, says Martha Zlokovich, PhD, Psi Chi's executive director. Most were undergrads, but faculty members also were among the inductees. The society has more than 1,100 campus chapters worldwide.
Undergraduates are eligible to join Psi Chi if their major or minor is psychology and they've completed at least three semesters of college courses, nine hours of psychology courses with a minimum 3.0 grade point average (GPA) in those courses, and have an overall GPA in the top 35 percent of their class.
Graduate students must be enrolled in a graduate psychology program and have completed at least one full semester of graduate coursework with a minimum 3.0 grade point average across all graduate courses. Faculty are eligible to join if they have a doctorate in psychology and work full time in a psychology department.
Psi Chi isn't only a student organization, however. "It's lifetime membership," Zlokovich says. That means access to grants, travel awards and other benefits never ends.
Of the $350,000 in grants and awards the society gives annually, 16 categories are open to graduate students. Some amounts vary, depending on research needs or travel expenses. But if the maximum amount were given in each category, about 225 graduate students would receive some type of assistance each year.
Among them, the APA Edwin Newman Graduate Research Award and the Association for Psychological Science's (APS) Albert Bandura Graduate Research Award recognize outstanding research that graduate student members have presented at a conference or published in a professional journal.
Each of these awards provides up to $1,000 for travel expenses to APA's Annual Convention or to the APS national convention and a three-year membership in that association. Last year's Newman award winner was Hannah Williamson, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. The award recognized her research, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, on whether premarital education affects the likelihood that couples will later seek relationship help.
Williamson traveled to last year's APA Annual Convention in Honolulu, where, she says, "I got to meet and network with other people winning APA awards, opportunities I otherwise would not have had." Among them was Elizabeth Loftus, PhD, the memory expert who received the American Psychological Foundation's Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Science of Psychology at the meeting.
Other students are attracted to Psi Chi by the leadership experience they can gain. Andrea Vial, a doctoral student in social psychology at Yale University, joined Psi Chi in 2009 as an undergraduate at Hunter College. Vial was president of her campus Psi Chi chapter for two years, a position in which she led a team of officers who helped plan conferences and other events.
The skills she learned will aid in her plans for an academic career, Vial says.
So will the research she has been able to continue with a $1,500 Psi Chi research grant. In the first year of her doctoral program, Vial studied the psychology of feeling powerful, and how power mindsets affect men and women differently. Now in her second year, she is enrolling female undergrads and women from the community in a study to measure how positions of power or their lack affect women's self-concepts.
"It would not have been feasible to start additional studies in my second year without this grant," Vial says.
APAGS and Psi Chi offer the Junior Scientist Fellowship, which provides $1,000 to students entering their first year or the first semester of their second year in a research-oriented graduate program. Select applicants receive feedback they can use to strengthen their chances if they apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
Psi Chi also offers graduate students opportunities to publish their research. The peer-reviewed Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research began publication in 1996 as the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research. The name change came in 2012 when the journal started accepting articles from graduate students and faculty. Empirical findings in all areas of psychology are eligible; the first author must belong to the society. Indexing the journal's articles in PsycINFO, APA's vast database of scholarly literature, will begin in 2014. "We were so thrilled APA approved our journal for indexing," Zlokovich says.
Lifetime membership in Psi Chi offers its professional members opportunities to give back to psychology students coming up through the ranks or to the field of psychology itself. Many faculty remain or become involved by mentoring chapters or applying for awards and grants, and Psi Chi is developing more benefits for members who do not work as faculty.
In the future, Jessica Thurmond of Vanderbilt would like to take on a leadership role in Psi Chi. "Hopefully, one day I'll be a faculty member and will be able to review articles for the journal," she says. "Being a member is a great opportunity to connect with people you'll work with the rest of your life."
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