When University of Missouri-Columbia counseling psychology student Denise Bike joined APA in 2004, she was excited by the prospect of getting to know others who were as passionate about psychology as she was. But at times, Bike says, the 148,000-member organization felt overwhelming, until she found her home in the intimacy of several APA divisions, particularly Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), with its less intimidating 2,300 members.
"Joining a division just helped make things a little more accessible," says Bike.
APA's 54 divisions span a range of topics of interest to psychologists and provide students with several benefits, including:
Funding for travel and research. Nearly every division offers its own grant competition to help students attend APA's Annual Convention or secure research money. The award programs are often less competitive than those offered through APA and the American Psychological Foundation, says Adrienne Colella, PhD, membership chair for Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology). Many divisions also host their own conferences, as well as networking lunches, training workshops and social hours specifically for students, she adds.
Access to cutting-edge research. Most division memberships include subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals and other publications that relate to division members' interests. Celeste Malone, a graduate student at Temple University and a member of Div. 16 (School Psychology), says her professors frequently refer to the divisions' journals and newsletters during class discussions, helping her better understand the connection among theory, research and practice, she says.
Mentorship and other professional development opportunities. One of the most critical – and, for some students, confusing – aspects of graduate training is developing a focused career path, says Michigan State University clinical psychology student Audie Black. Interactions with researchers, faculty and applied professionals in the psychology specialty students are considering can help them define goals and form lifelong partnerships, he notes.
"We are future psychologists, and part of our professional identity is formed through professional associations," Black says. "Joining a division reflects the difference between simply getting a job and embarking on a career path."
Student division memberships are relatively inexpensive—usually $0 to $30 a year—so many students can join several to learn about a variety of career possibilities. Many divisions offer to match students with seasoned psychologists in their area of study, says Ron Shapiro, PhD, a past president of Div. 21 (Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology). Div. 21's mentoring program provides students with colleagues who can give them insight into the field and feedback about CVs and research goals, Shapiro says.
Becoming involved in a division is also a great way to interact with potential future employers, Bike says. "Getting to know them in a less formal setting really helps lift some of the formality off a future interview."