As more early career psychologists (ECPs) are discovering, membership in one (or more) of APA's 54 divisions can boost psychologists' career opportunities — offering them a welcome advantage in today's uncertain economy.
The groups, organized by members and representing psychology subdisciplines and special topics, have recently stepped up efforts to attract recent graduates and ECPs, increasing member access to leadership and networking opportunities in their fields, says Sarah Jordan, director of Divisions Services at APA.
"We're focusing more on the needs of rising graduates, looking at ways to address concerns like student-debt load and supporting their transition into the work world," she says.
For postdoctoral researcher Erika Carr, PhD, division membership is an avenue to connect to the psychological field nationally, providing a multitude of benefits. Carr is completing clinical work in severe mental illness and dual diagnosis at Yale University Medical Center, while serving as the associate affiliate representative to Div. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women). The two-year position puts her in close contact with students and other affiliate members as she works to determine how the division can support their training and professional needs.
It also provides her with opportunities to mentor, network and collaborate with others who have like interests and goals.
"We're hearing more concerns in light of the economy — things feel less certain and there may not be as many opportunities as there were seven or eight years ago," says Carr, who is also a member of Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology). "I meet people who are, like me, looking for their first job out of postdoc, and the division offers avenues for support, mentorship and networking."
For psychologists who move away from academe, divisions can also help them stay current with new research and technological innovations, says Kuba Glazek, PhD, who works as a human factors scientist for Exponent Failure Analysis Associates, a private consulting company in Los Angeles. His career puts him in contact with experts in many fields, but his membership in Divs. 3 (Experimental) and 10 (Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts) has helped him stay connected with fellow psychologists. As the former editor of the Div. 3 newsletter, Glazek talked shop with some of the biggest names in experimental psychology.
"I get to communicate with a lot of key figures in the organization, and I know I'm on their radar as well," says Glazek. He says division membership is particularly good for people "who approach their careers in more than a 9-to-5 way."
Purdue University psychologist and assistant professor Ayse Çiftçi, PhD, agrees. Her research focuses on the experiences of Muslim immigrants in the United States, and as secretary for Div. 52 (International), she gets firsthand access to ideas and people she might otherwise miss.
"APA is so big, it can be hard to find people working in the same field, or who know about new publications," she says. "In 52, I am surrounded by people with different backgrounds and fields — but all of us are interested in international issues. It helps me think more critically and holistically about my work."
Division journals, newsletters and listservs give ECPs the opportunity to share their own ideas as well, says Glazek. "On the listserv, someone might ask about an eye-tracking technique, or a good review of creativity in the workplace," he says. "If you can jump in, people will notice that you helped out." Listing your website in your signature and linking to your online publications can also raise your visibility, he adds.
Mentoring and leadership
APA divisions also offer opportunities to connect with mentors, with many groups offering formal programs that link ECPs with more established researchers. For example, Div. 31 (State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs) has launched a new ECP initiative, which includes a blog, a Twitter feed (@APADivion31) and a mentoring program for ECPs interested in leadership positions, says ECP Committee Chair Shannon Kellogg, PsyD.
"We're offering a path to go from state to national leadership within APA, and that's easier if you have a mentor who can encourage you, give guidance, and introduce you to others in executive positions," Kellogg says. "Through Div. 31, ECPs have a strong platform to advocate for issues that matter most to them."
Involvement at the national level can be enlightening as an early career psychologist, Carr adds. "The more you know about what's going on in the field and how decisions are made in APA, the more empowered you feel."
To further empower ECPs, APA has encouraged divisions to provide them with leadership opportunities and invited six ECPs to participate in the January 2012 Division Leadership Conference.
When ECPs speak up, more established psychologists take note, says Shamin Ladhani, PhD, who joined Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) as a student and now serves as one of the division's four elected members-at-large. She represents the Asian-American constituency and serves as the division liaison to other organizations that are involved in Asian-American psychology and social issues.
Division membership has benefited her professionally, most recently when she was appointed to be the diversity council co-chair of the medical center where she works. "One of my charges is to develop and implement culturally sensitive health care, including community outreach, associate relations and health literacy, and that know-how comes directly from my experience in 45," she says.
Ladhani hopes to introduce new division members to the same benefits through events such as "virtual happy hours," in which senior members will share advice on such topics as getting published and getting involved in APA governance.
Participating in division leadership often paves the way to national roles, says APA's Jordan. "Every member of APA's Board of Directors and most APA presidents have benefited by participation in the divisions," she says. "They're a good pipeline for leadership, particularly for those who enjoy the social and collegial aspects of the field. Being in a division brings you back into the community in a significant way."
Emily Wojcik is a writer in Northampton, Mass.