Cover Story

When University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology department chair Charles Snowdon, PhD, hires a new faculty member, he's confronted with pricey start-up package costs, including one year's salary for a technician, a first-year summer salary for the faculty member and any technology needs the new hire has. He acquires some funding for the packages through department funds and some through the university's graduate school, but the costs have only steadily increased in the last few years, he says.

Meanwhile, the director of Fordham University's Center for Ethics Education, Celia Fisher, PhD, is grappling with a totally different dilemma: She's trying to define the mental and emotional risk participants can face during psychological research, and she's seeking to then communicate those definitions to institutional review boards (IRBs) nationwide.

The issues that these psychologists face--from seeking grants for increasingly expensive infrastructure to getting approval from increasingly restrictive IRBs, exemplify many key issues facing psychological scientists in the new millennium. In response, APA has unveiled a new initiative chock-full of resources, programs and tools to help behavioral science researchers navigate such challenges.

Psychological Science for the 21st Century (PSY21)--the APA Science Directorate's new initiative of training programs, conferences, awards, advocacy and online resources for psychological researchers--launched in January after APA's Board of Directors and Council of Representatives endorsed the ongoing initiative last summer and provided it initial funding of $197,000 for this year and up to approximately $394,000 for 2006 and beyond.

PSY21 aims to make APA the foremost resource for psychological scientists on everything from research ethics to legislative advocacy to infrastructure needs, says Steven J. Breckler, PhD, APA's executive director for science.

He notes that PSY21 will offer its various programs under three related themes:

  • Promoting responsible research--hosting workshops and producing training materials on ethical issues such as conflicts of interest, peer review, research misconduct, data sharing and research involving human participants.

  • Developing a "culture of service" within psychology--encouraging members to serve on professional associations' boards and committees to help increase awareness of the discipline and its work.

  • Identifying the discipline's infrastructure needs--finding new funding opportunities or collaborations between researchers so they can conduct cutting-edge research with state-of-the-art equipment.

"The landscape for conducting psychological research is changing, and APA is committed to providing the tools and resources to better equip psychological scientists for the 21st century," Breckler says.

The initiative's initial idea

PSY21 will, for example, provide researchers with tips during training sessions at conferences on how to work better with IRBs, advocate for more federal funding for research equipment like magnets for magnetic resonance imaging and offer awards to psychologists who serve their discipline. The initiative will include everything from sessions at APA's Annual Conventions on new animal research regulations to an online portal complete with the latest information on, say, federal legislation affecting grant funding.

APA's Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) began to develop PSY21 three years ago as a way to promote psychological science within the discipline and to the public at large, says BSA chair Roberta Klatzky, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Psychological science is challenged by [the government's] resistance to funding certain research and money withdrawn for other [federal] purposes," she says. "APA can push against this tide, and that's what we had in mind for this initiative."

In addition to advocating science to lawmakers and the general public, PSY21 will serve the needs of the psychological science community, adds Suzanne Bennett-Johnson, PhD, BSA chair in 2002 when the board began to formulate plans for PSY21.

"Just as we need scientists' voices, we need to address their concerns, for example, about federal policy," she says. "PSY21 enhances opportunities for psychologists to provide their voice, and it can show them how providing service to the discipline makes a difference."

Now that they have laid the groundwork for PSY21 by acquiring funding, the Science Directorate and BSA are speaking with representatives from APA divisions about key issues facing psychological science.

The directorate will take the feedback from these representatives and use it to create a variety of resources to assist scientists, such as workshops, committee meetings, a Web portal, new awards, partnerships and conferences that address issues such as how to work with IRBs and how to identify interdisciplinary research opportunities.

For example, the directorate is planning several programs for 2005, including:

  • An online warehouse that will provide information to facilitate psychological research, such as information on data-sharing and archiving, lists of available large-scale databases, and information about advanced training possibilities.

  • Awards that promote service among researchers by recognizing those who serve the discipline on APA boards and committees or through service as editors, university administrators or other work outside teaching and research.

  • Training seminars held at association meetings, regional conferences and APA's Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Aug. 18-21, that address such make-or-break issues for psychological scientists as authorship, mentoring or conflicts of interest.

  • Federal advocacy campaigns to fight legislation that could restrict psychological science.

  • Partnerships for programs with other groups. For example, PSY21 will co-sponsor consensus conferences that will provide guidance and tools for researchers to bring to their IRBs. The initiative will team up with relevant federal offices to offer training seminars on research ethics. It will also join with groups such as the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology on projects promoting service within psychological associations.

  • A Science Leadership Conference, to be held Dec. 2-4 in Washington, D.C. While the conference agenda is still in the works, the conference will serve as a forum to discuss future trends in the discipline and to articulate issues affecting psychological science.

"We are especially excited about the Science Leadership Conference," Breckler says. "It will offer an opportunity for the science leadership of psychology to develop a plan for action; it will foster the development of science networks; and it will create a forum for the development of new program ideas in service of psychological science."

Promoting responsible research

PSY21 aims to help psychologists navigate complex professional responsibilities such as research ethics, IRB approvals, authorship, mentoring, data-sharing, peer review and conflicts of interest. The initiative will host workshops and develop training materials for psychologists to help them explain to policy-makers and the general public how psychologists conduct research--and how they ensure that research remains ethical.

"IRBs are presented with research protocols that raise questions that they may not be equipped to answer," says Merry Bullock, PhD, associate executive director for the Science Directorate. "What can we provide to help make that decision in a responsible and appropriate way?"

As one answer, APA is sponsoring this month's conference at Fordham University on the definition of "minimal risk" to participants in psychological research (see sidebar, page 59). The conference, hosted by Fordham's Center for Ethics Education, will present case examples of minimal risk and discuss ways to inform IRBs about what it means in psychological research. Many IRBs struggle to understand that, since they may be more familiar with medical research involving physical risk, says Fordham's Celia Fisher, a conference organizer.

"IRBs have to review information from many different types of studies and the only thing they can rely on is what's in the psychologist's proposal," she says. "We as psychologists can help them with their job and educate them about what we believe is minimal risk."

The Science Directorate also will survey investigators about their experiences with IRBs to see what aspects of research cause them concern about participants' risk. The directorate hopes to educate members on how they can articulate to IRBs the risk--or lack of it--involved in their research.

Another PSY21 responsible research effort is BSA's Ad Hoc Committee on Research Issues (AHCORI). Georgia Institute of Technology psychology professor Arthur Fisk, PhD, will chair the new committee formed for PSY21. It will keep researchers informed about proposed legislation that could affect how scientists conduct their research and provide guidance for the expansion of APA's support for the responsible conduct of research.

Beyond helping psychologists ethically conduct research, PSY21 will promote research opportunities by, for example, identifying partnerships between psychology and other disciplines to share research equipment or collaborate on studies, and by advocating for more psychologists to join--and lead--multidisciplinary teams pursuing large research grants.

The National Academy of Sciences is focused on promoting interdisciplinary research, and psychology needs to be involved with these projects, says University of Chicago psychology professor John Cacioppo, PhD, a former member of a committee that discussed future behavioral and social sciences research directions at the National Institutes of Health.

"Psychology asks fundamental questions about human nature," he says. "Lots of applications in medicine deal with these questions, so there's a good reason to have psychologists not just on these teams but leading them."

Cacioppo is now on a listserv of psychologists who help connect one another with interdisciplinary research opportunities. He says that a central organization like APA's Science Directorate could bolster psychologists' involvement in the national push for interdisciplinary research.

"APA can help form these grassroots efforts," Cacioppo says. "We must think about what we can do to put more on the table of psychological science in the next 10 to 15 years."

Creating a culture of service

In line with such grassroots efforts, through PSY21, the directorate aims to encourage a culture of service among scientists (see sidebar, page 60). PSY21 broadly sees "service" as aiding in association governance, joining boards, committees and various professional psychological associations, editing journals, reviewing grant proposals, mentoring graduate students and advocating for psychology's best interests with state and federal lawmakers.

Members who consistently serve are quick to point out its value. For former BSA chair Paul Sackett, PhD, a University of Minnesota, Twin Cities psychology professor, service means helping make an impact on social policy.

"I like the idea of my work making a difference," says Sackett, who has been on six NAS panels, which investigated policy issues such as the military's cognitive requirements to determine service eligibility and the appropriateness of high-stakes testing. For example, he co-authored an NAS report examining the appropriateness of using high-stakes tests as criteria for graduation from high schools. "The research we do in laboratories is crucial, but the opportunities to get involved in large-scale projects with policy also matter because they have immediate implications."

Service can also enhance knowledge of your own work, says Charles Spielberger, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida. A former APA president, Spielberger was a chair of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents in 1995.

"Serving on committees, one learns a lot while interacting with colleagues," he says. "A lot of what I've learned has helped my scientific research because discussing research goes hand-in-hand with committee activities. Serving on boards is, in a sense, a way of learning more about your interests."

To promote the value of service like that of Sackett, Spielberger and others, PSY21 will create programs that train members to advocate for psychology in many policy and program venues and will develop awards to recognize their efforts, Bullock says.

For example, PSY21 will likely establish an APA award to serve as a counterpart to the directorate's Distinguished Research Career Award by honoring distinguished career service to psychological science. It may also develop an award for academic departments that facilitate service among their faculty.

Identifying infrastructure

Another major PSY21 push is helping psychologists garner infrastructure for their research in several ways. One way is through federal advocacy that secures more grant funding. Another is through establishing partnerships among research institutions. For example, a smaller university could share a larger one's magnet for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research.

First, however, the directorate wants to hear from members to identify their infrastructure needs. And from what members say, their technological needs will only become more complex (see sidebar, page 62) over the coming years.

"Most research universities collaborate across departments," says psychology professor Morton Ann Gernsbacher, PhD, who runs a large language comprehension lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that requires nearly a dozen people to staff it, including four full-time staff members. "Given that, the tools and toys we need are increasingly complex. When I started 25 years ago, I needed an Apple computer and a printer, and that was it."

Costs to acquire infrastructure such as fMRI magnets--and the staff to maintain them--large-scale and longitudinal data sets and virtual environment technology are just some of the challenges psychologists have cited. And as many of these technologies improve, more researchers will seek them out and require additional funding, says Jack Loomis, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has conducted research using virtual reality (VR) since the 1980s. He says VR equipment can run from headsets costing $16,000 to rooms costing $250,000.

"When I first started in this research, a lot of people were skeptical," he says. "But now more people are using it in different areas of psychology. As the technology gets better, more people will use it. There's no question it will get bigger--and it's important that funding agencies recognize that."

In addition to the physical equipment, some psychologists mention a less apparent infrastructure need--human operators, such as professional lab directors.

"Most of my needs are to support research assistants," says psychology professor Henry L. Roediger, III, PhD, at Washington University in St. Louis. "The ongoing expenses I ask for in grants are all human needs."

And beyond that, start-up costs for newly hired faculty have skyrocketed in a generation. "When I was hired, my start-up was 50 percent of my salary," says Wisconsin's Snowdon. "Today, for new hires start-up varies between five and eight times their salary. Start-up money is the major shift in faculty expense over the past 30 years."

Oftentimes grants that fund technology and physical infrastructure do not include funding to compensate assistants, APA's Bullock says. Here is a place where PSY21 can advocate for psychologists who have large human resource needs, such as those who use coders for video-based research, she adds.

It's that kind of direct service that can make PSY21 the definitive resource for psychological scientists, says Breckler.

"It's clear that APA can be most effective by enhancing the context in which psychological science is done," he says. "Our intention is to put APA's resources to work in improving and growing the science of psychology for decades to come."


Further Reading

For more information, visit PSY21.