Running Commentary

Are you going to APA this year? Officially it's called the Annual Convention, but for most people it's known simply as "going to APA." Since San Francisco has always been one of our most popular convention cities, we anticipate a large crowd this year, and I hope you will join us.

I have been going to APA every year since 1959 when I attended my first APA convention in Cincinnati. As a new assistant professor at the University of Alabama, I felt a bit overwhelmed to be presenting--one aspect of the convention that has not changed for most first-timers. The vast array of programs is exciting, but choosing among them and navigating your way around can also be a bit daunting. This year's meeting will be my 42nd, and I still greatly look forward to participating.

Meeting old and new friends, getting a job, and vacationing and sightseeing are among the top attractions of attending APA's Annual Convention. But attending the educational programs is still the primary reason most people go, as it probably was more than 100 years ago. APA's first annual meeting was held in 1892 on a cold December day in Philadelphia, six months after the association's founding. At that time, 18 of the original 31 APA members came together to approve 11 new members, set the dues at $3 a year, select a council and elect G. Stanley Hall as president.

Until 1928, APA meetings were held annually between Christmas and New Year's and were often combined with the American Association for the Advancement of Science or other organizations. In 1929, APA shifted to independent meetings held in late summer at universities where dormitory accommodations were available. By 1951, APA had outgrown university campuses, and most members had outgrown dormitory life, so meetings were subsequently held in hotels.

Today, only a few cities can accommodate an APA convention. We need about 5,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of each other and enough meeting rooms to hold 120 concurrent sessions. We rotate meetings among various parts of the country to give more members an opportunity to attend and that tradition seems to work. For many years, the annual meeting was APA's principal activity. It is now only one among hundreds, but it is still one that encourages the greatest participation among members.

Changes for the better

As the convention has grown over the years, the Board of Convention Affairs (BCA) has worked hard to determine ways to keep the meeting both manageable and meaningful for our diverse membership. In response to members concerns, BCA has been working with APA senior staff to explore new ways of organizing the convention to make better use of time and space. BCA has also been taking surveys over the last two or three conventions to find out what the members want.

The most frequently requested addition to the convention is the opportunity to obtain continuing professional education (CPE) credits for attendance. As a result, this year APA will launch a pilot program and offer CPE credits to members who attend specified convention sessions, including those in the Presidential Miniconvention, "Psychology Builds a Healthy World: New Markets, New Research" and selected sessions from each of APA's four directorates. CPE credits for the miniconvention are free and the other sessions will include a nominal fee. This expanded opportunity is in addition to the 66 regular, intensive CPE workshops. If the pilot program is successful it will be expanded in 2002.

Starting with the 2002 meeting in Chicago, members can look forward to changes in response to other concerns including the expense of attending the convention. To reduce members' costs, the length of the convention will be shortened from five to four days and the meeting will run Thursday through Sunday so that it doesn't interfere with a second work week.

To make it easier to attend sessions, APA will put as much substantive programming in one complex as possible. To reduce competition among programs, there will be more topical programming initiated by groups of divisions and more plenary sessions with prominent and highly recognized speakers, including a new closing session.

Although the convention setting has changed over the years, and the format continues to evolve, one thing probably won't change. Members will continue to "go to APA" as they have for well over a century to learn, present their findings, exchange ideas and meet with colleagues and friends.