Speaking of Education

During the time that I served as the APA staff officer for the Committee on Accreditation, I recall a senior psychologist on that body summarizing the review of a program somewhat as follows: The program appears to meet all the criteria for accreditation; but is there anything going on in this program that's really exciting to the faculty and students?

I have reflected on this rhetorical but significant question many times. It strikes at the heart, I believe, of what education ought to be about. It should be an exciting experience of discovery, inquiry, reflection, experimentation and transformation.

As an undergraduate at Princeton University planning to attend law school, I enrolled in an elective course taught by a distinguished social psychologist, Hadley Cantril. That experience changed my life. I recall the excitement of discovering a new way of thinking about human behavior, and about the types of questions psychologists ask and the research that is possible to address these questions.

My story about the transforming experience of my undergraduate education is not uncommon, I'm sure. The lessons learned from the story, however, are easily forgotten among those involved daily in undergraduate and graduate education. We are preoccupied with budget cuts, increased teaching workloads, the need to remain current with technology, the ever expanding body of knowledge in our special areas of scholarship, the continuous need for grant writing to support our research, and the myriad needs of students for advice and other academic guidance. It is easy enough under these circumstances to lose sight of the higher purposes of education, and the excitement in the lives of faculty and students who share in achieving those ends. They are forgotten, at least until the occasional former student, perhaps some years later, writes quite unexpectedly to let us know of the difference we made in her or his life.

Preparing psychology's future faculty

I have had the privilege for the past two years of meeting and talking with psychology faculty and graduate students who are involved in Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) programs at the University of Colorado, the University of Georgia, Miami University of Ohio, the University of New Hampshire and Yale University. The idea of PFF is to prepare graduate students interested in academic careers through direct experience and reflective discussion about American colleges and universities, the diversity of their missions, student bodies and academic cultures, and faculty roles and rewards.

The initiative taken by faculty leaders of these programs, and by psychology faculty of the 15 partner colleges and universities with which the five institutions work, is commendable. Though the programs differ in how they are implemented, the faculty leading them are excited about what they are doing and about their students.

The real rewards of PFF, of course, are those experienced by the graduate students involved. A number have had transforming experiences in their discoveries about academic life and what it means to be a member of the professoriate, most becoming more committed to academic careers than they were before their PFF experience. They have shared their experiences in campus newsletters, colloquia, presentations at regional and national psychology meetings, and, on occasion, at annual meetings of higher education associations.

Inviting you to share the excitement

This is but one illustration of "what's exciting" today in graduate education in psychology. There are many others, I'm sure. As director of the Office of Graduate Education and Training in APA's Education Directorate, I invite our graduate departments to share some of the exciting things they are doing for the benefit of their students and faculty. Our plan is to share these developments with others and to keep you informed about national initiatives in graduate education through our Web site: /www.apa.org/ed/graduate/.

A few years ago Jules LaPidus, then president of the Council of Graduate Schools, wrote about the role of graduate education in preparing students for research, scholarship, faculty, industrial and other positions, and for life. "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change," he was quoted as saying in the J.A. Hamblin book, "A Walk through Graduate Education: Selected Papers and Speeches of Jules B. LaPidus," (Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 2000).

As we pursue these and other goals of graduate education in psychology, let's open the doors for our students to discover, reflect and experiment--to think critically about what it means to be a psychologist and to consider the many diverse opportunities for our service to society. The excitement will follow.

Note from APA: The appearance of advertisements for educational programs on this site does not constitute endorsement by APA. Programs that describe themselves as accredited may be accredited by another body, but are not accredited by APA unless so stated.