APA bestows the honorary title "fellow" on members who have shown evidence of unusual and outstanding contributions or performance in the field of psychology.

The association established the category in 1946 when APA merged with the American Association of Applied Psychology (AAAP). All APA members and AAAP fellows were made "charter fellows" of the new APA. In 1958, amendments to the bylaws established three membership categories: associate, for those with master's and other degrees, member for those holding doctoral degrees, and fellow. APA then began awarding the title of fellow only to its most distinguished members and established particular standards for that status. Because nominations must come from one of APA's divisions, members must belong to at least one division to become a fellow-and most notably, must have significantly advanced an area of psychology.

"You can write 50 books, but if no one reads them, that's not really an unusual or outstanding contribution," says John D. Robinson, EdD, MPH, chair of APA's Membership Committee and a psychiatry and surgery professor at Howard University's College of Medicine. "To become a fellow, you have to do something that's extraordinary, and highly significant, and has had an impact on psychology at a national or international level."

You do not, however, have to have 20 years in the profession, emphasizes Robinson. In fact, the Membership Committee is encouraging younger members with distinguished credentials to apply. "It's quality, not quantity, that counts," Robinson says.

Fellowship criteria

Some current fellows include psychologists who have:

  • Established a psychoeducational group program for minority organ recipients that transplant centers across the country have adopted.

  • Designed a unique assessment tool that tracks the developmental progress of infants and is now used on a national level.

  • Helped banks make ATMs easier to use by applying psychological principles to analyze customers' ATM-use patterns.

  • Developed a model to help state psychological associations approach legislative bodies for prescription privileges.

Fellowship achievements can involve anything in the field of psychology. In fact, fellowship nominations originate in APA's divisions, so the Association's approximately 4,000 current fellows-about 6 percent of APA membership-earned fellow status through a broad variety of backgrounds.

Becoming a fellow

So how do APA members become APA fellows? Here are the steps:

  • Nomination. Don't wait to be noticed-do it yourself. "Sometimes divisions look at their membership and recognize distinguished accomplishments, but usually it's up to the member," says Robinson. He suggests that members talk over their accomplishments with a division colleague-are they noteworthy? Do they really exemplify what the division stands for? If so, the member should submit an APA Uniform Fellow Application that states his or her contribution and get three references who are already fellows in the division to write letters of recommendation.

  • Consideration by the division fellowship committee. Usually around October, divisions review member applications to see if they meet division-specific criteria to measure outstanding achievement. If the division thinks an application has met its criteria, it will send it on to the next level.

  • Review and nomination by APA's Membership Committee. The committee sees about 100 to 150 applications a year, says Robinson. And because most divisions have rigorous and well-articulated fellow criteria, the nominations are well-deserved and most nominations are approved. When the Membership Committee approves applicants, they formally nominate a member to be elected to fellow status. If the committee does not approve, the division has the option to inform the member and appeal the decision. The committee can also defer nomination until it receives further information.

  • Final decision. During APA's Annual Convention, the Membership Committee, having heard and considered all appeals and additional material, will submit its final list of nominees to the Board of Directors. The board then recommends election to the Council of Representatives. Once the council has made the elections, division representatives can report on the outcome. In October, the Membership Committee officially notifies each division of the outcome and sends a certificate to each new fellow. On Jan. 1, each nominee's membership record is changed to reflect their status as a fellow.

Once a member becomes a fellow, he or she can become a fellow in any or all of the divisions he or she belongs to without input from the Membership Committee. The division makes the decision and informs the committee.

Robinson encourages all APA members to aim for fellowship.

"It's a tremendous honor, because it means you've been recognized as distinguished by your peers," he says.