Speaking of Education

I had the privilege of representing APA at the invitation-only conference on "Re-envisioning the PhD" described in this month's cover story. Although it was novel working with national leaders from other disciplines, higher education, industry and funding agencies on issues of graduate education, the concerns expressed sounded very familiar, whether speakers were from anthropology, chemistry or microbiology:

  • Fewer than half of PhDs across all disciplines go into academic settings; many who go into the academy work in more teaching-intensive settings than those in which they trained. There should be exposure to a wider variety of employment settings and more preparation for teaching.

  • Graduate students require mentorship in learning to work with other disciplines and in multidisciplinary teams.

  • Graduate students must not be too narrowly trained. They need breadth in their discipline, but still must be able to "drill down" into a question in depth.

  • There needs to be more diversity among PhD recipients. The practice in a discipline should inform its science and education.

  • Doctoral training is taking too long; we risk losing the best and brightest of our citizenry.

  • Doctoral education should pay more attention to translational (applied) research, technology, societal context and globalization.

  • We must link institutions of higher education with each other, and with the K­12 educational system.

Of particular concern at the conference was the lack of information on the processes of doctoral education and career planning for students. One survey reported that less than half of respondents had a clear understanding of critical mechanics in their program (e.g., duration of enrollment, time spent with advisor, criteria for graduation, funding commitments).

Another noted that 50 percent reported that they had been provided with insufficient information for an informed choice (www.depts.washington.edu/envision/Panel.html). The lack of information on program outcomes was especially highlighted, and it was my opportunity to inform other groups of psychology's efforts to increase "truth in advertising" related to graduate education.

For example, the self-studies submitted to APA's Committee on Accreditation include substantial program outcome information. Although these are confidential documents, programs are required to state their goals and objectives and to provide descriptions that promote informed choice. Programs also have information on graduates' employment, which is not consistently gathered by programs in other disciplines.

As another example, the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP) has endorsed resolutions regarding "truth in advertising" over the past decade. In fact, CUDCP members voted to "develop mechanisms for systematic provision of program-specific and aggregate data to potential doctoral program applicants and the public." Member programs are to publicly report information such as the number of internship applicants, the number accepted on Match Day, those placed, those at accredited internships and in funded positions, the number of students completing the program, the average number of years to completion and percentage with publications.

Participants in the 1997 National Working Conference on Supply and Demand sponsored by APA and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers also emphasized the need for more public data regarding graduate education. Yet to date, the major source of public program-specific information (in addition to program brochures and Web sites) has been APA's Graduate Study in Psychology. Moreover, the bulk of available information consists of statements of goals, descriptions of "input variables" (e.g., the number of applications, average GRE scores) and description of "process variables" (e.g., availability of financial aid, faculty research areas, clinical training sites).

I believe that the trend toward more public disclosure of program outcomes has only just begun. Although parts of organized psychology might be ahead of other disciplines in initiating proposals, we are only in the initial stages. Consumers are increasingly interested in program-specific information regarding debt incurred, postgraduate employment, initial salaries and student satisfaction. If we collect data relevant to psychology, there will also be databases for interested researchers to develop knowledge that can inform our educational practices. If we ignore this trend, information will become available anyway, but perhaps in a less systematic form, since it is what students want. For example, the National Association of Graduate Professional Students just completed its satisfaction survey supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Results from 32,000 respondents in more than 5,100 doctoral programs will be posted this fall (www.survey.nagps.org) and will "allow comparisons between departments within a field." I counted many psychology departments that had the requisite 10 respondents; how representative those respondents are is unknown. It seems timely that graduate education and training groups in psychology address the complex issues of program outcomes as well.

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.