Editor's Column

It Takes a Village

The science of psychology depends on people to take leadership roles, especially as we face the challenges of the twenty-first centruy.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

A scientific discipline is a lot like raising children. It takes hard work, patience, and a lot of people working together to produce a positive outcome. Most of us spend most of our time nurturing our own science, just as parents spend most of their time nurturing their own children. Yet, success depends on more than selfish efforts. As Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested in the case of raising children, it takes a village to raise a science.

As members of a scientific village, we all have the opportunity and the duty to give a little of ourselves for the benefit of others. We are teachers, mentors, advisors, editors, reviewers, panelists, chairs, administrators, and sometimes even media celebrities or politicians. Why do we do it? On occasion, it is self-aggrandizement. But more often, it is done chiefly in service to the discipline. At APA, we are looking for ways to help nurture and nourish a culture of service to the discipline. And we are counting on you to help.

The APA Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) has been focusing on this issue over the past year, and the Science Directorate at APA is ready to take action. In many ways, however, it is like swimming upstream. The institutional incentives for promotion and tenure, and the rewards that come with focused research activity, work against a culture of service. In many instances, scientists simply do not know how to get involved or how to be included. Graduate training programs tend to devote little attention to this aspect of professional development, making it harder for the next generation of scientists to step up to the plate.

APA can help. We already reward people for their distinguished scientific contributions to the discipline, and these rewards have recognized value in signaling major career accomplishments. We can do the same for people (or even entire departments) who demonstrate exceptional service in their contributions to the discipline. Journal editors, department chairs, and outstanding mentors deserve to be recognized for the value they add to our shared scientific goals. We should celebrate the accomplishments of those who serve the discipline.

One of the best examples of serving the discipline is through participation as a journal reviewer. For most of us, it borders on the mundane. Yet, this activity is vital for the health of any scientific discipline. But how do we train our students to be reviewers and then include them in the process? For the most part, it is left up to individual graduate training programs and advisors to handle, with no organized discipline-wide infrastructure for helping. APA could play an important role here. With the large number of scientific journals published by APA, and an organizational structure to facilitate communication among journal editors, we can nurture this aspect of professional development and service to the discipline.

One of the key issues identified by the Board of Scientific Affairs centers on the participation of psychological scientists in the governance of APA. A long-standing concern has been that too few of our scientists are active in APA Council, Committees and Boards. Both the BSA and the Science Directorate at APA are committed to broadening such participation, and welcome suggestions for how this can be accomplished. Acquaint yourself with the governance structure of APA, and then send your ideas via email to the Science Directorate.

Stepping beyond APA, the science of psychology depends on people to take leadership roles. Our colleges and universities need deans, provosts, and presidents who support and promote psychological science. The federal agencies - which both fund and regulate our science - need to represent psychology at the highest levels. Federal advisory committees, NIH institutes, and NSF directorates will function more effectively with psychologists at the table. It can happen, but it depends on psychologists stepping forward and heeding the call to action.

As we charge into the 21st century, the science of psychology faces many challenges. Federal funding is threatened by hard economic times, sweeping changes in research regulation are on the horizon, and competition for the attention of our students is increasingly intense. We will survive and prosper as a scientific discipline if each one of us contributes just a little of ourselves for the benefit of the entire village.