From the APA Science Student Council

Making a Difference Through Service

This article sheds light on how to get involved in service, the difference you can make, and the benefits of becoming more service-oriented.

The Science Student Council is a group of nine graduate students who spend a couple of weekends a year with the Science staff, advising on programs and activities that would benefit graduate students in psychological science. In this column, the students will present useful information that other graduate students need to know! Visit the Science Student Council to learn more about the activities of the SSC.

Making a Difference Through Service
by Suzanne L. Dean
 

Many of us entered the field of psychology with starry-eyed ambitions of making a difference in the world. Unfortunately, this goal often takes a backseat to the everyday challenges we face as graduate students. The importance of this goal, however, warrants moving it up on your priority list. Not only are there numerous outlets in which you can make a difference through service, there are multiple reasons to participate in service activities. This article sheds light on how to get involved in service, the difference you can make, and the benefits of becoming more service-oriented.

How do I get involved in service?

You can begin by becoming more involved in your field-specific professional organization or joining a civic organization such as the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, or Soroptimist. Find out about volunteer opportunities or service organizations in your area through peers, the internet, or your local newspaper. In addition, many universities have institutions devoted to matching students with service opportunities. With a little research on your part, you can find volunteer work that coalesces with your research interests. For example, if you are a health psychologist, you can teach people about healthy food choices or exercise programs; if you are in educational psychology, you can tutor at a local school or volunteer at a boys and girls club. Service can also be in the form of public education via speaking at local schools, community organizations, or businesses. If public speaking is not for you, contribute to your psychological association newsletter or local newspaper.

Is my involvement in service really making a difference?

The answer to this question is a resounding YES! People just like you in civic organizations across the nation have provided support to the abused, fed the hungry, promoted literacy, and educated the masses. In fact, APA offers a wealth of opportunities for civic engagement ranging from HIV prevention to the Decade of Behavior project, which translates research findings into public policy (visit www.apa.org/ed/slce/home.html for more information about service opportunities). There are also many opportunities for civic engagement outside of APA. For example, the Rotary Club has a program called First Harvest in which they rescue farmers’ surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste and provide it to the hungry. More than 120 million pounds of fruits and vegetables have been contributed to date.

What are the benefits of being involved in service?

Service work can be both personally and professionally fulfilling. Moreover, many service-oriented organizations are rousing environments that can be a welcome reprieve from the isolated lab. Service work can be a challenging experience that opens your eyes to unmet needs in your community or various market trends. In addition, such opportunities can help shape career and research paths. Lastly, service organizations are a great place to network and make new friends.

Participating in service activities can be a truly rewarding experience. In addition to providing much needed services to the community, you will also be raising the visibility of psychology by being involved. In short, don’t throw away those starry-eyed ambitions of making a difference in the world --make those ambitions come to life through service in your community.