Executive Director's Column
By Steven Breckler, PhD
Membership in scientific societies and associations is important. It is one part of how we identify with a discipline. It is one way for us to achieve collective goals – publishing, advocating, convening, and educating.
Some memberships are available at our own discretion. After meeting basic requirements, it is simply a matter of completing an application and paying dues. Membership in most professional societies works this way.
Achievement within a discipline is often recognized by professional societies when they recognize members as fellows, or bestow on them other forms of honor. We take pride in these designations, because they signal special accomplishment. They represent membership in exclusive clubs.
Scientists earn membership in a very exclusive club when they win a Nobel Prize or the National Medal of Science. Also ranking high in exclusivity is membership in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
Membership in one of the National Academies is indeed a special honor. One must be elected, based on distinguished achievements in original research (NAS) or in medicine and health (IOM). Only current members of the NAS or IOM may nominate new members. Each year, the NAS admits a maximum of 72 new members across all fields of science. The IOM elects no more than 65 new members each year.
The membership of the NAS and the IOM includes many psychologists. Indeed, an entire Section of the NAS is devoted to psychology. At last count, the NAS Psychology Section listed among its members 64 of the most accomplished scientists we associate with psychology. It is not the smallest Section, nor is it the largest.
Membership in the National Academies is a significant marker. The PR materials of most colleges and universities include a count of faculty who have won Nobel Prizes or are members of the NAS and IOM. It is a point of pride, and an indicator of faculty quality and accomplishment.
Membership in the National Academies also carries with it significant influence and opportunity. The real work of the National Academies takes place among its Boards, Committees, and Studies. These groups draw on relevant scientific expertise from outside the Academy membership, but they also rely heavily on expertise from within. Thus, members of the Academy enjoy unparalleled opportunity to address important national issues and provide advice both to the federal government and to the public.
Now, more than ever, our nation needs scientific advice. And a new administration wants that advice. Considering the challenges before us – climate change, health disparities, an aging population, an economy in recession – psychology is needed.
The National Academies should respond by expanding its representation of psychology and related behavioral sciences. The ranks of this exclusive club must grow. Psychology can surely provide the new members.
In large part, it is up to current members to make this happen. They need to nominate more of their colleagues, and then press for their election. We can’t all be members of this exclusive club, but we can take pride in those who are and share in the satisfaction of knowing that psychology is well represented.