In the Science Directorate

My Summer at APA: How Research Came to Life for Me

As an intern in APA's Science Directorate, this undergraduate experienced policy-related activities firsthand.

By Josiah Leong

Living in the nation’s capital for the summer, it was difficult to miss the air of importance and responsibility in a city where so much policy is created. I was struck by this upon my arrival at Reagan National Airport and continued to take note of it throughout the summer months. The daily commute in Washington placed me amongst people from many different industries and academic disciplines -- all here to promote their constituencies’ needs. Coming from a research-intensive university, the importance of applying research results to public policy was new to me. While I relished the chance to experience the political atmosphere of our nation’s capital, I was even more enthusiastic about the idea of working alongside psychology professionals within that arena.

I landed in the APA Science Directorate as part of my program, “Cal in the Capital” -- an internship program at the University of California, Berkeley, where undergraduate students like me are placed in policy-relevant organizations. For two months I worked in the Science Directorate. I helped facilitate some of the vital programs that the APA conducts, such as graduate student awards and the Advanced Training Institutes. I was particularly involved in the Summer Science Fellowship (SSF), a program in which undergrads come to the DC area to work fulltime in a local university laboratory. Participation with these programs allowed me to see the direct benefits of having a strong, well-funded organization with the resources and impetus to train and educate people in the research community. My internship experience impressed upon me the critical role that psychology researchers have in policymaking and the budget and appropriations process. I encountered people at APA who came from diverse backgrounds in psychology and spoke with several who were once academic-based research psychologists but then unexpectedly found an interest in the wider view of research (e.g., funding, research ethics, and policy), and psychology’s impact at an institutional level. These psychologist-advocates helped open my eyes to the effect psychological research can have on policy.

On July 14th, the APA hosted an educational event for congressional staff that addressed the topic of substance abuse amongst military personnel. Tim Condon, the deputy director at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, presented on the prevalence of substance abuse in the military and the foreseeable needs of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathleen Carroll, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University discussed numerous therapies that currently exist for substance abuse. Briefing events like this are common in Congress and are essential opportunities for interest groups to make members of Congress aware of pressing issues that they’d like to have prioritized by the legislature. I was given an opportunity to assist with this briefing.

One event that was particularly enlightening to me was a poster session held in the Senate building. The National Science Foundation invited researchers from around the country to present their breakthrough findings and innovations to members of Congress. The presentations were compelling and informative—allowing people to imagine the endless potential that research had for positive change. The event also doubled as a way to justify the amount of funding devoted to research. I left realizing the value of being able to communicate research to lay people and its implications for procuring funding for the behavioral sciences.

The culmination of my time at APA was a literature review paper on substance abuse in veterans. I presented my findings to my peers in the SSF program as well as to APA staff, and I was naturally keen to impart my new outlook on research and the need to make research accessible.

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Josiah is in his senior year at the University of California, Berkeley studying psychology. His immediate goals include completing his honors thesis and he hopes to eventually become a clinical neuropsychologist. He can be reached by email.