From the Science Student Council

Sharing the STEM: What I learned as a graduate student participant at the Science Leadership Conference

There’s much we can do to build public understanding of psychological science.

By Hallie Bregman

As the clinical science representative of the APA Science Student Council, I was presented with the opportunity to attend the 2010 annual APA Science Leadership Conference (SciLC).  I knew little about the conference theme, “Strengthening Our Science: Enhancing the Status of Psychology as a STEM Discipline” prior to my attendance.  In fact, when I told one of my advisors that the conference was about promoting psychology as a core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) discipline, she asked if it was even important that psychology was a STEM Discipline.  I realized that I did not know the answer.  However, upon arriving at the conference, I quickly became enlightened about the ways that it is important that psychology be considered part of STEM, amazed about how it impacted graduate students, and inspired about what I could do to help support psychology as a STEM discipline.   

I learned that much of the public considers psychology to be a “soft” science that does not fall within the core STEM disciplines.  This characterization has an important role in the funding of psychological science.  Specifically, the exclusion of psychology as a STEM science leads to missed opportunities for resources.  This has significant implications, particularly for graduate students, who are often dependent on their advisors’ receipt of grant funding in order to support their graduate education.  Additionally, in a difficult economy, where limited resources are allocated for all science funding, recent graduates are likely to have an increasingly hard time obtaining funding when psychology is excluded from STEM funding opportunities. 

Yet, given this somewhat discouraging news, SciLC was inspiring.  There are many things that we, as graduate students, can do to help promote psychology as a STEM discipline.  First, update Wikipedia entries related to psychology.  As a generation that has grown up with the emergence of the internet, there is no one better to make sure the information provided is accurate.  When Wikipedia entries contain myths or falsities about psychological science, fix them! 

Next, enlighten undergraduate students about psychological research.  Many young undergraduate students don’t know that psychology is anything other than “helping people.”  By inviting undergraduate students to get involved with your research and by making psychological science interesting and exciting, we can start to increase public knowledge about psychological science. 

Other ways that graduate students can promote psychology as a core STEM discipline involve reaching out to your colleagues in psychology and other departments.  Mention and discuss the topic of psychology as a STEM science with colleagues.  Many psychologists and graduate students have not considered why this matters to them.  In addition, you can collaborate with scientists in other departments within the university to share psychological methods and skills.  Also consider attending and presenting research at interdisciplinary conferences.  These activities will help spread the word about psychology’s scientific methods, and can provide you with valuable opportunities for collaboration. 

Also, share your research with the community.  At SciLC, speakers discussed sharing the science of psychology through things like news stories and museum exhibits.  For instance, the Museum of Science in Boston has established a Living Laboratory, with researchers collecting data right in the museum.  You can contact your local science museum to get involved in creating or working with a living laboratory.  Not only is this a great way to provide a learning opportunity for the larger community, it also is a great way to access study participants!   

Finally, stay aware of the current state of psychological science by attending to advocacy action alerts, disseminated through email lists such as the Science Directorate’s SPIN. These alerts often include ways in which graduate students can act from home to support psychology’s inclusion as a STEM discipline.

In sum, SciLC was an educational weekend that I will not forget.  I learned about the issues surrounding the perception of psychology as a STEM discipline, as well as the concrete actions described above that each of us can take to improve the current situation for psychological science.


Hallie R. Bregman, a graduate student at University of Miami, is the clinical science representative on the APA Science Student Council. Her research interests are focused on parent-child relationships and family functioning.