BSA: Multidisciplinary research – A critical place for developing psychological science

Report from the spring 2012 meeting of the APA Board of Scientific Affairs.

By Kathleen Y. Haaland

The Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) met in Washington from March 29 through April 1, 2012, as part of the American Psychological Association’s consolidated meetings of governance groups. Our meeting began with a half-day retreat with the Committee on Human Research (CHR), a new committee that reports to BSA.  CHR was established in 2010 in order to facilitate the conduct of and training in scientifically and ethically responsible human research, to examine ethical and regulatory issues related to such research, and to develop and disseminate guidelines for protecting the rights and welfare of humans involved in research. 

The members of BSA and CHR discussed CHR’s progress in delineating issues surrounding human psychological research, including how to handle incidental findings (such as when a clinically significant abnormality is identified in the context of research), approaches to data sharing, and ways of combating falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism.  BSA members were particularly enthusiastic about CHR’s interest in developing a curriculum and materials for a graduate level course in the ethics of human research.  CHR intends to include an emphasis on the thorny ethical issues that persist in our field as well as new problems that arise in the context of multidisciplinary research. 

Given the importance of strengthening the status of psychology as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) discipline, BSA has been active in discussing the role of psychological science in multidisciplinary team science. This is also one of the major interests of the current APA President, Suzanne Bennett Johnson.  Departments in most universities are looking for concrete ways to recognize and facilitate multidisciplinary research.  Among the challenges departments are facing is how to update traditional criteria for promotion and tenure in order to reward psychologists who participate in multidisciplinary research.  This raises questions about how faculty should be credited for their research contributions when they are part of a team. How should traditional criteria such as serving as a Principal Investigator, bringing funds to the institution, and being first or senior author on publications be modified?  In order for multidisciplinary research collaborations to flourish, academic institutions will need to make changes in these criteria (as well as in other aspects of the research enterprise).  With President Johnson and others, BSA is exploring ways in which APA can facilitate this process of change. 

Finally, members of BSA have worked with President Johnson to develop the “Presidential Track on Interdisciplinary Team Science” for the 2012 APA Convention. BSA’s co-chair, Lynne Cooper, played a lead role in organizing six expert panels that will highlight conceptual frameworks for multidisciplinary science, challenges and opportunities for psychologists working in multidisciplinary science teams, funding opportunities, training and educational experiences that prepare psychologists for multidisciplinary team science, and ways of building successful multidisciplinary teams.

BSA is committed to exploring how APA can be at the forefront of facilitating research opportunities for psychologists, and multidisciplinary team science is one of the most obvious avenues for development in the future.

Kathleen Y. Haaland, PhD (New Mexico VA Healthcare System and University of New Mexico) is a member of the Board of Scientific Affairs, the primary APA governance body concerned with the advancement of psychology as a science.