2012 APA Science Leadership Conference

Act locally: Recommendations from the 2012 APA Science Leadership Conference

Psychological scientists offer strategies for revitalizing research, education and public engagement.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) eighth annual Science Leadership Conference was held on Sept. 27-29, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The theme of the event was "Act Locally: Promoting Psychological Science in Our Academic Institutions and Local Communities." 

More than 110 psychological scientists participated in the conference, which was designed to develop ideas for strengthening research and education in psychological science and for increasing the understanding and application of psychological science in local communities. (See accompanying article for further background on the conference.)

Working in small groups, the participants formulated recommendations that APA staff have summarized and organized into four general areas:

I. Increasing public understanding of psychological science and its contributions

II. Strengthening multidisciplinary research and graduate education

III. Strengthening undergraduate education in psychological science

IV. Enhancing community-based research within psychological science

The recommendations, listed below, can be acted upon by various individuals and groups: faculty and students, labs, departments, academic institutions and professional organizations such as APA and its divisions. Although much can be done at the local level, there is a role for national organizations to play in support of local efforts by providing information, publicity and forums for sharing experiences. APA’s Board of Scientific Affairs and Science Directorate will select some of the recommendations for APA to pursue over the next several years.

Readers are invited to share additional ideas by sending an email to the APA Science Directorate.

Summary of recommendations 

I. Increasing public understanding of psychological science and its contributions 

A.  Efforts to increase understanding of psychological science should target various audiences, including scientists in other fields, academic administrators, government officials, community leaders, health professionals, high school teachers and students, undergraduates, journalists and bloggers and the general public. 

B.  Psychological scientists are encouraged to develop communication strategies for conveying information about their research across multiple outlets (including traditional media, electronic social media and mobile technologies). Academic institutions and scientific associations can develop training materials and tutorials for the various forms of public communication that scientists can pursue. Scientists can also collaborate with their institutions’ public communications offices to disseminate their research. 

C.  Communications about psychology should clarify that it is a scientific field and not just a clinical one. Where appropriate, communications should indicate the rigor of psychology’s methodologies (both quantitative and qualitative) and the connections of psychology with other scientific disciplines.

D.  Strategies for conveying psychological science to broader audiences include: 

  1. “Psychological Science Day” — Department or research group sponsors a set of communication and outreach activities to engage academic and local communities. 

  2. Science cafés — Talks and discussions about psychological science at local restaurants and bars. These events can also be multidisciplinary, with a focus on topics of interest to several fields. 

  3. Providing journalists with opportunities to learn about and observe psychological research. 

  4. Summer programs and educational materials for high school teachers of psychology. 

  5. Programs for engaging high school students in research with guidance from university faculty or graduate students. These programs can be tied to science fairs and science camps. 

  6. Designation of particular faculty members as community ambassadors with responsibility for designing programs for public education and engagement. 

  7. Awards to individuals and groups for effective communications to the public about psychological science.

E.  Scientific journals can be used to convey psychological science to broader audiences, through such strategies as: 

  1. Including a summary for lay audiences with every journal article. 

  2. Development of new, high-profile journals for psychology that reach a wider scientific audience (e.g., Nature Psychology or Nature Behavioral Science). 

  3. Conference sessions in which psychological science is presented to editors of journals in other fields that overlap with psychology.

F.  Psychologists and psychological organizations can develop clearinghouses of research results that address topics of interest to the general public (in such domains as health, education, workplace, climate change, etc.). These repositories can include integrative summaries written for lay audiences. The contributions of both human and nonhuman animal research to scientific progress can be highlighted in these materials.

G.  Psychological scientists can become more active in state psychological associations to advocate for enhanced funding of public colleges and universities and of local scientific infrastructure and resources. Such participation will also improve mutual understanding among psychological scientists and practitioners.

H.  Psychologists and psychological organizations can work with media companies to increase the amount of entertainment content that accurately depicts psychological science (e.g., drama and documentary progams on television).

I.  The internet can be used to “crowdsource” the problem of how to increase public understanding of psychological science. Psychologists or organizations can set up websites or apps to collect ideas on how to communicate about science effectively.


II. Strengthening multidisciplinary research and graduate education 

A.  Psychologists and other members of academic institutions can facilitate multidisciplinary research and training through such efforts as: 

  1. Identifying research problems that cross departmental and disciplinary boundaries. 

  2. Building relationships across departments for developing shared research and training programs, grants and symposia. (Bringing together psychologists from various units — such as liberal arts, education and health sciences divisions — can be a first step in this direction.) 

  3. Hiring of new faculty into cross-departmental positions. 

  4. Creation of institutional funding incentives to encourage cross-departmental collaborations. 

  5. Development of tenure and promotion criteria for scientists who participate in team research and multi-authored publications. 

  6. Course reduction or other compensation for leaders of multidisciplinary efforts. 

  7. Advocating for the integration of multidisciplinary work into institutions’ strategic plans. 

  8. Continued discussions among faculty and administrators to develop best practices for multidisciplinary work at the institution.

B.  APA can promote psychologists’ involvement in multidisciplinary research and training through: 

  1. A Council of Representatives resolution on the significance of multidisciplinary research for future progress in psychological science and how to implement such research. 

  2. Sponsorship of multidisciplinary journals (perhaps in collaboration with other organizations). 

  3. Highlighting psychologists’ roles in multidisciplinary work in the Monitor and other publications, as well as in convention sessions. 

  4. Expansion of the summer Advanced Training Institutes to include topics in multidisciplinary research, as well as ethical and management issues that arise in conducting such research. 

  5. Sponsorship of meetings that address issues surrounding the pursuit of multidisciplinary work within current academic settings, such as faculty incentives, funding, infrastructure, training models and faculty recruitment. These meetings may include participation by representatives of other disciplines.

C.  Studies can be conducted to improve methods and criteria for recruiting and selecting graduate students. These may include both retrospective and prospective studies, and should take into account student and program characteristics.


III. Strengthening undergraduate education in psychological science

A.  Academic institutions and psychology departments can align undergraduate psychology education more closely with other areas of science education, through such approaches as: 

  1. Locating psychology departments within schools/divisions of science. 

  2. Designing introductory psychology courses to emphasize the scientific method and to include laboratory experiences. 

  3. Building on previous APA guidelines, emphasizing the development of sophisticated scientific thinking in all psychology courses and in the design of the psychology major (with emphases on quantitative skills, problem-based learning and hands-on research experiences). 

  4. Defining competency areas and assessment measures for undergraduate learning in psychology, and linking these to education standards in other sciences. 

  5. Enabling psychology courses to be used to meet requirements for majors in other sciences, and vice versa. 

  6. Promoting team teaching, including courses shared across science departments. 

  7. Ensuring that credit hour assignments for psychology courses are consistent with those of other science courses.

B.  Psychology departments can strengthen the scientific preparation and orientation of students who aim to attend graduate and professional school by:  

  1. Providing recommendations for science courses, including those outside of psychology, for undergraduates who plan to apply for graduate training in psychological science or practice. 

  2. Designing psychology courses and the psychology major to help prepare pre-medical school students for the revised MCAT, which will contain sections on behavioral and social sciences (starting in 2015).

C.  The status and funding of psychology departments within institutions can be enhanced by: 

  1. Designing department programs to align with the strategic plan and overall educational goals of the institution. 

  2. Providing multiple forms of education in research and analytic skills to large numbers of students (both majors and non-majors). 

  3. Arguing for funding formulas that are consistent with those of other science departments. 

  4. Having department chairs acquire skills in negotiating with administrators. (Negotiation training could be sponsored by APA or other organizations.)

D.  Psychology can play a major role in online education, in both: 

  1. Making lectures and demonstrations about psychological science available online. 

  2. Developing and evaluating techniques for online education and for hybrid classroom/online education in all fields.

E.  APA or other organizations can sponsor awards to recognize departments for effective undergraduate education in psychological science.


IV. Enhancing community-based research within psychological science

A.  Efforts should be made to enhance psychological scientists’ scientific and interpersonal skills in conducting community-based research. The aims of these efforts should be both to strengthen the quality of research and to meet the goals and needs of communities participating in the research. These efforts may include the development and enhancement of: 

  1. Standards for evaluating community-based research, which can be used in journal and grant reviews and tenure/promotion reviews. 

  2. Educational materials that address methods and ethical issues related to psychologists’ engagement with community members/groups in research. 

  3. Cross-institution mentoring networks for researchers and students. 

  4. Mechanisms for sharing information about ongoing research with community partners. 

  5. Awards to recognize achievement in psychologists’ research and engagement with communities. 

  6. APA Advanced Training Institute on community-based research.

B.  Academic institutions and departments can take steps to recognize and support various forms of community-based research. Such research is distinct from, though related to, community outreach and community service.  Efforts may include: 

  1. Development of courses and concentrations in community-based research and related areas (e.g., dissemination/implementation research, organizational research, needs assessment and evaluation methods). 

  2. Offering relevant courses and research activities for students at all levels — graduate, undergraduate, high school. 

  3. Funding for research projects involving local communities.

C.  Participation of psychological scientists in community organizations (e.g., as advisors or board members) will enable communication among scientists and community members about what kinds of research are beneficial and feasible within the community as well as help gain broader understanding and support of psychological science. Psychologists and community organizations can also establish community councils and sponsor town hall meetings to exchange information among researchers and community members.

Note: As a planning document, this report does not constitute APA policy or commit APA to any particular activities.

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