Often, I think, we miss the point that Psi Chi stands for more than psychology. Our purpose is broad. "Psi Chi is a international honor society whose purpose shall be to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology” (Psi Chi Constitution, Article II). Excellent scholarship in all fields is a far-reaching mandate. But, today’s complex problems call for far-reaching solutions, solutions often involving interdisciplinary—sometimes even international teamwork. Psi Chi, with more than 20,000 new lifetime members each year, can partner in creating these solutions. To do so, individual members must understand U.S. higher education in global context.
Remarkable for the number and diversity of its institutions of higher learning, the U.S. has 17 of the 20 best universities in the world (Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). Yet our size and our successes may have blinded us to advances made in other countries. Jürgen Mlynek, president of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and former president of Humbolt University in Berlin, says, "If we compare our university system to the U.S., on average our universities are better. But we were always missing top universities that were visible internationally” (Feder, 2007, pp. 29-30). Determined to make a few of its universities equal to the best in the world, Germany has adopted an excellence initiative. On October 13, 2006, the German government announced that Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Karlsruhe will receive generous additional resources and research support enabling them to grow to the status of Harvard, Oxford, and MIT (Feder, 2007).
Germany is not the only country seeking excellence. Universities in India are producing many of the top scientists and engineers in the world. China, too, is rapidly building world-class universities to train its best students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University has begun ranking universities worldwide in order to identify the world’s 500 best universities. Rankings are based on objective criteria such as alumni and faculty winning Nobel prizes, publications in prestigious scientific journals, and citation counts (Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). China is sending many of its best students to these universities and also rapidly developing its own university system to comparable levels. In 2004, I visited the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and was favorably impressed with the quality of work being done there by both faculty and students.
As other countries surpass the U.S. in some key areas and compete to catch up with us in others, I urge you to consider seriously the science offerings as you select your courses. We know that the sciences, technology, engineering, and math are crucial for a deep understanding of today’s world, yet American university students are not well represented in these areas. Almost half of computer science students are foreign-born and more than half of the doctorates in engineering are awarded to foreign-born students. Almost 30% of the science and engineering doctorate holders employed in the U.S. are foreign-born as well (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
In considering these numbers, you can see the importance of combining your study of psychology with increased course work in other sciences, for example, physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. The fascination of one of these subjects may lure you into a field that will prepare you to make a real difference in your life’s work.
Rising globalization and the growing hunger for democracy are also powerful forces in today’s world. I urge you to prepare yourself for these forces as well with appropriate coursework. Particularly valuable, I believe, are courses in regional and world geography, regional and world history, English literature and world literature, and at least one foreign language. Such courses will prepare you to better understand and interact with people of other countries and cultures. These courses not only will enrich your life but also will make you more competitive in the job market.
Since my student days, I have followed the above advice. Though my degrees are all in psychology (BA/MAT, Oklahoma City University; MS/PhD, University of Oklahoma), I majored in physics and biology before coming to psychology. I have pursued studies in Germany at the universities in Heidelberg and Erlangen-Nurnberg and in China at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and have taught in Germany, China, and England.
My experiences have convinced me that our universities can provide an excellent education. To take advantage of this, however, you must select wisely from the many choices available. As an honor student, you can have a major impact on our world. Your knowledge of psychology will be invaluable in whatever field or endeavor you choose.
Feder, T. (2007, January). Germany singles out universities for excellence. Physics Today, 60(1), 28-30.
Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (2005). Academic ranking of world universities–2004. Retrieved on January 24, 2007, from http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2005/ARWU2005Main.htm
U.S. Department of Education (2006, September). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Retrieved on January 12, 2007, from http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf