In an earlier column, "Psychology Is a Contact Sport (Young, 2012),” I
emphasized that the most valuable education in psychology (or, for that matter,
in any field) will always include immersive experiences in which you learn the
craft of psycho- logical research and practice with those who are experts at
what they do. Seeking such opportunities on or close to your campus is the
first step toward getting such experience. Yet another useful, depending on how
far you want to go in psychology, and perhaps critical step is to attend
research talks at which professional researchers present their respective
state-of-the-art specializations. Such talks can take place on campuses, but
especially occur with critical synergy at professional conventions and
conferences. Chances are some of your professors have attended and presented at
these and, when the opportunity presents itself, you should try to attend as
well (regardless of whether or not you personally know anyone presenting).
Attending these events will not only expose you to some of the most recent work
being done, but it can be a thrill to see the faces behind the names you
encounter throughout psychology textbooks.
Subfields Under One Large Tent
venue for networking with potential psychology colleagues is at a convention
many different research topics across all subfields
of psychology are
presented. These conventions
may be international, national, or regional in
scope. The biannual International Congress of Psychology meetings are an
example of the former; APA and APS conventions tend to be more national in
scope, though they are working to expand their audiences beyond U.S. borders;
and the annual conventions
of the regional organizations (such as the Eastern
and Western Psychological Associations*) provide smaller, but still general,
opportunities to network.
A major benefit of these "omnibus” conventions is
the opportunity for cross-fertilizing ideas across the subfields of psychology.
Remember, never under- estimate the power of serendipity in research; some of
the greatest ideas occurred because a researcher unexpectedly struck up a
conversation with someone from a completely different subfield.
Focused Conventions and
More Focused Exposure to One Subfield or Topic
addition, some of the subfields of psychology have developed their own annual
or biannual conventions—for example, the Society for Research in Child
Development and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Although
undergraduates are sometimes welcome at these more discipline-focused conventions,
graduate students are particularly attracted to the opportunity to compare
notes with their grad student colleagues at other institutions while also
meeting with key faculty researchers in their specific fields. Finally, another
key setting for professional networking is the research conference,
which is often a smaller gathering (perhaps no more than 100–200 people). Conferences
typically focus on a specific research area or professional topic, for example,
"Issues Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder,” or "Recent Research on the
Neuroscience of Affect and Social Cognition.”
At any of these events, it can give one a visceral "rush” to shake hands
with an eminent scholar (and, heck, even with an up-and-coming scholar...), but
there is no substitute for the opportunity to directly ask these professionals
your own questions about their research and other interests. Studies (cf.,
Silvia, Delaney, & Marcovitch, 2009) have repeatedly indicated that getting
face-time with researchers
has a compelling influence on engaging students
enough to get them interested in research and other psychology-related careers.
One of the most valuable opportunities that Psi Chi provides to its members
invited distinguished researchers who speak at each of the national and
regional conventions. At each convention, we also arrange sessions at which the
distinguished speakers meet with a small group of students to talk more about
their research and also discuss their personal backgrounds (e.g., how they
became interested in psychology when they were in college, how and why they
undertook their particular areas of research, what recommendations they have
for current undergraduates interested in specific types of careers, etc).
This issue of Eye on Psi Chi includes interviews with several of
these distinguished speakers who recently spoke at psychology conventions
around the U.S. Psi Chi invited each of these speakers because they have
something valuable to share with our members—both about their research and
career accomplishments, as well as the back-story of what originally motivated
them to get into their respective fields. While reading their interviews,
marvel at their accomplishments, but consider also what they were like when
they were at your stage of their education.
Follow in their footsteps, but make your own path.
Silvia, P. J., Delaney, P. F., &
Marcovitch, S. (2009). What psychology majors could (and should) be doing:
An informal guide to research experience and professional skills. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association.
Young, J. (2012, Fall). Psychology is a
contact sport. Eye on Psi Chi, 17(1), 4.
* There are, in fact, six regional
Psychological Associations in the U.S.—Eastern Psychological Association,
Southeastern Psychological Association, Midwestern Psychological Association,
Rocky Mountain Psychological Association, Western Psychological Association,
and Southwestern Psychological Association. Each of these organizations holds
an annual convention during the spring months.