2004-05 Hunt Grant Research Report
An Investigation of Psi Chi Membership in Rocky Mountain Region Chapters: Reasons for Joining and Perceptions of Membership Benefits
Johnathan K. Nelson, George Mason University (VA)
Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, PhD, and Jennifer Yardley, Utah State University
Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology can provide many opportunities for students. Spencer, Reyes, Scheel, and McFarland (2001) investigated why some eligible psychology students choose to join while others do not. This study continued to investigate that question by expanding the sample to include Psi Chi chapters throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. In addition, this study also examined students' perceptions of membership benefits and their involvement in Psi Chi. This information is relevant for improving recruitment for individual Psi Chi chapters and for helping chapters reach the goals of Psi Chi for their members.
Involvement in honor societies can provide developmental and educational experiences unavailable in the traditional classroom setting (Abrahamowicz, 1988). Terenzini, Pascarella, and Blimling (1999) conducted a literature review of students' out-of-class experiences and concluded that while many extracurricular activities will play a role in developing the whole student, their influence varies in degree and directionality (positive or negative). Patrick, Niles, Margetiak, and Cunning (1993) investigated one type of activity, participation in honor societies, and observed that baccalaureate degree students who displayed congruence between their initial and final major often had an undergraduate experience that included participation in honor societies. They suggested that this relationship may be observed in part because "students who participate in honor societies in college have experienced some degree of success related to an academic program of study that is of interest to them" (p. 32). Despite the importance that these activities may play in student development, they noted that many formal activities have received little attention. Not only may these out-of-class experiences be important for student development, but they can also benefit institutions in that they may improve student retention (Abrahamowicz, 1988). Based on this evidence, student involvement in honor societies is an issue that warrants further attention.
Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology was founded in the fall of 1929 at Yale University and is now one of the oldest surviving student organizations in psychology with over 467,000 members in over 1,000 chapters (Hogan & Sexton, 1993). The goals of Psi Chi include providing academic recognition through membership and providing an environment where accomplishment can be achieved through responsible local chapters. Advantages that are associated with Psi Chi membership include national recognition, a sense of community, leadership development, faculty relationships, opportunities for research, and the opportunity to participate in local, regional, and national forums.
Psi Chi seeks to promote educational experiences consistent with its mission of producing well educated members committed to contributing to the profession of psychology. The national organization provides numerous grants, awards, and internship opportunities. However, it is up to individual chapters to take advantage of these resources and put them to work for their members. When individual chapters pursue the Psi Chi mission, it can represent an integral part of the educational experience for psychology students who are members. While membership alone can benefit members, students can garner greater benefits from being actively involved in chapter activities. This involvement has the potential to add greatly to the educational experience of undergraduate students; however, in order for this experience to occur, a variety of events must occur. First, students must become members of the Psi Chi chapter of their respective university. Second, chapters must provide a wide variety of activities and opportunities for active participation. Third, students must choose to participate in those activities.
This study investigated why some students eligible for membership in Psi Chi join while others do not. This study thus builds upon the earlier work of Spencer, Reyes, Sheel, and McFarland (2001). They investigated why students didn't choose to join Psi Chi and found that the top two reasons cited for not joining were a lack of time and lack of information about Psi Chi. Other reasons given for not joining included not feeling it was necessary and not meeting the requirements. This study builds upon this work by using a broader sample, focusing on nonmembers who may qualify for membership in Psi Chi, and seeking to understand the reasons for why members have made the decision to join. We also collected information regarding the perception of Psi Chi by all psychology students. This information could help Psi Chi chapters recruit new members more effectively, assess whether the chapter is meeting goals related to the mission of Psi Chi, and provide experiences that will encourage members to contribute to the field of psychology in a meaningful way.
Forty institutions from the Rocky Mountain Region were contacted to participate in the study. Of those, eight agreed to participate (20% participation rate) and returned a total of 507 completed questionnaires. Of the participants, 66.9% were female (N = 339) and 33.1% were male (N = 168). Participants ranged in age from 17 to 58 years (M = 24.07, SD = 6.76), and were predominantly white (N = 437, 86.2%). The majority of participants were single (N = 330, 65.2%), but a number of participants reported being married (N = 125, 24.7%). The vast majority of students were enrolled as full time students (N = 439, 88.3%) and many were also employed with 15.7% (N = 78) working less than 15 hours a week, 39.6% (N = 197) working 15 to 30 hours a week, and 21.1% (N = 105) working full-time. A clear majority (N = 432, 87.3%) indicated that they intended to continue their education in graduate school.
The target population consisted of psychology majors and minors. For those who reported membership status, 30.3% (N = 139) reported being members of Psi Chi and 69.7% (N = 320) reported being nonmembers. For nonmembers, a number of questions were included in the survey to assess eligibility for membership in Psi Chi, including: completion of 3 semesters or 5 quarters of college coursework, completion of 9 semester hours or 14 quarter hours of psychology courses, and having a minimum GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) in both psychology classes and in cumulative grades. Based on responses to these questions, 39.6% of the entire sample (N = 182) were identified as possibly qualifying for membership, and 30.0% (N = 138) were identified as not meeting the qualifications for membership.
Background variables. All participants reported on their Psi Chi membership status. In addition, a series of questions assessed whether those who reported not being members of Psi Chi met some of the basic qualifications for membership in regards to GPA and undergraduate coursework completed.
A series of self-report questions obtained basic demographic information (e.g., age, ethnicity, martial status, enrollment status, employment status, gender). Additional questions obtained information regarding participants' intentions to pursue graduate school upon the completion of their undergraduate education.
Reasons for joining. Participants who indicated that they were members of Psi Chi responded to a series of questions regarding their membership including when and where they had been inducted as members, how pleased they were with their membership (on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = least pleased and 10 = most pleased), and why they had decided to join (e.g., to meet other students, to gain research experience, to gain leadership experience, to aid in preparation for graduate school, to build resume/curriculum vita).
Reasons for not joining. Participants who indicated that they were not members of Psi Chi were asked to identify reasons why they had not joined. These reasons included not meeting the membership requirements, lack of information about Psi Chi, lack of information on how to join, lack of time, and the membership fee.
Psi Chi. All participants were asked if they knew what Psi Chi was, how they would describe Psi Chi, and if they knew that there was a Psi Chi chapter at their institution. Two questions inquired about participants' perceptions regarding the following activities: (a) conducting Psi Chi research projects, (b) conducting research with faculty, (c) building relationships with faculty, (d) forming friendships with students, (e) preparing members for graduate school in psychology, (f) preparing members for a career in psychology, (g) involvement in the field at the regional level, and (h) involvement in the field at the national level. The first question asked to what degree participants agreed that Psi Chi membership provided opportunities for engaging in these activities (a through f) and was rated on a 5-point scale (1 = disagree strongly and 5 = agree strongly). The second question asked about these same activities, and asked students to report the degree to which their chapter provided these opportunities as "compared to other chapters of Psi Chi." This question was also rated on a 5-point scale (1 = much less than other chapters, 5 = much more than other chapters). Two additional questions asked students whether or not they believed Psi Chi would aid them in applying and being accepted into graduate school and in obtaining a job. Students answered these as yes or no.
All participants were from institutions located in the Rocky Mountain Region. Two slightly different procedures were used in collecting data. All data were collected in the fall of 2004 and spring of 2005.
Fall 2004. Data collection began at Utah State University (USU) in the fall of 2004 after obtaining grant funds from USU. Paper questionnaires were distributed to students enrolled in upper division psychology courses. All faculty contacted gave permission to distribute questionnaires in class. Members of the Research Committee of the local Psi Chi chapter collected the data. Each participant could return a separate entry card to be entered into a raffle for one of two $25 gift certificates to Amazon.com for their participation.
Spring 2005. When Thelma Hunt funding was secured, the project was expanded. We obtained a list of all 40 Psi Chi chapters in the Rocky Mountain Region from the Psi Chi website (www.psichi.org). From this list we randomly selected 15 chapters and contacted the chapter advisors to request their chapter's participation in the study. We offered chapters $50 for their chapter's participation in data collection. Of the original 15 chapters contacted, 9 expressed interest in participation but only 5 of those chapters returned completed questionnaires. Due to the high drop-out rate of the original 15 chapters, we contacted all other chapters (N = 25) in the Rocky Mountain Region. Seven of these chapters participated in the study, not including our chapter, for which data had already been collected. As in the fall, in addition to the $50 awarded to each chapter, each participant was eligible to enter a raffle for one of two $25 gift certificates to Amazon.com at each institution participating in data collection.
Chapters elected to participate in data collection in two possible ways. Chapters could distribute questionnaires to students enrolled in upper division psychology courses and return those questionnaires in a prepaid box, or they could aid in directing students to an online version of the questionnaire. This was typically done through the use of psychology department email lists. The online version of the questionnaire was identical to the paper version of the survey. A total of 286 (41%) students completed the online questionnaire.
The central question in this research is why some students chose to join Psi Chi while other eligible students did not. Data were analyzed to select members (N
= 139) and nonmembers who qualified for Psi Chi (N
= 182); nonmembers who did not qualify for Psi Chi membership (N
= 138) were excluded from further analyses. Differences between groups in intentions to pursue graduate studies, perceptions of opportunities through Psi Chi, perceptions of the local chapter, and perceptions of the role of Psi Chi in future aspirations are also reported here.Reasons for Joining / Not Joining
The vast majority of qualified nonmembers (74%) reported that they knew that there was a Psi Chi chapter on campus. The most cited reasons for choosing not to join were a lack of time, lack of knowledge about Psi Chi, and the perception that membership was not "necessary" (see Table 1
). These findings are consistent with other research (McCannon & Bennett, 1996; Spencer et al., 2001). When asked which of those reasons for not joining was most important, the most common response was lack of time (N
= 39). The next most cited response to this question was lack of knowledge about Psi Chi (N
The most cited reasons members reported for joining Psi Chi were to build their resume/curriculum vita, to have their membership on their resume/curriculum vita, and to aid in preparation for graduate school (see Table 2
). Students reported multiple reasons for joining. When asked, through an open ended question, which of those reasons was most important in making their decision to join, the most common answers were to build their resume/curriculum vita (N
= 28) and to have Psi Chi membership on their resume/curriculum vita (N
= 26). In all, 61 members cited their resume/curriculum vita as being part of the most important reason for which they joined. Intentions to Pursue Graduate Studies
The majority of members and qualified nonmembers reported the intention to pursue graduate studies: 90.44% and 91.11% of members and nonmembers respectively. Data show no differences between groups in regards to intentions to pursue graduate studies. However, there was a statistically significant difference between groups in plans to pursue a master's or a doctoral degree. Using a test of proportion we found significantly more Psi Chi members (51.64%) planned to pursue a doctoral degree than nonmembers (32.52%), Z
= 3.25, p
< .01. Conversely, more nonmembers planned to pursue a master's degree (63.80%) as compared to members (47.72%), Z
= -2.71, p
< .01.Perceptions of Opportunities Through Psi Chi
Members were more likely than nonmembers to agree that Psi Chi offered opportunities for preparing members for graduate studies in psychology (M
= 3.96, SD
= .97 and M
= 3.72, SD
= .91, respectively1
(293) = 2.19, p
< .05, and preparing students for a career in psychology (M
= 3.81, SD
= .98 and M
= 3.57, SD
= .96), t
(294) = 2.12, p
< .05. Nonmembers agreed more than members that Psi Chi offered opportunities for conducting research (M
= 3.20, SD
= 1.01 and M
= 3.60, SD
= .92), t
(294) = -3.46, p
< .01. There were no differences in perceptions of opportunities through Psi Chi for conducting research with faculty (M
= 3.38, SD
= 1.10 and M
= 3.60, SD
= .94), t
(294) = -1.90, p
= .06; building relationships with faculty (M
= 3.99, SD
= .99 and M
= 3.78, SD
= 1.00), t
(294) = 1.80, p
= .07; forming friendships with students (M
= 4.00, SD
= 1.00 and M
= 3.79, SD
= 1.03), t
(295) = 1.82, p
= .07; or involvement in the field at the regional level (M
= 3.50, SD
= 1.00 and M
= 3.54, SD
= .84), t
(294) = -.40, p
= .69 or national level (M
= 3.31, SD
= 1.01 and M
= 3.44, SD
= .83), t
(294) = -1.26, p
= .21.Perception of Psi Chi's Role in Future Aspirations
A vast majority of members (88.15%) reported that Psi Chi membership would aid them in applying and being accepted into a graduate program. A majority (64.63%) of nonmembers believed the same. A test of proportions shows that, compared to nonmembers, Psi Chi members were more likely to report that they believed Psi Chi membership would aid them in preparing for and getting accepted to graduate school, Z
= 4.69, p
< .01. Compared to nonmembers, Psi Chi members were also more likely to report (57.04% of members, 39.98% of nonmembers) that Psi Chi membership would aid them in obtaining a job, Z
= 2.94, p
< .01. Finally, members thought it was more important to have Psi Chi membership appear on their curriculum vita or resume (rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 = not important
and 10 = very important)
than did nonmembers. This difference was statistically significant (M
= 7.06, SD
= 2.01 and M
= 4.54, SD
= 2.48), t
(177) = 7.38, p
< .01.Perceptions of Local Chapter
When asked about their local Psi Chi chapter as compared to other Psi Chi chapters, we found some startling results. Members were more likely than nonmembers to agree that the local chapter provided more opportunities than other chapters for building relationships with faculty (M
= 3.40, SD
= .98 and M
= 3.19, SD
= .71), t
(283) = 2.10, p
< .05, and forming friendships with students (M
= 3.40, SD
= .89 and M
= 3.14, SD
= .63), t
(283) = 2.97, p
< .01. However, members were more likely to say that the local chapter provided less opportunities for conducting research (M
= 2.61, SD
= 1.01 and M
= 3.06, SD
= 1.01), t
(283) = -4.39, p
< .01; conducting research with faculty (M
= 2.74, SD
= 1.00 and M
= 3.13, SD
= .71), t
(283) = -3.82, p
< .01; and involvement in the field at the regional level (M
= 2.87, SD
= .87 and M
= 3.11, SD
= .63), t
(283) = -2.69, p
< .01, and national level (M
= 2.74, SD
= .90 and M
= 3.06, SD
= .65), t
(283) = -3.46, p
< .01. There were no differences between groups in perceptions of the local chapter's ability, compared to other chapters, to prepare members for graduate school (M
= 3.24, SD
= .85 and M
= 3.12, SD
= .68), t
(283) = 1.25, p
= .21, and a career in psychology (M
= 3.15, SD
= .88 and M
= 3.13, SD
= .63), t
(283) = .67, p
In order for students to gain the benefits of Psi Chi they must first become members. This study replicated the findings of McCannon and Bennett (1996) and Spencer et al. (2001) that the two most important factors in students' decisions to not join Psi Chi were a lack of time and a lack of information. It is noteworthy that a lack of information and a lack of time were reasons psychiatric residents cited for not joining the American Psychiatric Association (Kobylski, Wise, & Mann, 1991). These findings may have some generalizability for the entire field but have a variety of specific implications for Psi Chi chapters to consider.
Astin (1999) proposed a theory of student involvement that considered students' time as finite and as a precious institutional resource. If student time is finite, then extracurricular involvement should be focused upon activities that will be clearly beneficial to personal development. Otherwise activities represent the "wasting" of a limited resource. Qualified nonmembers and members alike indicated a strong desire to pursue graduate studies, but a smaller percent of nonmembers reported that they believed that Psi Chi membership would aid them in preparing for and being accepted into a graduate program. In addition, for members, obtaining membership status (being able to include membership on a curriculum vita or resume) appeared to be the most important reason for joining. Members placed more importance on having membership appear on their resumes than nonmembers. This focus on membership status may indicate members are not expecting developmental experiences from their membership when they join, but just another line item on their resume. Nonmembers do not appear to believe that having membership on their resume is as important and may not feel that their time is justified obtaining membership if there are not other benefits. Chapters should focus on providing relevant and meaningful activities to provide further justification for individuals to join and to prepare them for graduate study. From the apparent interest in graduate study, activities related to this topic may be appropriate. Ferrari and Appleby (2005) observed that a higher percentage of students who were members of Psi Chi entered graduate studies than one would expect when compared to the national average. It may be that chapters are already providing activities that help prepare members to pursue graduate studies. In this case, effective communication to nonmembers about these activities may increase their desire to be involved in Psi Chi. Further research should investigate the frequency and types of activities that chapters are sponsoring and how that aligns with the types of activities that students would find most beneficial. Further research could also focus on how to schedule activities so that they would be more accessible to students and decrease the feeling of being crunched for time. Online discussion groups or web postings may be another alternative that could help to alleviate this problem.
If chapters are organizing meaningful activities, nonmembers and members alike may not know enough about them or recognize their importance. A lack of information appears to be an important reason why students choose not to join. Chapters can do a number of things to improve communication including: using invitation letters to membership (Jones, 1998), providing information on the benefits of membership on application materials (Altarriba, 1997), posting events on an accessible bulletin board, using a chapter website, distributing information through a chapter/department email list, involving potential members in activities, participating in university wide recruiting activities, and working more closely with faculty and advisors to see that information is available and distributed to interested or potential members. Spencer et al. (2001) further suggested putting Psi Chi bookmarks in psychology textbooks in the bookstore, hosting "bring a non-Psi Chi member" activities, holding large group meetings, and having executive council members visit psychology classes to announce and explain activities.
Another finite resource for students is money. Almost 50% of nonmembers reported that they were unable to afford the membership fee and this prevented them from becoming members. Cost was also a reason that psychiatric residents gave for not joining the American Medical Association (Kobylski, et al., 1991). There appeared to be some difference in working habits, with nonmembers reporting more work hours per week, but this did not reach statistical significance, X2
= 321) = 9.33, p
= .053. Chapters should be cognizant of this when considering increasing application fees. In addition, chapters might consider providing scholarships to potential members who cannot afford to pay for their membership.
Psi Chi members were clearly focused upon the ways in which membership could help to build their resume and/or curriculum vita. Further research should investigate how students differ in the value they place upon the status of Psi Chi membership as an aid to graduate school admission. It may be that it is not simply activities that draw students to Psi Chi but the recognition as well. Further research could also investigate the manner in which Psi Chi membership is perceived by graduate school admissions committees and to what degree, if any, it may influence possible acceptance into graduate programs.
It should also be noted that fewer than two-thirds of current members reported that they had joined out of an interest in research. This may reflect that (a) chapters need to communicate more about research opportunities through Psi Chi, (b) a good portion of students are mainly interested in working as practitioners upon completing their graduate degrees, or (c) students want to join organizations that can provide a wide variety of experiences as they strive to gain a greater depth of experience and determine their interests with more clarity. Activities could be expanded to include topics that would interest all students preparing for graduate programs (e.g., events related to writing a dissertation) or topics that emphasize a scientist-practitioner model for those more interested in practice careers (e.g., discussing the Psy.D., inviting working professionals). Further research would be helpful in identifying students' goals and the research activities individual chapters sponsor.
One of the major weaknesses of this study was that so many chapters chose not to participate even after they had expressed an initial interest. Because of the limited participation of individual chapters, it is possible that participating chapters are systematically different from non-participating chapters. Chapters that participated may be more organized (i.e., use chapter e-mail list), be more active in aiding students to engage in research projects, or have more involved and motivated faculty mentors or council members.
Limited participation makes it difficult to generalize our results to students in other chapters. While it is possible that chapters in the region are so active in research that they did not have time to engage in one more project, it is also possible that research involvement is low in the region. Members who participated in this study reported on average that their chapter provided less research opportunities than other chapters. Indeed, nonmembers perceived overall opportunities afforded by Psi Chi membership in research activities more highly than members. Research participation is essential for students in making decisions about whether or not graduate school is for them and what type of program to pursue (e.g., PhD, PsyD), and is one of the core elements of scholarship promoted by the Psi Chi national organization. Future research is needed to investigate why chapters were not more willing to participate, and to ascertain the degree to which Psi Chi members are participating in research.
Overall the research indicated that members join Psi Chi predominantly for the prestige associated with membership and being able to include membership on a curriculum vita/resume. Potentially qualified nonmembers reported not joining primarily as a result of a lack of time and a lack of information about Psi Chi. Both groups appeared to have a strong interest in pursuing graduate studies. These findings suggest that chapters can do more to provide a variety of benefits to both members and nonmembers and to inform them about these benefits.References
Abrahamowicz, D. (1988). College involvement, perceptions, and satisfaction: A case study of membership in student organizations. Journal of College Student Development, 29,
Altarriba, J. (1997, Fall). Keys to increasing active participation. Eye on Psi Chi, 2
Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40,
Ferrari, J. R., & Appleby, D. C. (2005, Winter). Alumni of Psi Chi: Does "membership have its advantage" on future education/employment? Eye on Psi Chi, 9
Hogan, J. D., & Sexton, V. S. (2003). Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology. In M. Wertheimer & J.L. Pate (Eds.), No small part: A history of regional organizations in American psychology
(pp. 189-205). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Jones, K. B. (1998, Spring). "Secrets" to increasing membership and active involvement: Ideas from the largest Psi Chi chapter in the country. Eye on Psi Chi, 2
Kobylski, T., Wise, T. N., & Mann, L. S. (1991). Why psychiatric residents join professional organizations. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 42
McCannon, M., & Bennett, P. (1996). Choosing to participate or not: A study of college students' involvement in student organizations. College Student Journal, 30,
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All means and standard deviations for t
-tests will be reported for members first and nonmembers second.Author note:
The first and third authors are class of 2005 alumni at Utah State University. The second author is an assistant professor in the psychology department. The authors wish to thank Jordan Singleton, Amanda Graff, Gajin Kim, Greg Murphy, and Emily Nelson for their research assistance. The research was supported by a Psi Chi 2004-05 Thelma Hunt Research Grant and a Utah State University Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant to the first author. Please address correspondence about this article to Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, PhD, Psychology Department, 2810 Old Main Hill, Logan UT 84322, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.orgJohnathan Nelson
is a first year doctoral student in the industrial / organizational psychology program at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. He graduated summa cum laude from Utah State University (USU) with a BS in psychology and earned university and psychology departmental honors. He served as the USU Psi Chi Chapter President for the 2004-05 academic year. The same year he was selected as the USU College of Education and Human Services Scholar of the Year, and the Outstanding Student of the Year in the Psychology Department. Johnathan's current research is focused on leadership in organizations.Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, PhD,
is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. She has served as faculty advisor for the USU chapter since 2002 and is currently the Psi Chi Vice President for the Rocky Mountain Region. Dr. Domenech Rodriguez received her doctoral degree from Colorado State University in 1999 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Family Research Consortium-III at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on prevention and intervention work with Spanish-speaking Latino families and is funded through the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is also involved in research on ethics and multicultural education.
graduated cum laude from Utah State University with a BS in psychology. During the 2004-05 school year, she served as the USU Psi Chi Chapter Vice-President and Research Chair. That same year Jennifer was designated the Undergraduate Researcher of the Year in the Department of Psychology. She currently works with low income families and their children as a home-based educator.
Winter 2006 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 40-41, 49-51), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2005, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.